« choose your own (blogging) adventure | Main | caucusses? caucii? »

In which I come to the same conclusion as Lileks, but learn my lesson the hard way

yeslogo.jpgI think some of you got the wrong idea. I come not to bury Lileks, but to sort of kind of praise him. And then explain why - in that one small paragraph - I think he maligned Yes. I enjoyed the rest of the column as I always do; this one was extra special because James mentioned Bill Nelson - a man who was an musical genius that no one seems to remember. I knew of Bill from Be-Bop Deluxe; my cousin was a big fan of theirs and I often stole into his room to listen to his albums. But it wasn't until 1984, when I was working at Record World and Nelson released the album Vistamix that I became fascinated with Nelson himself. I saw him live that year, at a small, dingy nightclub called My Father's Place - the kind of club where you stand for the whole show and suck down someone else's smoke while you are constantly being leaned on by a guy who hasn't taken a shower in at least a decade. I managed to get close to the stage - which wasn't so much a stage as a slightly raised floor - and I remained transfixed for the entire show. I could sit here and spend an hour just writing about Vistamix alone but I've other things to ramble about. If you happen to be one of those evil downloader/freeloader people, look up Bill Nelson - Everyday is Like Another New Drug. Start there and work your way around. Now, back to Lileks. Wait, we aren't up to the part about Yes yet. James is a kindred spirit for now; someone who remembers the Monroes (saw them play in a movie theater) and all that other stuff - Telecommunication (picture me with spiked hair, in a black and blue checkered tank top and a leather mini skirt - I looked ridiculous - hopping from one foot to another with a slight nod of my head and swing of my arms because that was the way the cool kids danced back then), seeing the Romantics live (at a roller rink) and doing that jump that James describes and...whoa. Stop right there. Loverboy? Laura Brannigan? Sunglasses at Night? That's where he loses me. Now, far be it from me to judge a man's musical tastes; after all, what's beautiful music to one is nails on blackboard to another. So no, I'm not going to give the most popular blogger in all of the universe a beatdown just because he disagrees with me. I'm just going to...set him straight. And you're going to be disappointed. It's not that Yes were some extraordinarily talented band of musicians who could leap tall Billboard charts in a single bound. It's not that their music was of a higher level than other bands of the time, or that pretending you understood their lyrics made you seem intellectual. To put it bluntly, they were a good band to get stoned to. Oh yes, they were pretentious to the very core. Songs were divided into parts, and had names like Siberian Khatru and lyrics that read like the slush pile in a poetry editor's office: A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun. Really, my defense of Yes just stems from the fact that I associate them with good memories. What I remember, anyhow. We (there were five of us) spent an awful lot of nights in Kevin's room, listening to Yes, Genesis and ELP while Kevin read to us from Tolkein books. It was a lazy, self-indulgent time; we only had a little time left before we had to worry about things like college and jobs. We chose to take those last days of our hazy youth and spend them in a make believe world where hobbits and Gollum were the perfect match for words like He spoke of lands not far, nor lands they were in his mind and the pot was always free because we stole it from Kevin's brother. We spent a long spring and summer before senior year with squinty eyes and a heavy disdain for disco that made us superior to you in every way. Dazed and Confused? I lived that, man. Green grass and high tides forever! Whoa. Flashback. Hang on a minute...... ..... Ok. I went and found my Yessongs CD. I listened to a few tracks. Wow. It's funny how something that seemed so meaningful and extraordinary as a teenager can make you cringe when you're an adult. Does this mean I'm old now? No, it just means I realized that prog rock is nothing more than a bunch of musicians who think they can pass for geniuses because their albums have concepts (See, Dream Theatre). I apologize, James. You are on target. I don't know what you mean by the word "noodling" but it sounds just about right. [Tomorrow: Rocky Horror and other midnight treats]


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference In which I come to the same conclusion as Lileks, but learn my lesson the hard way:

