Prog rock epiphany

by John Quiggin on August 25, 2012

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel has a series on progressive rock for which he admits a fondness, while quoting a description of it as the “single most deplored genre of postwar pop music.”. Thanks to the playing of GaryMike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells at the Olympics opening ceremony, there’s even talk of a revival. As it happens, this album played a significant role in my life – in fact, it was something of an epiphany, which changed my views on all kinds of things, though not in the same way as for Weigel.

I was a teenager in the late 60s and early 70s when everyone I knew took music, and particularly rock music, very seriously indeed. I can still remember listening to a friend’s newly purchased copy of TB and thinking “this is the most pretentious crap I’ve ever heard”. After that, I no longer assumed that, just because all the critics praise something, it must actually be good.

I gradually worked out that the problem was not just with the idea that rock music could and should be Art but with the whole idea of Art.  It’s a bit hard to recall now, but at that time the idea of Art as a unique and privileged kind of activity and the Artist as an inspired individual was in full flower. I

Not long after this, I came across three very different books that put these thoughts better than I could, and that I still re-read from time to time. They were

* Nik Cohn’s history of pop,  Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom

* Roger Taylor’s Art, an Enemy of the People

and, a bit later

* Raymond Williams Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

Cohn and Taylor made the point (obvious in retrospect but novel at the time) that sticking an Art label on to popular music forms like rock and jazz was a recipe for disaster.  Williams (and Taylor in a different way) showed how the  ideas of Art and Culture (as opposed to their lower-case forms, applicable to all kinds of activity) were 19th century inventions.

That’s a long way from Oldfield playing 57 different instruments, each introduced by name. But, for me, that was the first step.

{ 135 comments }

1

TheSophist 08.25.12 at 8:58 pm

Roger Taylor, he was the drummer for Queen, right? :) I suppose if there’s an astrophysicist in the band then there needs to be an art critic for a bit of balance. What else did they get up to in their spare time? “A history of the Church of England” by John Deacon? OK, I’ll stop now.

2

Hidari 08.25.12 at 9:17 pm

More interestingly, what prog rock deserves to survive? Obviously most of it is shit, but then, as Theodore Sturgeon pointed out, 94% of everything is shit. And compared with the horrors of modern ‘indie’ frankly the crimes of prog fade into insignificance.

My votes: Frank Zappa (especially the stuff he did from about ’75 to ’85 that nobody likes except me)

King Crimson (especially the stuff from the mid to late ‘seventies)

Pete Hammill (not so much his music, more his bizarre life)

Pete Gabriel’s solo stuff, and, God help us, some of his stuff with Genesis, although, God knows, here you really have to be selective.

Gong (first album)

Those couple of singles by Supertramp (the Logical Song is still a masterpiece and the lyrics are true, Goddamit)

Highly selected Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon is actually a pretty decent album.

And Tubular Bells,which knocked me out when I was 16 and which I have been unable to listen to much since, as I am worried that it won’t bear up, but the Exorcist theme tune still makes the hairs rise up on the back of my neck.

Prog which was shit then and shit now: Rush, Yes, ELP, post Gabriel Genesis.

3

Pat McGee 08.25.12 at 9:18 pm

Mike Oldfield, not Gary.

4

Hidari 08.25.12 at 9:19 pm

Incidentally who is Gary Oldfield? Mike’s brother?

5

md 20/400 08.25.12 at 9:22 pm

The “Gary”for “Mike” comes from Tubeway Army?

6

Doctor Memory 08.25.12 at 9:24 pm

This thread is incomplete without D2 trolling.

7

Matt 08.25.12 at 9:33 pm

I was too young to listen to this stuff at first, and only vaguely remember hearing “Tubular Bells” (the internet seems to say that it’s Mike, not Gary, but what do I or it know?). The thing I found when looking for it was, I thought at first, the X-files theme, but I guess it’s from the Exorcist. What it slightly reminded me of, though, was this, which definitely does not suck (and is from one of the best of all Soviet movies)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJj9y4t9UnU

(I guess a remake of this theme was a big hit in Europe a few years ago- faster, mostly. Bur Artemyev is a pretty great composer.)

