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Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Troping Prog as Toes

Posted by Adam Roberts on 11/08/06 at 07:31 AM

So the news is shouted from rooftop to joyous rooftop:  Genesis have reformed (Phil Collins era Genesis, that is) with plans for a big-old tour of Europe.  The extensive coverage this news received on UK news networks during yesterday’s slow-news day (US mid-terms? Pooh-pooh) suggests to me that prog might be sneaking its way back into the light.  Maybe the long shadow of punk is finally lifting.  We could even be returning to the era of The Myths and Legends of the Knights of King Arthur performed on ice, to the glories of King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant.  To Jon Anderson bringing bales of hay and barnyard animals into the recording studio.  For middle-aged nerds like me, who spent their teenage years in their bedrooms poring over pretentious prog-lyrics and immersing themselves in twenty-five-minute song-suites, this is news that resounds like a cry of “good news, everyone!"

So, yes: Genesis.  I’ll out myself.  I am intimately familiar with pretty much the whole of the Genesis back-catalogue.  Not that they were ever King Prog.  Throughout the 1970s they stood (we can be honest) in relation to Pink Floyd much as The Goodies did to Monty Python.  Which that is not to deny that they possessed their own special charm; but perhaps in part that charm resided precisely in their lack of cool.  It might look odd to say it, given how patently uncool Prog as a whole has always been, but compared to Genesis Floyd were cool.  Which is to say, they weren’t cool in an absolute sense (the Bowie, Iggy and the Stooges or Pharrell sorts of cool), but they were the coolest of the progs.  Now, in an important sense this exactly misses the point: listening to a ‘cool’ prog band is surely as pointless as drinking warm lager, or being a Young Conservative.  Prog is supposed to be uncool, in the same way that lager is supposed to be chilled and young people are supposed to be left-wing.  Uncoolness is prog’s very saving grace.  Hence, Genesis, not Floyd.

The musical salient for this sort of music is complexity, even that spurious pseudo-complexity we call ‘pretentious adolescent twaddle’.  Prog certainly aims at complexity, and in doing so puts itself quite outwith the pale of the main currents of contemporary popular music.  Because of course the musical dominant of the last half century has been an energetic primitivism: three chords, no need for technical proficiency (indeed, technically proficiency a positive barrier to success), volume, repetition, repetition, charisma, repetition, rawness and so on.  Musical complexity has been banished to the margins of contemporary musical production: to avant-garde classical, to jazz and suchlike.  I’ll never forget hearing a senior US jazz guitarist being interviewed on Radio 2 (I’m dummkopf-y enough to have forgotten his name, I’m afraid): he had put all his skill and art into composing and recording dizzyingly complex jazz; but all that was a perfect blank to the wider world.  Instead he ruefully acknowledged that he would go down in musical history for playing the bang-bang foresquare guitar rhythms on (let’s say) ‘Knock on Wood’ (it wasn’t ‘Knock on Wood’, but it might have been if you see what I’m saying).  He painted a picture of jobbing musicians, expert in the rhythmic and musical complexities of jazz, earning silly money as session players on these insultingly simple (technically simple, I mean) ditties, all 4/4 time and major chord progressions.  But that’s the way it is.  ‘We’ currently favour musical primitivism; a primitivism in the visual arts; the narrative and character primitivism of film and TV.  And who is to say that complexity is an aesthetic value in its own right?  Primitivist art can create effects that are beyond more complex modes; especially powerful effects of energy and passion, force and emotion.

But prog has always been committed to complexity; and for the high-forehead intellectual-nerdish type (and especially the high-forehead intellectual-nerdish goofy-foolish uncool white English type such as myself) it can prove irresistible.  For of course there are things that complexity can achieve, aesthetically speaking, that primitivism cannot.

I could even, tentatively, float the argument that Prog is the true rock and roll.  I don’t mean musically, obviously.  I speaking of the ethos of rock and roll; which is, in a nutshell, to do what you want, and to fight conformity, to resist the stultifying pressure of the normalisers, to be a contrarian.  (As the tattooist said when I got my tattoo: ‘there you go, one more of us and one less of them’).  But what is more stultifying than the pressure to confirm to the rawk stereotype?  You must go out and drink an entire bottle of Jack Daniels whether you like it or not.  You must party hard no matter how tired you feel.  Because, precisely, the procrustean bed that Rock has become is such that one is not allowed to be nerdy-uncool.  Therefore it follows as the night the day, the true rock and roll thing to do is: be uncool.