» Dated Music from Red Ted Keeps a Diary
James Lileks wrote a thing about 80s' rock, and Michelle of A Small Victory (I keep wanting to call her Victorious Michelle or Michelle Victoriette, but neither would be appropriate) responded with a comment on Yes. I was reminded of their discussion w... [Read More]

» Dated music from Red Ted Keeps a Diary
James Lileks wrote a thing about 80s' rock, and Michelle of A Small Victory (I keep wanting to call her Victorious Michelle or Michelle Victoriette, but neither would be appropriate) responded with a comment on Yes. I was reminded... [Read More]


Emerson, Lake, & Palmer is much the same way.[sigh] It all seemed so deep and profound, once....

Then again, there really are some good Yes songs, and some good ELP songs, and etc. It's just that so much of it got so overblown....

Oh, "noodling": Liquid guitar riffs that go up and down the scale and meander somewehat.

Jerry Garcia was the quintessential guitar noodler, although he hated that term.

I didn't read the whole post -- I have a very short attention span, but noticed your reference to My Fathers Place. I used to love that shithole, Blue Oyster Cult (Soft White Underbelly) used to play there like every other week, it seemed.

You probably also remember Tueys, Hammerheads, Solomon Grundys and the real OBI. There was also that annoyingly trendy place in New Hyde Park too, but the name escapes me.

Now I would like to thank you for the two hours I just wasted listening to Topographic Oceans and Yessongs trying to figure what on earth I ever liked about them. When I recover enough I'll give the Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition downloads a go, but don't have particularly high hopes. The upside is, Meatloaf and Ted Nugent are holding up remarkably well but don't have the depth and meaning they did on an 8-track in a Vega while drinking Tuborg Gold in the parking lot.

I forgot to mention in my last comment -- I would be eternally grateful to anyone who could point me at a source for Good Rats tapes/discs/vinyl. I want to see if it's still tasty.

While I love Dream Theater's music along with Yes, the only thing they are good for these days is Treadmill music.

BTW, "Noodling" is the PC version, "Musical Masturbation" is the term I prefer to use (i.e. look how fast I can run my fingers up and down this 19 string bass!).

Re Brannican, Corey Hart, etc. - not stuff I like , mind you - just came with the 80s compilation CDs I bought for a pfennig at the used CD store. It's fun to have around, though - once a year everyone needs to revisit the misbegotten pop of their 20s.

To keep my anti-Yes remarks in context: in the endless and oh-so-important ProgRock War of the late 70s, I fought on the side of Genesis. Take that for what you will.

From a post I made 9/29/02:

Led Zeppelin did not own the rights to bizarre lyrics passing as genius writing abilities. We enshrined Genesis (the Gabriel years) in the same manner.

From Supper's Ready:
Wandering through the chaos the battle has left,
We climb up a mountain of human flesh,
To a plateau of green grass, and green trees full of life.
A young figure sits still by the pool,
He's been stamped human bacon by some butchery tool.
(He is you.)
Social Security took care of this lad.
We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower.

Any old school Genesis fan worth his salt knows what comes next.

A flower?

Want more? From I Know What I Like in Your Wardrobe:

When the sun beats down and I lie on the bench,
I can always hear them talk.
Me, I'm just a lawnmower - you can tell me by the way I walk

We used to recite that line over and over! Some days it was all we said. Genius! Brilliance! We each claimed to know exactly what they meant by that but none of us had a damn clue as to what the hell they were talking about. But saying that you knew, that you understood the depth and layers of Genesis made you look smart and brilliant in your own right.

And who could forget Squonk? There isn't a long-time Genesis fan alive who can't recite the end of the song:

The is of a very retiring disposition and due to its ugliness, weeps constantly. It is easy prey for hunters who simply follow a tear-stained trail. When cornered it will dissolve itself into tears. True or False?

What the hell? How did I ever think those were inspiring, thoughtful words?