8

John Quiggin 08.25.12 at 9:47 pm

A mental typo for Gary Oldman, I think. Fixed now

9

John Quiggin 08.25.12 at 9:49 pm

I must admit, I still like Dark Side of the Moon

10

tomslee 08.25.12 at 9:50 pm

A mental typo for Gary Oldman, I think.

…where Oldman is a mental typo for Numan, as per #4?

11

Alice 08.25.12 at 10:11 pm

Somebody isn’t smoking enough funny baccy if they don’t like absolutely everything Floyd.

12

Chris Bertram 08.25.12 at 10:15 pm

John, that would be an _18th_ century invention.

I recently (as you know) read Taylor and was much impressed. I’ve just started Larry Shiner’s _The Invention of Art_ which covers similar ground – very good so far, I recommend. Taylor’s follow-up, _Beyond Art_ I found disappointing and unreadable.

For those in the UK who like prog, my eldest son Alex’s band ANTA is about to start a tour, details here:

http://louderthanwar.com/new-band-of-the-day-anta/

13

Watson Ladd 08.25.12 at 10:25 pm

The first prog musician would have to be Wagner: excess of everything, custom venues, devoted fans whose tastes are decidedly strange. But everyone bashing prog should stop and think: why can’t all forms of music be art? What’s wrong with aspiring to create something that isn’t three minutes long and about a girl or a car? I’ve never heard someone bash Cecil Taylor for what he does in favor of jazz that sounds like music. Somehow rock, if it isn’t made for enjoyment, is worthless. I doubt anyone would take the same attitude to Berg.

14

bob mcmanus 08.25.12 at 11:09 pm

Somehow rock, if it isn’t made for enjoyment, is worthless.

Just reverse snobbery. Silliness.

It’s all made for “enjoyment,” just different kinds of pleasures. Sometimes just the pleasure of the people making the music, like karaoke. You can join in if you like. TB is just fun, and most of the bands usually mentioned in these threads are midcult. King Crimson excepted, and some Yes.

And yeah Berg, Schoenberg, Taylor, late Trane. Absolutely different, but I can compare Gentle Giant, PFM, Red Queen to Gryphon Three, to anything out there. I don’t bother defending it to the beer-bong crowd.

15

Substance McGravitas 08.25.12 at 11:19 pm

Prog rock was rarely rock but was something else. There were exceptions, but I think of rock as a primal expression rather than the meticulous and careful noodling (which I like!) of a lot of the prog folks. For me King Crimson was the best blend of mayhem and musicianship.

It’s a bit hard to recall now, but at that time the idea of Art as a unique and privileged kind of activity and the Artist as an inspired individual was in full flower.

Yes, rock was art already and prog was a way of reserving a space for an elite that you couldn’t join without years of dedication and a sense of focus approaching illness. I’m not sure that prog went away though: it continued crossbreeding with metal and a lot of those bands exhibit the same problems with sticking to a musical theme.

16

JulesLt 08.25.12 at 11:26 pm

There’s a lovely bit of criticism from Matthew Ingram that reversed the usual logic and portrays punks as Reactionary / Thatcherite / Reaganite against the beardy communal lefty Prog types.

But then I have more Soft Machine and Kevin Ayers than Sex Pistols.

17

Substance McGravitas 08.25.12 at 11:30 pm

Sandanista must have been an attempt to outdo all those prog bands and their double albums.

18

John Quiggin 08.25.12 at 11:32 pm

@Chris Taking the Long 19th as 1789-1914, I’m going to stick with the claim that it’s a 19th Century idea, starting with Beethoven and Romanticism

19

dexitroboper 08.25.12 at 11:42 pm

I saw Tubular Bells for Two at the last Sydney Festival. It wasn’t pretentious at all, just great fun. And they play both sides of the album.

20

Nathanael 08.26.12 at 12:18 am

Oddly, I like Tubular Bells, but then I also like trance electronica, and I tend to think it’s closer to that genre than to anything else.