If rock and roll is doing what you want to do, and what you want to do is have a cup of tea, then having a cup of tea is rock and roll.  If the oppressive Capitalist superstructure that is the limbs and sinew of The Man has internalised rock and roll to the point where jeans, leather jackets and shades are seen in the board room and where the Prime Minister himself plays electric guitar – then rock and roll must become the fight against rock and roll.  Anti rock.  Or, as we might say, prog.

Rock is the cock of the corpus musica.  But Prog is the toes.  And only the phallogocentric would prioritise the former organ over the latter.  Toes are very useful.  They help you climb rock faces and trees; and to stand without falling over.  They’re certainly less likely to take over your brain and lead you around like a beast of the field than the membrum virilis.  They’re there to help.  To wiggle.  To count upon.  I tell you what: I like my toes.

But, toes?  To return to Genesis, and to explain where this peculiar trope of Prog as Toes first suggested itself to me.  The Evolution of Genesis: a German tribute-evening devoted to the band recently advertised themselves using the following surreally baffling poster.  The more I stare at it, the odder it becomes.

[There’s a better version of it here, if you scroll down about halfway.]

I’ve no idea how this poster-idea came about.  Presumably the originator was sitting in his/her bath one day, and thought to him/herself: ‘yes … yes .. Genesis as toes … well Collins kind of looks like a toe, what with his bald bonce.  And Gabriel, he’s bald now, he could be a toe.  The other band members, well, they’re hairy.  But Genesis can do anything!  They could be hairy toes, if they wanted!  Yes—yes—we’ll go with the concept!’ Of course, it could be argued that if you reach the stage where you can’t even have a bath without hallucinating that your toes are the heads of past-and-present members of Genesis, then it’s probably time to lay off the spicy Bratwurst.  Or work a little less hard.  Or something.


Comments

This reminds me of my brilliant idea for the greatest musical genre never: prog-a-billy. The Brian Setzer Orchestra does nothing but Can covers. Or, alternatively, a reformed Genesis performs an entire Stray Cats ‘concept album’. You could call it: In the Cat of the Crimson King. Or something. (Hey. Genesis as toes.)

By John Holbo on 11/08/06 at 09:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I would totally buy prog-a-billy versions of pretty much any 1970s prog artist.  (Except Jethro Tull, since he’s pretty much prog-a-billy anyway).  Also prog-soul and rap-prog, or “raprog”.  Plus there should be a Eurovision Progsong Contest.  We could call it Europrogocontestovision.

By Adam Roberts on 11/08/06 at 09:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rockabilly actually can have interesting instrumental licks played over symple chord changes. The real talent-minimalism isn’t punk, either—it’s surf (the kind with drums, guitar and sax). In the extreme case you had one-chord songs, two-note sax solos, and no lyrics.

When we see prog-surf we will know that the end is nigh.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 10:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Call me when Henry Cow regroups. Or the Troggs, who really felt it in their toes.

John, don’t the Ruins come kinda close to your dream? Their “Mahavishnu Orchestra Medley” is one of the great works of Occidentalist Japanoiserie.

By Ray Davis on 11/08/06 at 10:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Symple” is, of course, a surf-music technical term, related but not identical to the ordinary-language word “simple”.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 10:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam, you’re right: prog *is* back.  Groups like The Mars Volta and even My Chemical Romance are returning to the glory days of the concept album, with all the bombast of Wagner and all the solos of ELP.

Then there’s groups like The Fiery Furnaces, who combine early-Who-style power pop with proggy extended solos and song suites.  And as Ray points out, the Japanese (check out John Zorn’s Tzadik label and their New Japan imprint) have been keeping prog alive for awhile: Ruins, later Boredoms, OOIOO, and so on. 

Folk-prog is back: check out Japan’s Ghost or some of the “New, Weird America” acts, like the Jewelled Antler Collective, Espers, Faun Fables.

And isn’t Naked City a prog-surf band?  Then there’s Man or Astro-Man, who did surf with all the technical pyrotechnics of a prog band.  And I think Kramer’s Psycho-Billy would count as a progabilly band.  And Cannibal Ox would be the first prog-rap act: killer street rhymes mixed with abstract flows, but backed by Philip Glass samples.