Better yet, tell me why I feel so melancholy when I hear these songs. Is it just the memories of those youthful days? Or was there really something to the music and lyrics that my old age just can't see anymore? Have I gotten too old to appreciate underlying themes and visions? Should I start smoking pot again? Do I need to take Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Physical Graffiti and listen for the subtext and meanings that I swear are not there?

I still love pre-Gabriel Genesis.

Heh, I was ripping all my CDs to mp3 to put on my Nomad Jukebox. I "cull" the worst tracks from the CDs so that I don't have a lot of crap clogging the limited memory. When I came to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway I remember when I got it in college that it was somehow tremendously profound, what with all the words crammed in the music. I didn't understand what the hell it was about other than I think it took place underground. It was one of my fav albums.

Only 2 songs from the double album made the cut and got ripped. The rest were cringeworthy.

P.S. I think the music of ELP aged better then Genesis or Yes, owing mostly to the fact that the lyrics were fewer and farer between keyboard work and weren't as "flaky" as Anderson's or Gabriel/Collins'.

Indeed, there is bad prog-rock. Uh, surprise. There is also bad rock-rock. In vast, Tower Records-filling quantities. At least prog weeds out the lousy musicians.
The best prog-rock is wonderful stuff. "Awaken"...? "The Family and the Fishing Net"...? "Starless"...? Amazing and powerful.
Picking on prog-rock for having lame lyrics is bizarre-think. Rock-rock has plenty of that, thanks. ("Flies in the vaseline we are, sometimes it blows my mind" pops into my head. And I like those guys.) The lyrics to the afore-mentioned "The Family and the Fishing Net" are better than most modern poetry.
IMHO, folks who criticize prog-rock are (or have become) lazy listeners. The best prog demands attention. If you want background music, slap on Springsteen or Elton John or whatever yanks your crank and enjoy. Just don't knock prog because you just plain don't get it, or find it confusing "with all those time-changes and stuff," or because it distracts you when you're reading the sports section.
I also find those who decry it as "self-indulgent" to be disengenuous, at best. What, jazz isn't?
The Grumpy Old Prog Rock Dude
P.S. I like plain old rock, too. And classical. And jazz. Why limit yourself? It just seems that for most critics, prog-rock is what you pick on when you can't think of anything else to write, because it's non-controversial and an established whipping boy.
P.P.S. Prog-rock fans have their own version of "Godwin's Law:" As soon as any critic uses the word "pretentious" in discussing prog, intelligent criticism has been abandoned.

Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture
by Edward L. Macan
(As leader of the prog band Hermetic Science, he knows whereof he writes, as well: his solo piano version of ELP's "Tarkus" has to be heard to be believed.)

It's not all bad, Toren. In fact, I like the CD you made for me. And you know I like all kinds of music.

I always liked King Crimson and Tangerine Dream, as well as latter day prog bands like Amorphis and Fates Warning.

Aw, I wasn't picking on you, Michele. Just free-floating prog geek anxiety bursting forth.
I love Lileks, too, but his taste in music is strangely crippled. Trashing Procol Harum because A Whiter Shade of Pale was tragically played to death? Bad form, old bean.
I also get peeved at the folks who say "All prog sux...well, except Peter Gabriel. And King Crimson. And Led Zep. And Jethro Tull. And Pink Floyd. And..."
The guys who simply deny the above "acceptable" prog groups are even prog at all piss me off even more. It's like the ivory tower literary critics who deny Vonnegut wrote SF, because, well...it's GOOD, and we all know SF is crap.
Don't get me started...you should know what happens by now.
Now...HEAL! (He says, and gestures mystically.)

This all reminds me so much of my former love affair with Kansas. They were the one group for which I had virtually every album released...even going all the way back to obscure releases like "Masque."

Now, 25 years on, I listen to some of those old albums and, with the exception of a few gems, I wonder just what it was about their music that I found so interesting.

I still think "Carry On Wayward Son" is one of the best songs ever, though.