21

bob mcmanus 08.26.12 at 12:56 am

but I think of rock as a primal expression

I read stuff like this, I reach for my imaginary NAACP card. It has always struck me that there is something vaguely racist in the “rock primitivist” crowd, not only in that if rock ain’t based in Johnson, Sippie Wallace, and Muddy Waters it isn’t authentic, but that the black music rock must be based on has some kind of primal primitivist essence that demands an anti-intellectualism. Ellington begone, if it don’t have that swing, it don’t mean a thing.

I will not tell a twenty something what she can or cannot try. If the prog reach exceeded it’s grasp, well, that what’s kids do, God bless them. Romanticism has gotten a really bad rap recently, and if the alternative is Classicism, then the young should rebel and express themselves for the heck of it, offending and bewildering old fogies head-banging to their antique punk records.

The only time I ever drove someone from my room was with Brian Jones “Pipes of Pan at Joujouka.” Total garbage, he called it. I’m sure he would have agreed with Quiggin and Cohn on what music must be, what kids with instruments are commanded to play.

22

etc. 08.26.12 at 1:13 am

So my niece at 5 playing happy birthday on a steinway is no more or less intrinsically of interest than Ashkenazy playing Bach.
If there’s no certain measure then there’s no measure.

Since there’s no certain measure of justice then justice doesn’t exist, alone a brilliant argument for one definition. Rawls is fiction and there’s no accounting for taste.

23

Substance McGravitas 08.26.12 at 1:22 am

I read stuff like this, I reach for my imaginary NAACP card.

Indeed, imaginary!

not only in that if rock ain’t based in Johnson, Sippie Wallace, and Muddy Waters it isn’t authentic, but that the black music rock

If you want to examine the contents of my head you can ask for them: making them up is easier but less accurate.

24

etc. 08.26.12 at 1:27 am

“…let alone”

I hate arguments for and from vulgarianism. And that’s all this post is.

25

nnyhav 08.26.12 at 1:30 am

“single most deplored genre of postwar pop music.”: thought that was disco.

speakin’o'history, from a while ago:
http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/troping_prog_as_toes/

26

etc. 08.26.12 at 1:38 am

Giotto is not a figment of the 19th Century imagination. Neither is Homer, nor Cicero, nor Ovid.

The parallel to Prog Rock in interest and in weakness is Jazz Fusion.
For an understanding of the blues in relation to “Art” talk to any expert on Bartok. Or talk to Charles Rosen. Talk to Rosen about about Art Tatum; Horowitz could play Tatum’s solos from memory.

27

Dave Maier 08.26.12 at 1:50 am

I think we can all agree that the earlier one unlearns the ridiculous idea that “just because all the critics praise something, it must actually be good”, the better. I don’t remember when this happened for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was due to critical fawning over Bruce Springsteen, which was truly insane back in the day, or even now for that matter.

Equally uncontroversial is the fact that when prog rock fails, it can be, and in many famous cases is, because it has become kitsch (and thus well dismissed, as John does Tubular Bells here, as “pretentious”). I myself have mixed feelings about Oldfield, but I would like to stick up for Ommadawn side 1, which rocks. (He also plays on Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, which is the greatest record ever made, so there’s that.)

On the other hand, I think that not only should we not identify prog rock with its excesses, it would also be a mistake to attribute these excesses, when they occurred, to the Romantic apotheosis of the Artist. If anything, that’s more characteristic of mainstream rock (been to Elvis’s grave recently, or Jim Morrison’s?) than of, say, Gentle Giant, who failed artistically not when they did what they were good at, but instead when they reached for rock stardom with blander and blander records (culminating in the notoriously awful ready-for-radio-airplay disaster Civilian – but I digress).

As with most things, the best prog rock will live forever – or it won’t, and our descendants (and some of our contemporaries, of course) won’t know what they’re missing.

