Oh, how times change! I was just rummaging around
in the record library and happened on two, old Emerson, Lake and
Palmer albums. One was the 1977 album "Works" and the
other "In Concert" from 1979. Both contained essentially
the same songs, but live versus studio versions. In those days the
D.J.'s here would leave comments and recommendations to one another
on labels stuck to the sleeves of the L.P.'s. The comments on 1977's
"Works" were "A most impressive L.P. Great mixture
of tunes." By 1979 the live version of many of the same songs
earned rather different reviews: "Technocratic overkill!"
"Ditto - sucks!" What could have happened to change attitudes
so much in just a 24-month period?
Emerson, Lake and Palmer were the most commercially successful progressive
rock band during the genre's heyday in the 70's followed closely
by Yes, Genesis and King Crimson. For those of us who enjoyed that
sort of thing, times were good. Beautiful, mind bending music that
used an array of instruments capable of making unique sounds played
with a level of musicianship that many could appreciate, but only
a few could duplicate.
EL&P were firmly based in the classics. Yes drew inspiration
from "Siddhartha" (Close to the Edge), "Autobiography
of a Yogi" (Tales from Topographic Oceans) and "War and
Peace" (The Gates of Delirium). King Crimson merged jazz, classical
and the poetic imagery of Peter Sinfield into their own unique brand
of music while Genesis created soundtracks for a series of fairy
tales worthy of Lewis Carroll. It seemed rock had finally been let
loose to explore new territory, no longer restrained to AOR's 2
and 3 minute ditties, jam packed with hooks and love stories. No,
this was something more serious. Not that we didn't still love the
Beatles, Kinks and Stones, but sometimes you just wanted more.
Then came the Sex Pistols and punk. A new vehicle for the anger
and angst of youth. Why it became so all consuming and allowed to
destroy everything that came before it has mystified me for many
years. Music to me is an expression of thought and emotion - why
focus only on those that were so angry and destructive? It didn't
do Sid and Nancy much good. Was it a reflection of how bad things
had become societally? True, things were bad in England economically
then, but not so bad here. We were, as we are today, the greatest
nation on earth. So why were we so pissed off? I know I wasn't.
At least not until it became almost impossible for me to find the
kind of music I enjoyed the most.
Age and hindsight have provided me with some clues. The older I
get, the more I understand the power of money in this country. We
are, after all, a capitalist society. Overall, I think that is a
good thing, but we all know that it can lead to some huge inequities
and that, as I heard Spiderman say today, "with great power
comes great responsibility."
EL&P, Yes and Genesis had all become very expensive to produce,
both in the studio and on the stage. Arguments over money, direction
and egos resulted in a lapse in creativity and, suddenly, it became
hard to pay the bills. This was the death knell for those musicians
dependent on the major record labels who are happy only when sales
are in the millions and the stadiums are full. All of these bands
continued to fill the stadiums, but record sales dropped off. The
egos inflated by sudden wealth and the pressure to engage an ever-larger
audience remained, no matter what the cost artistically. Then along
came punk. No costly production, no caravans of 18-wheelers to carry
the stage set-ups. Just attitude and lots of it. The record executives
must have been in heaven, but that level of anger was hard to sustain.
The 80's saw happier, more musically sophisticated bands gain success.
Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, now solo, managed to make the music
interesting and commercially viable at the same time, but nowhere
was there anyone willing to put up the kind of money required to
sustain the progressive genre the way it was in the 70's. I think
that's O.K., but there should be room for everything. Everyone is
entitled to their own opinions and their own tastes. Progressive
music isn't bad or evil just because its costly and time consuming.
But once the record companies realized their own version of "Money
for Nothing," they were among the first to condemn the economic
monster they had helped to create.
There are those of us who still enjoy making and listening to this
kind of music. The Internet has made it more commercially viable
by providing easier access. Musicianship and creativity always have
a place, no matter what the scale. That the record sales of some
of the label-made are plummeting and leaving the big record executives
scratching their heads may be the signal that another change is
on the way. The "jam" bands seem to be gaining in popularity
- remember Cream and Hendrix? Other news that bodes well for the
future is the fact that the NEARfest, which will feature two solid
days of progressive music in Trenton, NJ at the end of June, sold
out in 45 minutes! Maybe creativity and musicianship are on the
rise again. We'll see.
Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program