I was an ELP guy - my brother was a Yes guy. One does cringe when listening to some of it these days. I read a quote from Jon Anderson where he said that the lyrics were only a vehicle to bring people to the music. Ohhhhh.....now you tell us.....

ELP led me and my friends backwards to 'Court of the Crimson King' (Greg Lake on vocals, therefore obligatory to ELP people), then we all pretended to love 'In the Wake of Poseidon' and debate the profundity of 'Cat Food'.

By the way, I just picked up Crimson's 2003 release 'The Power to Believe'. Pretty darn good!!The usual 7/8 and 5/4 meters, and Pat Mastelotto's drumming is superb. Less of Belew on this one - what there is is doctored. 'Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With' wins the award for 'Most Yes-Like'.


"Love Will Find A Way" from Big Generator is a pretty good Yes song, but in general I put them in the same category with Styx, Jethro Tull, and a few other groups whose members seemingly had no shame. Pretension Rock blows as flat-out music, but is really fun to laugh out in a MST3K way. Who can keep a straight face when that hairy little dude from Jethro Tull skips around on stage huffing and spitting into that flute? Besides Ren Fair dorks, I mean.

Oh, and I saw Blue Oyster Cult a couple of years ago at a bar called Marrz here in Wilmington. They decided to do some weird altered version of 'Don't Fear The Reaper', and boy was I pissed. Sadly, watching Blue Oyster Cult play music now is like watching your parents screw.

When did I trash Procul Harem? Not that I wouldn't - I don't like the song because the singer sounds like a mallard has fastened its beak on his groin, and it all seems draggy and pretentious. Bonus points for the Hipgnosis cover, too.

Then again, what do I know ? I still like a lot of Genesis, including the first two post-Gabriel albums. And you can get more than two tunes out of "Lamb," I think - that might be the one concept double-album that doesn't completely collapse from the weight of its own pretentions.

Man, remind me to never autotype to my iTunes playlist while drinking again! Or rather: remind me to do it more often.

I still like Yes.

However, I don't like the popular stuff. My favorite album of theirs is Tormato, especially "Circus of Heaven".

Most of their other stuff, I can take a pass on.

I actually had an Alan Parsons moment today. I attended the funeral of a friend. He had full military honors, as he had served in two wars, and was a decorated CPO. "Old and Wise" kept echoing around in my head through the entire enterring.

Some of the songs of our youth stick with us. Some are better forgotten. Looking back on them with a few more years under my belt, it's somewhat easier to see which were meaningful, and which were pretty much angst-powered drivel.


Nice to see Bill Nelson getting name checks, I've been doing it at my place for some time now. I have a link to his diary, which he updates every two weeks or so. He's still very active and is still performing and releasing music. Of course, I'm a fan from his Be-Bop Deluxe days, and have been hot and cold on his post Be-Bop stuff, but I highly recommend Blue Moons and Laughing Guitars, as well as his work with Channel Light Vessel.

As far as Yes goes, I always kinda liked them but I do agree with you about the often embarrasing lyrics. Jon Anderson was no Pete Sinfield. I have a special fondness for Relayer, the Wakeman-less 1974 release. The musicianship was always first-rate with Yes, that much never changed. They do seem to be running on empty these days, like so many musicians of their period.

Speaking of Sinfield, of course I've always loved King Crimson and liked ELP so much better when he did the lyrical duties, especially on the magnificent Brain Salad Surgery. Crimson's still interesting, but ELP has nothing to offer these days.

Yes, I suppose you could say that I am still an unrepentant art-rock/prog fan, as much as I ever was in my teenage years, from KC and Yes to pre-1980 Genesis, Steve Hillage, Jade Warrior, Gentle Giant, pre-1979 Tull, Strawbs, and many others. And I don't care who knows it.

