Musicology (One of Three)

The only trip up the Thames which gets my approval

It began in the US with heavy rock in the late ’60s with Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly (The Godfathers of The Drum Solo). However, after sailing the Atlantic, it embraced folk/pastoral, cod classical and heavy doses of pre-digital equipment giantism and metamorphosed into its true Ebola-type glory – PROGRESSIVE ROCK.

Some book review background. I had a near-death experience in the early 70s after a group of us were given free front row seats to see prog rock royalty, Yes. You can read about it HERE – Musical Memories Best Buried – my first post ever on my first site – and you can understand why we underwent a collective paradigm shift and embraced high-end pink rocks and Hank Williams.

Apologies. The WordPress link simply refused to accept this devastating experience, so pls locate manually.

Paul Stump. The Music’s All That Matters: A History of Progressive Music. Quartet Books. 1997.

Master Stump kicks off his Intro thus:

Contrary to received opinion, Progressive rock’s main trouble isn’t self-indulgence. It isn’t critical ignorance or illiteracy. It isn’t even pretentiousness (an epithet the music’s progenitors so often bear with patient stoicism). Oh no. Progressive’s problem is its name.

As if this isn’t bad enough, we are told that the writing of this tome coincided with his completion of a four year honours degree in a Dept of Europeon and French Studies in one of Pommyland’s lesser universities.

At this point, suspecting a deluge of Frog meta-theory, the cat sneered and headed for the hills. Being made of sterner stuff, we proceeded to the claim that “…Progressive has produced some of the finest of all rock and pop”.

Master Stump doesn’t however deep-six all his critical faculties since, having given every PR LP a deep listening (and I say knowledgeable) experience, he does identify a goodly quantity of vinyl shyte. In so doing, he provides both cruel pleasure plus laughs.

All the major (Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes) and minor (Gentle Giant, Peter Gabriel and Marillon) perps, plus a host of un-heard-ofs, get the full analytical treatment, and every bar of incorporated classica is indentified and evaluated. A good bibliography and lots of interviews (Fripp, Howe, Bruford, etc).

(Oh yes, I forgot. Mike Oldfield, another members of PR’s A Team, gets his due share of ink with his stitched together Tubular Bells. Oldfield earned a squillion for this conceptual pile, and then attempted to recreate this feat ad nauseum, but finally gave up the gig after releasing his massive Anthology, the latter being a sure sign of becoming an embarrassing has-been. Subsequently, our misguided genius took up with a Penthouse Pet and was last heard of advertising for a gf on his Facebook site.)

Prog Rock, its inspirations and ambitions consciously identified itself as the Other to commercial pop with its 2.5 minutes of commercial fairy floss. It encompassed a backward/recursive ideology of the musician as Romantic Artiste – mucho art school personal expression, individuality, experimentalism and compositional complexity leaved with a heavy dose of instrumental vituosity. Whack all of the above onto pre-digital technological determinism – Moogs, Mellatrons, Fairlights and other keyboard developments of the day, throw in The Concept, and fuck me, you had all the ingredients for a full-on theatre/festival of megalomania.

And the audience was complicit in this jaunt into bombast, equipment giantism and the celebration of instrumental technique. You were doomed if you took to the stage without a compositional concept, a massive perspex drum kit with 8 tom toms, at least a dozen keyboards, an add-on classical orchestra, plus a Roger Dean stage motif.

The smirk dept. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s (with his one and a half ton bass drum) stage excesses, the compositional ambitions of Yes (a six sided concept album interpreting the meditations of Shastric scriptures as enunciated by the Yogi Paramhasa Yogananda). Have to admit to cheering when Floyd just about incinerated themselves and half the audience due to a misjudged stage effect. I could pile on the examples, but lets move on.

Prog Rock was a edifice just waiting for a vomit attack with the advent of Thatcher, the miners strike, mass unemployment and the gathering of an increasingly surly urban peasantry ie the filh and the fury lurking near the moat. Punk fundamentalists and their scribe ideologists – Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Ian Penman etc of NME -bring to mind Freddie Engels (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State).

Indeed, only barbarians are capable of rejuvenating a world laboring under the death throes of unnerved civilisation.

Punk had sartorial style and attitude even though its three chord thrash was pretty hopeless. Sort of like the enemies of my enemies are my friends.

Which brings me to The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writings ed by Clinton Heylin, Viking, 1992.

While providing a wide patelle of well-chosen examples by the head honcho scribblers to date, it doesn’t have a lot to offer in 2012, unless you seek to validate the importance of the New York Dolls in the grand scheme. The Stones, Springsteen and Dylan – who the fuck cares, even though I’ve consumed a lot of their product in my past.

The standout essay The Harder They Fall, John Helstrom’s coverage of the Pistols last seven shows in the States before they and Syd self-immolated is worth the read. Its a hoot with Vicious attempting suicide every second page, groupies of indeterminate gender/sexuality wandering in and out of the chaos, a thuggish Warner Brothers security and management team manhandling journalists and McClaren egging the pudding from the side.

Gunslingers at their very best facing off hundreds of drunk cowboys at Randi’s Rodeo.

Syd. “You cowboys are all a bunch of fucking faggots. You cunts”.

John. “Shut up, Sydney, you’re holding up the set”.

The penultimate Pistols gig worthy of OBE’s all round.

There is also a nice excerpt If You’re on the Road cut from Tony Parsons Platinum Logic. Logic was the trash read of the early 90s, a modern amorality tale about the record industry which greatly amused young KT and partner while noshing tea and toast after a Sunday lie-in. As delicious and barbed as Albert Goldman’s treatment of Elvis.

Heylin also includes three essays on the late 60s/early 70s cottage bootlegging industry, and all three authors mobilise arguments supporting that musical liberation front against Corporate Greed which still ring true today. Recall legal attempts to ban the sale of double cassette decks , whack a surcharge on blank tapes, etc, all in the interest of financially cross-subsidising classical music and new artists. Ho. Ho. Ho.

While Heylin is another scribe with an unhealthy fixation with bloody Bob Dylan, his Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, St Martins Press, 1996, is definitely worth the effort. He provides detailed treatments of copyright history and law, and shows how the corporations make off like robbers dogs every time a new sound reproduction media makes an appearance. Corporate greed worthy of Shell in the Niger Basin, and lets also get rid of the idea of artists as victims.

That aside, my hat is tipped to Rubba Dubba the greatest bootlegger of his day. Among other feats, Mr Dubba compiled 75 vinyl bootlegs of Led Zeppelins different US concerts and enclosed them in a wooden carrying case. A completists wet dream. You provide the pantechnicon. Somehow a Japanese Led Zep cover band obtained a box set, and so made a living replicating note for note versions of Dazed and Confused (or whatever) as played on Dec 9 1972 (or whatever).

Finally, a confessional note. In 2012, it is more fun reading about music than listening about it.

The post-modern condition I suppose.

The Sino Front

Being’s govt complains about the US Embassy providing hourly Twitter updates on pollution levels. More foreign interference in China’s domestic affairs.

Stephen Smith, head of Oz’s Foreign Affairs Dept, made the delegation leave all digital devices in Hong Kong before proceeding to Beijing to discuss military exchanges. It caught the attention of the Chinese media and was treated as another instance of foreign barbarians hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

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