Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Progfather


With the passive of David Bowie, my friend Louie more or less summed up how I felt:
Bowie's death for me feels a lot like Michael Jackson's death felt. His music wasn't My Thing, and I've never owned any of his music, but somehow I feel a little loss anyhow.
I'll be honest: I've never been a fan of progressive rock. (Strictly speaking, Bowie wasn't prog rock, but close enough for anyone who isn't a 40 year old still working as a clerk at FYE or an editor of Spin magazine. If you feel more comfortable, pretty much everything I say can also be applied to art rock and glam rock, of which Bowie definitely applies. The mere existence of Ziggy Stardust should plant him firmly in the prog camp.) Oh, sure, I kind of enjoyed a lot of the bands that are classified as such, but not the actual prog rock itself.

I don't quite rightly know why, either. Prog rock, with its experimental overtones, its subversion of the sorts of things in art I usually hate, and long, thoughtful lyrics. But most prog rock bands took that creativity and turned it into the exact sort of pretentious, self-important unfortunateness that I tend to loathe. 40-minute long rock operas that end up being about nothing except as an enhancement for those on acid is culturally weak. It's similar to the crude analogies one mentions about urinals: after a certain point, you're just playing with yourself.

Of course, this is music, and to each their own; I certainly don't begrudge people who enjoy that sort of music, but it's certainly not for me. I shamelessly enjoy the radio-friendly snippets of what allowed most of these prog rock bands keep the lights on, the exact sort of sell-out that true artists, no doubt, shake their fists at. But I'll listen to Wish You Were Here over Tommy any day. I got shit to do.

It seems that many artists felt the same way: the experimental album, once the mainstay of prog rock bands, largely fell by the wayside, with artists falling back on more traditional music output and cashing in their name in the process. Maybe it was the large amount of work involved, maybe it was a reduced reliance on psychedelics, or maybe it was simply bowing to the demands of the marketplace, but that era was over by the mid-80s. (The rise of punk definitely helped pound the nails in the coffin.) Which is a bit strange--in today's world, where data is free and easily attainable, long form prog rock hasn't made much of a resurgence. In a way, it seems a missed opportunity, at leas for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

Anyway, Partly because of this, I was never into David Bowie much; the few singles that got airplay (Major Tom, of course) were pretty good, and for a while I was crazy about Queen Bitch from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack. It's clear, though, his impact transcended the genre he was in, and that's one of the beacons of cultural talent.

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