JB, agree with your comment on Sinfield with one notable exception-the God awful ELP "Love Beach" album. For years I was waiting for the reunion and when this turd was released I couldn't wait for them to break up again. Sinfield cowrote all the worst songs on it.

I rechecked the Nomad. 9 of the Lamb Lies Down tracks made it. Listening to it now. "I've got sunshine in my stomach, like I've just rocked my baby to sleep..."

Thanks for the topic Michele. I dug out my 30 year old tapes which proudly advertise STEREO recording. Supertramp anyone?

Philistines! Where is Pink Floyd in all this dialogue? Stoned? Great music? mmhmmm

Johnny Bacardi fingers The Thing: "Musicianship" is where it's at with "prog rock". Try it this way:

It was easy to be astonished watching Steve Gadd command his body through all the polyrhythmics of Chick Corea's Electrik Band repertoire. The man was off-worldy. However, to me, there was nothing about the context in which that talent and skill was set that drove so hard as Chester Thompson or Bill Bruford drumming with Genesis on the "Seconds Out" tour (back when Phil Collins was a real drummer, too), or Carl Palmer at any point along the main run of ELP.

These people were coupling the energy (there really is no other word for it, cliché or not) of "rock and roll" with a density of composition which, all at once, appealed to the intellect and teased the hormones. It was a stretch of the essential rock impulse toward a real mind/body synthesis. I loved Chick, for instance, but he never rocked me the way some of these people did.

BTW -- when it comes to Americans, I enjoyed Kansas (my favorite was "What's On My Mind"), but the master of the class was always Frank Zappa. I don't know if anyone has ever credited (or indicted)him as a "progressive rocker", but his work will never disappear just because "authorities" don't get around to him when the subject comes up.

I have to agree. When I listen to Foxtrot by Genesis I have to wonder what I was thinking. The funny thing is, the world seemed so much clearer and less confusing then than it does now. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

P.S. I was listening to Ultimate Yes in the car with my 16-year old son the other day. He was actually trying to figure out what the lyrics meant. I didn't have the heart to tell him.

Ouch damn that is cold about Dream Theater. Although they have done some rather anal retentive material (see their penultimate album). I think they are a great band who occassionally let their abilities get the best of of them. They have returned to more approachable material with their last outting. As far as Yes goes, they are good...in moderation (ditto ELP). Of course, I also rather like the Trevor Rabin era Yes material as well. As far as old Genesis...not too keen on the Gabriel era stuff to be quite honest. Jethro Tull has done some good stuf as well. Kansas recently released a live album which is pretty damn amazing.

In the UK the term for noddling is "guitar wanking".

Zappa always put so much distance between Prog rockers and himself and his musical ambitions that most people don't really associate him with progressive...but if anyone ever deserved that often oxymoronic term, it was Frank. He was a genius composer, when he wasn't setting tit jokes to music.

I like Pink Floyd, moreso when they were an honest to goodness band rather than a vehicle for Roger Waters' solipsistic navel-gazing self pity. I've always thought Meddle was brilliant, loved Dark Side of the Moon, and think Wish You Were Here is one of the finest albums ever made. The Syd albums are often interesting but rarely draw me back to listen to them. I have little or no use for anything that followed Wish, although Animals has its moments. I think what bugs me most about the Floyd is its knucklehead stoner hardcore fans, who view the music as nothing more than a soundtrack for their chemical adventures and wax all rhapsodic about seeing the pig on the 1979 tour, dude. Not that I have anything against getting stoned, mind you, but geez louise!

Funnily enough, my favorite Kansas album is the one which killed their career, Monolith. That's the one where they actually harnessed their instincts for commercialism, good humor, and virtuoso playing into a complete set of strong songs. Earlier albums had some highlights, some very high, and I heard the albums Point of Know Return and Leftoverture a lot growing up as a teenager. Kansas was an underrated who get an unfair rap from a lot of people who should know better. Just like Blue Oyster Cult, I daresay.