28

john c. halasz 08.26.12 at 1:57 am

@18:

Umm…, no. “Aesthetics” as an independent “philosophical” discipline begins in the mid- 18th century, with, in the German context, the likes of Lessing and Winkelmann, with Kant’s 3rd “Critique”, as with much else, being a distillation of much prior Enlightenment thinking. Earlier Baroque thinking on the matter perhaps is interesting here, in that the concept of “taste” was not as yet differentiated between the ethical and the aesthetic dimensions. But, of course, “art” from its archaic cultic origins to its most “avant garde” articulations has a much longer history of reflection upon it, both by practitioners and by its receivers (or “critics”). But the clam for an independent sphere of validity for “art” over everything else is part of the differentiation of discursive spheres that began with the Enlightenment and forms the basis of much modern thought. That “art” is then “universal” follows, and that it then has a social/class basis as a counter-position is just a further development along the same lines. But that has nothing to do with “Romanticism” per se,- (assuming that Beethoven is even a good stereotype),- but rather the former is just one stage in subsequent processes of creative production and its conjoined critical reflection. That such works appeal in the first instance to educated elites and their cultivation of “taste”, which also overlaps with those who enjoy material productive surpluses almost goes without saying.

What characterizes the current “post-modern” configuration is the recognition that “art” is an industrially produced, technical product, rather than the quasi-organic outgrowth of the clash between inherited traditions and historical experiences, and that “art” can no longer be restricted to elite judgment and consumption, nor continuous “tradition”, but henceforth is increasingly hybridized.

29

etc. 08.26.12 at 2:10 am

The fact that art is now industrially produced makes it no less organic.
Corporations are an aspect of culture, no more free and independent than anything else.

30

Lee A. Arnold 08.26.12 at 2:52 am

Yes did quite possibly the best Beatles cover, “Every Little Thing” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIcpJFQDa64 The tune doesn’t start until 1:45 (after the most lovely appearance of “Daytripper”) and it is such a shitkicking rocker that it ALONE justifies Yes. Throw in “Yours is No Disgrace”, “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Perpetual Change” from the third album, The Yes Album, and Yes will live forever… I once did some plumbing for Jon Anderson, a lovely person, in LA and I told him that I have listened to “Perpetual Change” once a week for the last 30 years, and he said “Really?” (like “Are you nuts?”) …… Well, Yes

31

Ben Alpers 08.26.12 at 2:55 am

What, no love for Magma?!? [/snark]

Though I was never a big fan of prog rock as a genre (and remember endlessly teasing friends of mine who were back in the ’70s), Floyd and King Crimson certainly hold up for me. I’ll also admit to a soft spot for Jethro Tull (though I won’t really defend it in terms of quality) and an appreciation (in very small doses) for Soft Machine and the solo acts that came out of it.

I just listened to (the quasi-prog) E.L.O.’s Out of the Blue for the first time in three decades and, while it’s crap, it’s very fun crap. I don’t plan to wait another three decades to listen to it again.

(Incidentally, the problem I always had with prog’s version of “rock as art,” was not the idea of art or even Art, but rather the very cramped vision of art-as-classical-music that most prog rock acts seemed to subscribe to.)

32

Kaveh 08.26.12 at 2:59 am

I think the reason for discomfort with prog rock is that it seems to lack emotional sophistication, like, it’s okay to try and be a little difficult or even weighty if you’re doing it the way Radiohead does it, or Bob Dylan, but the very literal intellectualism of a 10 minute Rush song that compares the solar system to a tidal pool has no place in Art. Rush aren’t singing about sex, so they must be emotionally stunted artistic lightweights.

@22, It’s not about claiming that more blues-based rock is primitivist because Black music is primitive, it’s more that white audiences (and maybe to some extent musicians) seek primitivity in Black music. It’s like the way classical music with Middle Eastern themes (like Scheherezade) tends to be lush bordering on overwrought & campy (not unlike… prog rock!) but the Middle Eastern music they were copying was none of those things.

I second Watson’s point @13… at the risk of being pedantic, I think “aspiring to create something that isn’t 3 minutes long about a girl or a car” sets up exactly the kind of false choice, or phony polarity, that is the problem with a lot of prog rock. Like there’s only one way to be intellectual, or difficult.

33

etc. 08.26.12 at 3:00 am

Ben Alpers, do us all a favor and defend you mother and her choice of career.
You of all people should know she deserves more respect than she’s given here.

34

Doctor Memory 08.26.12 at 3:03 am

Lee: the counterargument there is “I AM A CAMERA. CAMERA CAMERA.” (Repeat ad infinitum until the listener chooses suicide.) But even Mozart and Bach had a few stinkers in their repertoire, to be sure.

