June 7, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Editors Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell have gathered an impressive group of writers, musicians and critics that includes Wesley Stace, Rick Moody, Joe Meno, Beth Lisick, and Nathan Larson to share essays inspired by their love of prog rock in the anthology Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).
This is a book about a very specific kind of musical fixation: that of the young 1970's male teenager who is attracted to men in colorful tights playing very complicated Rock music and singing abstract lyrics that the young male finds quite heavy. Prog-Rock, in other words. What was fun about editing this collection was learning how the 20 essayists came to Prog in the first place, what they loved about it, and when they hailed it a fond farewell. Because more than any other subgenre besides Bubblegum, Prog took root in the impressionable souls of young boys in the early 70's, only to wither away and die by the end of the decade. An almost exclusively British phenomenon, Punk rock crushed Prog under its boot heel, though by 1977, it was time for Prog to go, anyway.
Don't get me wrong: my partner Tyson Cornell and I still love this music, otherwise we wouldn't have bothered doing the book. But when sifting through the vast corpus, there's a lot of silliness. So herewith is a list of the good stuff:
The Nice, "America"
Seth Greenland in our book talks about having his mind blown by The Nice's Keith Emerson. Not so much Emerson's organ skills, but his way with a dagger, and his tendency to smash shit up onstage. If Emerson hadn't trained in a Conservatory, he would have a made a great Punk Rocker.
Yes, "Starship Trooper"
I love Yes. The first concert I ever attended was Yes at Madison Square Garden, when they were still using their rotating stage. Blew my mind. These guys were like my Justice League of America. Listening to it now, I still admire the beauty and ingenuity of songs like "Starship Trooper," how the disparate parts lock together so pleasingly. I will never forsake this band – never!
Soft Machine, "Slightly All The Time"
We were thrilled to have Wesley Stace write about the Canterbury scene for the book, as it is easily the most neglected corner of Prog-Rock. For me, Soft Machine was the only band to properly weld Jazz and Rock. Mostly because Soft Machine was extremely proficient and fucked-up in equal measure, in part due to Mike Ratledge's creepy distorted organ and Robert Wyatt's swinging drums. This track from their third album is the one that I always return to; it's their peak.
Todd Rundgren's Prog experiments are not what make him great: It's the first three solo albums, which are some of the best Pop records ever made. But I will always have a soft-spot for this overblown title track from his first Utopia album. Sample lyric: ‘City in my head/Utopia/Heaven in my body/Utopia' It's so naïve and silly and full of dumb hope, it's irresistible.
"Supper's Ready," Genesis
The ur-track of Prog-Rock. This is the acid test for Prog love. Either you're on the bus or you're not. (and if you read James Greer's essay, you'll discover that Guided By Voice's Robert Pollard hopped on.)
Marc Weingarten and Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales) links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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