Johno: You're right about Love Beach, which was a godawful piece of crap. I took one look at the guys in their tight silk shorts on the insert and declined to buy that one. Lyrically it was OK, if a bit phoned-in, but I don't think Sinfield was really in the loop on that album, which was done as ELP were disintegrating for the second and last for a long time due to rampant egomaniacialism. If you've never visited Pete's website, you should- it's at www.songsouponsea.com.

I also like Supertramp OK, especially the Even In The Quietest Moments album. Those fellas could write some hooky hooks, by God!

I'm kinda surprised that in all this discussion there hasn't been one single reference to Rush. Certainly they rank as prog rock, right?

And I still haven't figured out the time signature on "Tom Sawyer"...I think it's 7/8, when it's not 4/4.

Johnny B -- I maintain that BOC was the very first true voice of American heavy-metal. In that aspect, they are historically important, at least.

Anyone can take that contention as they may. However, their style has endured throughout their career, comprehending a peculiarly serrated-edged existential wit, and masterfully driven with the principal element of rock orchestration: electric guitars. Donald Roeser is a scandalously neglected exemplar.

"The Red And The Black" (from "Tyranny And Mutation", 1973) always makes my Top Five All-Time Favorite Rock Songs, and probably always will. Even though the style has always endured, I can't argue that they haven't lost some of the gleam on their edge over time. There have been diamonds along the way ("Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave" from "Fire of Unknown Origin", 1981, and "Veterans of the Psychic Wars", from the 1981 "Heavy Metal" film soundtrack), as the thing almost inevitably wound down. The first three albums, though, will always be in-the-house in my collection as long as I can spin 'em up.

Ps. -- Frank Zappa was a genius even when he was "setting tit jokes to music". "Magdalena" ("Just Another Band From L.A.", 1972) put the issue of child sexual-abuse on a rock stage in a time when nobody was even talking about it. The composition is as intense as the subject, and The Mothers pulled it off with aplomb that easily rivals anything that, say, Yes or ELP was reaching for in that period.

Well, I'd have to say that tit jokes and child abuse are pretty different as far as subject matter goes, but I do agree with you that Zappa, even at his crassest (and boy could he be crass) was usually brilliant. Heck, I still get a chuckle from the likes of "Titties and Beer" and "Bobby Brown". But there was something about Zappa's reflexive disdain and desire to ridicule and belittle anyone and everyone that failed to live up to his arbitrary personal standards that really turned me off in his later years, when it manifested itself the most as he gave the people what they seemed to want (cf. tit jokes) as he toured to make money to finance his more serious compositional ambitions.

And you're preaching to the choir, my friend, when it comes to the Blue Oyster Cult. While I'm hot and cold on the first album, Tyranny and Mutation, Secret Treaties, and Agents of Fortune are flat out fucking brilliant records. And Buck Dharma was just sick wicked fast on that guitar. I'll never forget watching him play on the Mirrors tour (past their prime, I know, but that was the only chance I got to see them), standing absolutely calmly, leaned back just a little, spraying out those dipsy doodle runs and solos, his hand blurring just a smidge. One of my favorite concert memories.

It really chaps my ass that these days the only thing people remember them for is that moronic cowbell skit on SNL a few years ago. Sigh.

"But there was something about Zappa's reflexive disdain and desire to ridicule and belittle anyone and everyone that failed to live up to his arbitrary personal standards that really turned me off in his later years..."

He did that all his life, and he was often at his best in that mode. It's one of the things that I loved most about him. "Uncle Remus" (sneering at phoney race relations), "Pygmy Twylyte" (beating up dopers), just about all of "Broadway The Hard Way".

Frank was the H.L. Mencken of rock music.

As for Those Nice Jewish Boys From Long Island: I agree on the first record. I keep it mainly for purposes of history (although there ain't no way around "Cities On Flame"), and I have to say that between that and "Agents", it's a toss-up, to me. "Tyranny" and "Treaties", however, are quite indispensible.