35

Ben Alpers 08.26.12 at 3:05 am

etc. @33: I don’t think my mother or her discipline need any defense….though I’d add that she might be the last person to defend art history (at least as it tends to be practiced) as a field. I wasn’t aware, at any rate, that she’s been shown disrespect on CT. Maybe I’m not reading carefully enough!

36

etc. 08.26.12 at 3:06 am

Though she missed the point with Tiepelo, and amusingly enough, that would mark her almost a defender of prog rock indulgence.

37

etc. 08.26.12 at 3:11 am

Maybe I haven’t read enough. Is she that contemptuous of art, of Giotto and Sophocles? Maybe so. I’ll have to read more, or ask Tim Clark.

38

Ben Alpers 08.26.12 at 3:14 am

etc. @37: She’s not in the least contemptuous of art. She can be contemptuous of the academic field of art history (though I often think she’s actually less contemptuous of it than she sometimes sounds).

39

Watson Ladd 08.26.12 at 3:16 am

So Tin Pan Alley never existed, and Brahms wasn’t touring Europe to lead orchestras? Adorno critiques the cult of the maestro years before the Spice Girls are manufactured.
As for the excesses of the elite, Emerson, Lake and Palmer filled stadiums and were on the radio, hardly the sort of venue for something confined to a small number of people.

Bashing a supposed artist elite as being out of touch is easy. But art is important: it’s the appreciation of unities through the faculties of immediate understanding, and the pretentiousness (or complexity) is important: it’s more of a unity, more of a challenge to comprehend, and so a higher quality aesthetic experience. In that sense, insofar as this is essential to human flourishing, lack of access to art and its appreciation is a real form of deprivation.

Our inability to see the beauty in Stockhausen isn’t because of him: it’s because we live in a culture that has degraded one of the core human experiences.

40

Meat Tornado 08.26.12 at 3:20 am

No Soft Machine or Henry Cow? Just to branch out from the UK-centric suggestions so far (with the notable exception of Magma!), there are plenty of worthy German entries in the prog rock pantheon (assuming you count Krautrock as Progressive, which I do) – Can, Faust, Neu!, Amon Duul II, Cluster, usw.

41

Lee A. Arnold 08.26.12 at 3:22 am

Not progrock, but poprock: Get Well Soon is about to release his third album, and a brilliant video accompanies a new track (via Metafilter)-(caution, not safe for kids):
http://vimeo.com/45991697
The song starts about 1:30.

This fellow is not only writing and singing, I think he is orchestrating and producing. This is from his first album:

42

etc. 08.26.12 at 3:28 am

Reread the post. Quiggin, in the past as well, mocks art as such as no more than personal preference. Mocking a love of Aristotle or Plato as no more than personal preference, its safe to assume would be another matter entirely. The fact that Sophocles died before Aristotle was born means nothing.
His contempt is clear.

43

Alan 08.26.12 at 3:45 am

I take it that this whole thread is a demo in error theory.

44

nnyhav 08.26.12 at 3:48 am

one thing that always bothered me was Rush was considered progressive rock. We’rent they libertarian or something?

And what’s the matter with Kansas?

45

etc. 08.26.12 at 4:14 am

The fact that Rush’s songwriting was however briefly Randian is no more important than the fact tha Kansas or U2 are now and forever Born Again Christian. Dr Ralph Stanley is a lifetime follower of the Primitive Baptist Church. Hallelujah. Kansas still sucks. U2 are problematic. All a question of music, as literature is a question of language.

46

ponce 08.26.12 at 5:33 am

“And what’s the matter with Kansas?”

One of the lowest points in my life involved Kansas “singing” while Henry Winkler stumbled around on screen as a disturbed Vietnam vet trying to start a worm farm…you weren’t there, man!

47

Adrian Kelleher 08.26.12 at 6:46 am

@John Quiggin

Thread assessment: Dear oh dear.

You’re quite right that the arts were long dominated by an elite that was often self-serving and which included within its ranks many stuffed shirts interested in nothing more than demonstrating social superiority. But the invocation of high art was and is no different psychologically from the invocation of the most holy, and ever since the dawn of humanity there have existed hierarchical and dogmatic organisations that have not only reserved the right to determine what exactly the most holy might be but also to inflict punishments of severity ranging from social ostracism to bodily dismemberment for voicing alternative views.