From a larger perspective, it’s the 70s themselves that are back.  Post-punk, disco, early electronica, cock-rock, glam-rock, prog-rock: it’s all coming back.

By on 11/08/06 at 10:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Wait a minute, I thought that Rush was simultaneously the rawk-est and uncoolest prog band ever.  Maybe it was the Ayn Rand thing.

By on 11/08/06 at 10:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

On reformation: Remember Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe, the band that couldn’t say Yes?

By nnyhav on 11/08/06 at 11:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hell, yes: Rush were way uncooler than Genesis, just as Genesis were uncooler than Floyd.  We could construct an elaborate heirarchical diagram if we had the time.  But I don’t see how Ayn Rand and Rawk go together, exactly.  (I mean, were Rush ever really Rawk in the, you know, AC-DC sense?  Could you ever imagine AC-DC singing a lengthy song about allegorical trees arguing in a forest, with lutes and such?)

By Adam Roberts on 11/08/06 at 11:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

nnyhav: ‘Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe’ ah yes.

See, that’s another reason to love prog: the ‘Emerson, Lake and Palmer’ naming logic (‘shall we think of a band-name that is snappy and memorable? Or shall we just list the surnames of the band members in alphabetical order?’) Personally I’d like this utility brand naming-logic forceably applied to all bands in the world.  Rename Kraftwerk Bartos, Flür, Hutter and Schneider-Esleben, and the Scissor Sisters Boom-Secore, Gruen-Marquis, Hoffman, Matronic and Shears.  Do it now.

By Adam Roberts on 11/08/06 at 11:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

No, not in the AC/DC sense.  I was thinking more in the “Look, I’m a rebel!” sense, and the guitar-heroism.  The objectivist rebel is surely the uncoolest rebel that ever lived.

By on 11/08/06 at 11:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

This is a great post.

I had Roger Dean posters plastered in my room listening to Emerson Lake and Palmer in a time when I should have been listening to the Pixies and Nirvana like my friends.

Prog Rockers did not know they were uncool. I did not know that I was uncool. It was a sweet deal.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 11/08/06 at 11:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

So. Who’s up for some Hawkwind?

By John Holbo on 11/08/06 at 11:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, right, Hawkwind.  Adam, you should rate them on your coolness chart; weren’t they like the only rock band to have a major SF writer perform with them?

And I know that this is completely my own fault, but now I’m going to have _2112_ running through my head all day.

By on 11/08/06 at 11:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The Emerson family wishes to dissociate itself from ELP and all of its spinoffs.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 12:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You should be proud of the ELP association John! Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 11/08/06 at 12:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Call me when French-Frith-Kaiser-Thompson regroups.

By Ray Davis on 11/08/06 at 12:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam,

This was a joy to read (although for me Genesis was not as much in the picture). I know not what course others have taken, but I do know that the much-vaunted need to understand infinity began for me around the time I started listening to the Stephen Hawking samples on Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell.

Cameron Crowe voiced the same complaint through his fictional version of Lester Bangs, who tells the central character in Almost Famous that coolness will destroy rock, and to cleave to his own, authentic uncoolness.

Yet built into the very core of rock ‘n roll is the phenomenon of wanting to be other than oneself. Icons of coolness, like Iggy or Bowie, started off as painfully awkward and rejected kids with a love of music and a willingness to take gambles with identity. Just think of Bowie trying to make it as a hippie troubadour; or Jim Morrison failing out of film school, reading Plutarch, and subsequently trying to look like Alexander the Great; or Robert Zimmerman becoming the Guthrie clone “Bob Dylan.”

The same is true of female rockers; Tori Amos emerged out of the dissonance between her classical training, and the horrible rock instincts of Y Kant Tori Read. Patti Smith became a singer because she was a Beat poet, but not a very good one. Rock was Patti’s way of holding onto the impossible dream of being Ginsberg.

There are certainly limits to the amount of meaning a shot of whiskey can contain. Still, I remember going into friends’ dorm rooms for another round of video games, hearing Rush on the speakers, and thinking: “Wait, all you want to be is yourself?”

By Joseph Kugelmass on 11/08/06 at 12:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Prog rock is a catch-all, not a genre. But, catch-all LPs worth catching up with: 
Pink Floyd, Meddle echoing Kubruck’s 2001
Phil Manzanera, Diamond Head

Ray, howzabout VanVliet-Harkleroad-French-Boston-Cotton-Hayden?