Over time, such groups, ranging from the Catholic Church to the Soviet Union and on to the High Art establishment, have a natural tendency to develop ever greater degrees of ideological or aesthetic cohesion, or perhaps rigidity, as schismatic disputes are worked out. Furthermore, even though these establishments might have grown absurd or obsolete and thus been overthrown, they had invariably up to the present day reconstituted themselves in short order, often in only slightly altered form. Nor are either pro- nor anti-establishment views something new under the sun.

But your rejection of the artistic establishment in the late-60s/early-70s did not occur in isolation. Rather, identical decisions were made almost simultaneously by millions across the world. And your dismissal of the artistic establishment notwithstanding, this time the change stuck so really you’re flogging a thoroughly deceased horse. Insofar as it existed at all, the artistic establishment of the 1970s was a mere fragment (and by far the stupider fragment) of its former self, an entity possessing none of the immense power it had held in earlier generations.

Going back over the 20th Century, the high-art elite had suffered innumerable convulsions, from expressionism to jazz. On each occasion those in power had been dispossessed only for a new orthodoxy to swiftly reemerge. And believe me when I say that the power of these groups was out of any proportion to that which lingered in the 70s and 80s. The idea of having a career in the humanities in the 1950s while questioning the value of ballet or opera was unthinkable. It was possible to keep silent, but to be classed as a philistine was career suicide.

So why has hierarchy failed to re-emerge this time around. The answer actually has a single dominant component: it starts with a “P” and ends with an “ostmodernism.” It’s with exasperation that I note it hasn’t been mentioned a single time so far in this thread

Any headway made by postmodernism as a dogmatic (or anti-dogmatic) movement is debatable. On the other hand, it gave rise to an explosion of artistic creativity ranging from Sergio Leone’s westerns to the famous closing scene of the Sopranos. It was impossible to make sense of these creations in terms of any prevailing aesthetic. In fact no system of aesthetics could logically make sense of them. This is because, if it is to make sense, any cultural ideology requires the separation of the object (the artwork) and the rule (aesthetic). In a postmodern work, however, the object (e.g. one of Leone’s westerns) and the rule (lots of other westerns) cannot be disentangled.

It was this failure that shattered hegemonic high art. Postmodernism as a logic-corroding philosophical movement merely prevented the fragments from re-assembling as they’d always done in the past.

Though the merit and originality of many postmodernist works can’t be denied, by their very nature they demand that the observer remain consciously outside the work being observed. They are either statements about art itself or about our relationship to art. Taking the final scene from the Sopranos as an example, it’s without doubt brilliant but also modest. It’s a statement about cinematography as well as about things like “family” and “violence”. And when dramatic themes like family or violence are overlaid with statements about cinematography or our relationship to art then they can only be trivialised as a result, because to appreciate a postmodern work the observer must remain fully aware at all times that he or she is appreciating a postmodern work.

And it is a mistake to imagine that the downfall of artistic modernism somehow abolished elitism or snobbery. Snobbery is after all a force in human society that is universal in time an space.

Postmodernism has not acted equally against all manifestations of social or cultural elitism. Though it has demolished anything that might be called holy, its effects at the opposite extreme have been paradoxical because “postmodernism” doesn’t often appear in the same sentence as “Justin Bieber” or “Britney Spears”. In spite of the demise of high art, the cultural elite has therefore re-established itself in one important regard: we can no longer agree on what’s elevated or precious but that doesn’t stop us from agreeing on what’s the most debased or worthless.

What started out as a movement, in part political, attacking artificial and exclusive social, cultural, racial and sexual categories has dissolved into a formless tendency that paradoxically reinforces them. Rather than a vanishingly narrow apex at the top dictating to the mass of humanity, now the mass of humanity dictates to a vanishingly narrow apex at the bottom: Britney Spears, Katie Price, Justin Bieber, and so on. Instead of being demolished, the pyramid of social status has reformed once more only with the proportions reversed.

Hatred of the purest and most unrestrained type becomes in this context not just widely acceptable socially but, as far as many are concerned, actually laudible.