By nnyhav on 11/08/06 at 01:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The emerson family is not amused.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 01:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sure, nnyhav, call me then, too!

Joseph, (the real) Lester Bangs is why I brought up the Troggs. They weren’t prog, but part of Adam’s post reminded me of the graddaddy of all “It’s cool to be unhip” rants, Bangs’s tribute to Reg Presley. (Another part reminded me, more antagonistically, of Bangs’s “Any sufficiently deficient musicianship is indistinguishable from virtuosity” rant.)

By Ray Davis on 11/08/06 at 01:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

nnyhav, all due respect, but Captain Beefheart is the sort of band that has from its inception been hiptastic, rather than a beacon for the geeky fringe.

One other thing: cups of tea are an essential part of life, but the syllogism “rock = freedom,” thus “rock = Earl Grey” doesn’t quite work. I’ve been reading a few feminist blogs recently, and I’m reminded of the false logic, “If feminism is being happy as a woman, and what makes you happy is rejecting feminism, then feminism = pre-feminist convention.”

Rock and roll is a music of struggle, and that struggle has personal and political dimensions. It can be tremendously effective to switch gears musically (as Springsteen did on Nebraska), or to embrace ambition (as Pink Floyd did on The Wall). It’s no fault of the performer if their own fight is over, or if they never wanted to fight, to begin with. But perhaps labels like “pop” or “accomplished musicians” fit better in those cases.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 11/08/06 at 01:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ray: That article is a good point of reference. I guess, while I’ve read every word of Lester Bangs I can get my hands on, that I sometimes sympathize more with the character in the film. For example, I (of course) went and checked out the Troggs after reading Bangs, and thought “I Can’t Control Myself” was an okay song. But maybe Bangs is at his very best when he’s defending something even less cool and more strange, like Astral Weeks or The Marble Index. Because when Lester starts in about the Godz, and the genius they possess by virtue of their magnificent ineptitude, I see myself running after Greil Marcus (who takes his leave of Godz and Lester in momentary disgust), yelling “Wait up, Greil! Wait for me!”

By Joseph Kugelmass on 11/08/06 at 01:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jo: “...cups of tea are an essential part of life ...”

You sound like an Englishman. Hurrah.

“... but the syllogism “rock = freedom,” thus “rock = Earl Grey” doesn’t quite work. I’ve been reading a few feminist blogs recently, and I’m reminded of the false logic, ‘If feminism is being happy as a woman, and what makes you happy is rejecting feminism, then feminism = pre-feminist convention.’ “

Not surre this works.  The feminism example starts with a false premise: If feminism is being happy as a woman ... substitute, eg, “If feminism is being free as a woman” or “If feminism is achieveing social equality with men” and the whole thing breaks down.  Course, you could say the same about rock and roll being about ‘what you want to do’, I suppose.

Besides, I don’t like Earl Grey.

By Adam Roberts on 11/08/06 at 01:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam, that makes good sense to me. I agree that the feminist syllogism starts with a false premise. That’s the point: I would argue that whether “want you want to do” is rock ‘n roll actually does depend on what that might be. One example is the difference between recent Bob Dylan albums, which are just good entertainment, and the unreckonable ferocity of something like Highway 61 Revisited.

That isn’t to rule out prog in any way; in fact, prog is going through a huge and legitimate revival right now. It’s showing up in mainstream rock (My Chemical Romance), heavy metal (Tool and Mastodon), and indie rock (the new Decemberists album). Here’s to hoping that they start playing full LPs on the radio again.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 11/08/06 at 02:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Prog’s been back for over a decade now.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 02:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

When we see prog-surf we will know that the end is nigh.

Chris Cutler, who would know, considers The Ventures proto-prog, and Vril, a band he’s in, and Forever Einstein, a band he’s not in, both traffic in surfy prog.

Ray Davis: A Henry Cow regrouping will never happen, but you can see Tim Hodgkinson, Fred Frith, and Chris Cutler playing in a trio sometime during December at The Stone if you’re in NYC.  As for FFKT, someone told me that someone (Kaiser? French?) wanted to do a third album of Christmas tunes, but Thompson wasn’t down.

When I say “prog’s been back for over a decade now”, I don’t mean on the fringes.  I mean popularly.  (Post-rock was the prog that dare not speak its name; Simon Reynolds agrees with me on this; see here and here; cache because blogger’s not playing nice.) Hell, Pitchfork reviewed a mass of Yes reissues a while ago and some of them even got good reviews, and those in the know-er have been namedropping out-er prog for longer than that (King Crimson seems to be some kind of dividing line, or border-straddler, in this regard).  “Prog” is regularly dropped, even as a term of praise, in, say, the aquarius newsletter (those guys totally cream themselves over Magma, the band than which there is no proggier), and really ought to have a wider extension than they give it.

I assert my ability to make comments like this because I know more than you.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 02:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Also, the punk/prog divide was greatly exaggerated and never as neat as the commonplaces would have you believe.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 02:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

1. Phil Collins-era Genesis?  Please.  After Trick of the Tail (redeemed by Hackett’s glorious guitar work) they were dead to me.  Retrospectively, that is (I discovered them in the 80’s).  If Phil Collins wants to reform a great band he was in, let it be Brand X.

2. Punk and prog are not the antitheses people seem to think.  Punk actually gave prog a good kick in the pants, and some late-70’s/early 80’s prog is a bracing mix of the two (e.g. Peter Hammill’s Sitting Targets, or Foxx-era Ultravox (punk w/synths?), or even Discipline-era Crimson, or better, Fripp’s solo Exposure).

3. As for coolness.  I knew I was uncool for liking this stuff, but I didn’t care.  (How cool is that?  I don’t care.  Etc.) After all, I went through high school as an opera freak, from Wagner and Verdi on down, so don’t talk to me about being uncool.  At least prog is pop music.

4. And (related to point 2) not so fast with the idea that prog isn’t true rock and roll musically.  I saw Magma in the late 90’s, in their first show on these shores since 1973, jammed in a smoky bar like sardines, and they blew the roof off the place.

5. The Myths and Legends of the Knights of the Round Table is the Worst.  Album.  Ever.  (except for some ELP; Emerson, I feel your pain).  Not, however, the most tragic waste of talent, which would have to be Gentle Giant’s Civilian, an abomination not to be borne.

6. One more thing.  By the mid-80’s, anything which sounded like it could have been released in 1973 was less “progressive” than it was retro.  So while I do still enjoy the classics (maybe I’ll go dig out Free Hand or Rock Bottom, or Gravity), I find my progressive desires most often satisfied nowadays by music which sounds entirely different (Atom Heart, say, or Shuttle358).

By Dave Maier on 11/08/06 at 02:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I see Ben agrees with me about punk.  (And I agree with nnyhav about Meddle and Diamond Head).

Capcha: present77 (Present, there’s another blast from the past, ironically enough)

By Dave Maier on 11/08/06 at 02:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Consider, for instance, current groups like Ahleuchatistas, Cheval de Frise, or Orthrelm.  Prog as fuck, but would it have happened without punk?  Probably not.  (Even something like Thinking Plague’s “How to Clean Squid”.) Follows on Maier’s point 6, really: there’s “progressive” meaning “sounds like the progressive of the early 70s” (eg, much of what gets called neo-prog and, modulo better production, Guapo’s recent output, which is basically, to an even greater extent than the Ruins, an attempt to answer the question “what if Magma just played “De Futura” over and over again?") and there’s “progressive” meaning “some kind of outgrowth/development of the progressive of the 70s” (though I would also accept things causally unrelated).

To me, a lot of conversations about prog sound the way Badiou’s discussion of analytic philosophy must have sounded to Holbo.  (Except I think that most such conversations get even what they do consider wrong, whereas for all I know Badiou gets Carnap just right.)

Ray Davis’ comment about Ruins’ Mahavishnu Orchestra medley should be applied to all their medleys, especially “Classical Music Medley” and “Black Sabbath Medley (Reversible)” (reversible as in, same backwards and forwards).

heavy metal (Tool and Mastodon)

And Isis, Neurosis, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Dillinger Escape Plan … really, metal was always proggy.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 03:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The pop categories often function more like, er, say bar codes if not prison tats than some useful classifications; or rather, it’s bored lit. snobs doing more of the lightweight Lester Bangs thing. Better attempts at profundity with some pompousity--the best of ELP or Crimson-- than pop or punk insta-angst. And Bruford is a great drummer/percussionist, jazz as well as rock. But Adorno would probably have condemned all rockers to Malebolgia along with the jazzers.  Now like original (with Diaz) Steely Dan doing La Mer, or some Satie....Rites of Spring...Zut........and F. TA..................

By Uncle Meat on 11/08/06 at 03:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

metal was always proggy

Heck, we don’t even need to get obscure for that; try Led Zeppelin.  And wasn’t the first metal Grammy won by Jethro Tull?

By Dave Maier on 11/08/06 at 03:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"he Brian Setzer Orchestra does nothing but Can covers.”

John, Can were never prog.

By Jonathan Derbyshire on 11/08/06 at 03:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Can is so prog.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 04:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My favorite example of the resurgence of prog rock is the latest release from the Decemberists.

By on 11/08/06 at 04:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

They were mentioned before, I think, in passing, but I’ll mention their name again, simply because Colin Meloy is one of the best lyricist out there today, The Decemberists.  With one album called “Picaresque,” how can you go wrong?

By Greg on 11/08/06 at 06:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Blasphemer!  Can is prog!  Next you’ll be telling us good is evil and evil, good!

By on 11/08/06 at 06:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Now that I’ve bothered to read more of Adam’s post, I’d say that he’s wrong about coolness, too, at least in the past bit or so.  Cheer-Accident shows I’ve been to in Chicago have been packed with hipsters, and frequently one of their members can be seen wearing a Magma shirt.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 09:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But Ben, that’s just the uncoolness-cool of the ultra-cool. It’s totally ho-hum, hardly more transgressive than trucker caps or incest with your dead mother.

By “your dead mother” I didn’t mean “your dead mother” but “one’s own dead mother”.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 09:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Of course.  I don’t have a dead mother.

By ben wolfson on 11/08/06 at 10:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

ben, you’re being serious! er!

OK, then. Yeah, “less hip than thou” has long been as popular a game among rock-crit types (you know, the still-carded-at-forty males who look like Elvis Costello or Comic Book Guy) as “less academic than thou” has been among poets. And over the long haul—or, depending where you start from, not very long at all—it’s just as much a losing game. R. “Vom” Meltzer finally had to give up on music altogether.

Personally, and as usual, I figured the best thing was to waste my stake as fast as possible. I want all the music I like to be popular and all the writers I like to be required reading. Should I wish any worse for what’s done right by me? (Even if I’m still kind of shocked by the whole Derrida thing.)

My guess is Kaiser was the demurrer. He told me he couldn’t deal with French’s drinking. Me, I couldn’t deal with anyone but French singing.

By Ray Davis on 11/09/06 at 12:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I actually don’t understand most of your comment, Ray, especially the part about how you couldn’t deal with Thompson singing.

By ben wolfson on 11/09/06 at 12:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

To me one of the definitive features of prog-rock is not rocking.

In order to rock you need to have a considerable degree of butthead stupidity, and none of the progrockers could attain that, or even fake it.

Compare Zappa and Jim Morrison, for example. One side of “The Soft Parade” was conceptish and proggish, and supposedly Zappa thought that Morrison was aping him, but Morrison had that certain je-ne-sais-quoi of rockingness.

Poor Zappa.  Dead, and a family man into the bargain.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 12:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If that’s what you think, Emerson, you’re just wrong.

By ben wolfson on 11/09/06 at 12:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I love Thompson’s guitar, I like Thompson’s songwriting, but sometime post-Fairport post-Henry-the-Human-Fly he got into this real actorly way of singing that loses the beauty of the melody. I liked it better when he just bellowed. That doesn’t keep me from loving “Killerman Gold Posse”, “Hai Sai Oji-San”, “A Blind Step Away”, and “Bird In God’s Garden”—just doesn’t make it as easy as it might be. (I didn’t like Linda’s voice either, so I have an even worse struggle with those great albums. “Meet on the Ledge“‘s blend of Denny and bellow seemed just right.)

By Ray Davis on 11/09/06 at 12:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m no longer the expert on rock that I once was, since I haven’t followed it for decades. I have my favorite oldies, some of which have increasingly become just markers of moments in the past. E.G., I’ll never really know or care how good an album “Disraeli Gears” is, because I listened to it about six times on the day before one of the most important events of my life.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 12:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

On Morrison versus Zappa:

While I know that some people will always go for Jim Morrison’s “shamanistic” brand of humorous pop send-ups, ambitious classical pieces, and experimental goofs, for me Zappa is the one. With his deep, sonorous voice, his almost frightening stage presence, and his bandmates churning out a psychedelic carnival to match his Oedipal visions, Frank Zappa stands as perhaps the most important moustachioed man of our time—with the possible exception of all the members of Can, who nearly didn’t record their prog-rock classic “Can and Nico” because Kenji Suzuki was too obsessed with chess.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 11/09/06 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"To me one of the definitive features of prog-rock is not rocking.”

I should send Emerson a copy of “Solar Music Live”. But hell, I think Tago Mago is just rock, including “Halleluhwah” and “Aumgn”.

And seems a weird argument from a guy who thinks Ayler and the ECM stuff can be called “jazz.”

By on 11/09/06 at 01:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Were the members of Can moustachioed?

Holger Czukay recorded at least one good album with David Sylvian.

By ben wolfson on 11/09/06 at 02:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Are you kidding?  Holger’s got, or had, a handlebar for the ages.  (And yes, Can are prog.)

I only saw Zappa once, but he was great.  I remember him sticking his cigarette between the tuning pegs of his guitar before he took the loudest guitar solo I’ve ever heard - he just about drowned out the rest of the band (all 15 or so of them).

By Dave Maier on 11/09/06 at 02:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"...Frank Zappa stands as perhaps the most important moustachioed man of our time...

This will hurt Saddam Hussein’s feelings badly when he gets to hear of it.

(We know, from his Palace artwork, that he has a what-shall-we-say ‘prog sensibility‘, after all.)

By Adam Roberts on 11/09/06 at 03:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“...Frank Zappa stands as perhaps the most important moustachioed man of our time...“
not to mention imperialist ... and such eyebrows!

By nnyhav on 11/09/06 at 08:59 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Frank Zappa stands as perhaps the most important moustachioed man of our time

FZ was not incapable of producing some ugly noise here and there (his later bitter stuff--Joe’s Garage-- not so enjoyable [alright “Crew Slut” ((hey, we’ll buy you a pizza)) has it moments], but like spin the best cuts of Overnight Sensation or Apostrophe (the Cozmic Debris playing way Hendrixy) or Hot Rats (i.e. Little Umbrellas--sort of what the Grateful Dead always wanted to do, but rarely if ever managed--a sort of complex surreal rock-jazz, like Satie in the Haight):  that’s authentic Ahht, not proggy kitsch or some snarly Brit. punks. And who could forget the freak in Pynchon’s Vineland, who has a momentary vision of.....the moustachioed one, FZ.... on Mt. F-n Rushmore! Real lit. snobs aren’t afraid to put on a python boot now and then.

By Uncle Meat on 11/09/06 at 11:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My beef with Zappa is his badmouthing Hendrix. Hendrix was more limited than Zappa, but he did his one thing better than Zappa did any of his many things. As far as I know, everything Zappa ever did was old, including pastiche. (Satie died in the mid twenties.)

Some of the stuff Hendrix did with Jimmy Young was fantastic, but there’s not much of it. If he’d lived.....

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 05:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If he’d lived.....

He might have joined Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

By ben wolfson on 11/09/06 at 05:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Lobofilho, you’re nasty.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 06:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s actually true, though.

By ben wolfson on 11/09/06 at 06:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

He might have played with Miles Davis,too.

No one has ever said that Hendrix had no flaws. (Actually, if there’s ever been anyone who said that Hendrix had no flaws, I want to meet that person.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 07:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

)

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 07:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Let’s not forget that an early Jethro Tull single was released with the band’s name written as ‘Jethro Toe’ so perhaps they knew something back then…

By Mike on 06/14/07 at 08:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I did not know that.

By Adam Roberts on 06/14/07 at 12:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Larry Young.

By John Emerson on 06/14/07 at 12:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This Larry Young?

By Adam Roberts on 06/14/07 at 01:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yeah, the Young/Hendrix thing is on “Nine for the Universe.” It’s just a jam but has some fantastic moments. This is the kind of stuff Hendrix really wanted to do.

By John Emerson on 06/14/07 at 01:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rick Moody’s a believer in Gentle Giant (and a concurring opinion). For all that, I still prefer In a Glass House.

By nnyhav on 07/14/08 at 03:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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