Nor has hierarchy been abolished, it’s just that now there are innumerable mini hierarchies many of which are just as ruthlessly self-serving as the unified establishment of the past. These are less self-aware and in many ways worse than what went before. You’ll hear well educated people these days condemning Britney Spears in the most poisonous terms with one breath and decrying elitism with the next. Genres such as science fiction that once were gaily unpretentious have now become choked with self-regard even as afficionados proclaim their anti-establishment credentials.

The urge to stratify hasn’t been tamed in the slightest, and if there’s anything more disgusting than a tiny group of the priviliged dictating tastes to the mass of humanity then it’s the mass of humanity uniting as a mob to dictate taste to a cultural underclass.

And of course in many of the places where it might have done the most good, e.g. religion, politics, culture apart from its artistic elements, postmodernism has either had no impact whatsoever or its impact has been rolled back over time.

48

Walt 08.26.12 at 7:03 am

I hate to be the one to break it to you, etc, but it’s all subjective. Art is no more than personal preference. Pushpin is as good as poetry.

49

John Quiggin 08.26.12 at 7:15 am

@Adrian Are you really claiming that postmodernism (that is, the academic literature using that term) was responsible for Sergio Leone’s films? He must have been well ahead of the academic wave in that case. Or do you mean that the films are, in some sense, a manifestation of postmodernity?

50

Daniel 08.26.12 at 7:24 am

@15
Yes rock was art already……

Thank you. Close to the edge is a masterpiece.
.
.
.
The Ramones blow.

51

Chris Bertram 08.26.12 at 7:26 am

John, I’ll stick to the 18th (to very early 19th). I’ve lent my Taylor to a friend, but Shiner’s version of the claim notices that in the mid-17th century there were no libraries, concerts, museums etc but that these institutions were all in place by 1800. He then goes in for a more detailed periodization of the art-craft split, ending with a final phase “from around 1800 to 1830, during which the term ‘art’ began to signify an autonomous spiritual domain, the artistic vocation was sanctified, and the concept of the aesthetic began to replace taste.” (p.75). So earlier than you, but overlapping.

52

Chris Bertram 08.26.12 at 7:38 am

John can speak for himself, but I think this characterization by etc is a mistake: “mocks art as such as no more than personal preference.”

The thought is rather that the idea of dividing cultural production in music, drama, literature etc into lower and higher parts, with the higher parts being all united as “an autonomous spiritual domain” called Art involving rapt contemplation of the object by the audience, is (a) a modern invention and (b) has really bad consequences. The really bad consequence is craftspeople, musicians etc, guided by an ideal of Art distort what they do to conform to a pernicious stereotype of “the higher”. Taylor makes this case eloquently in respect of the history of jazz but prog rock will do the trick too. Thinking that Beethoven is in some sense better than Bacharach is a different claim to the one that Beethoven is “Art” and Bacharach isn’t.

(There’s also the further point, that the ideal of the higher form known as Art plays a pernicious cultural role as an exclusionary class marker.)

53

Adrian Kelleher 08.26.12 at 8:07 am

@JQ

He was ahead of the wave all right, and of course he was held in contempt at the time although he himself always insisted on his serious artistic intentions. 2001: A Space Odyssey is likewise postmodernist when it both invokes and lampoons Nietzsche by playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra” over footage of the evolved ape braining all comers with his newly invented bone weapon.

To be honest I’ve little knowledge of how either of these was linked historically with the postmodernist philosophical movement; I could cobble together some stuff from wikipedia but as I’ve no special expertise there wouldn’t be much point. However I can say that conceptually speaking both fall under the postmodernist umbrella as neither can be understood without standing apart from the film itself and considering its consciously constructed links to other works. Leone’s focus, as described here, is very narrowly postmodernist. So I suppose the answer is the latter — a manifestation of postmodernity.

I’ve nothing against a thoroughgoing, broad and considered postmodernism once placed in some sort of context. But it should be remembered that it’s voraciousness extends far beyond high art to aesthetics generally (including for example the communist dominated folk that competed with high art), beyond aesthetics to ideology and beyond ideology to logic without qualification.

There are two dominant (anti-)ideologies today: conservatism (what politics can’t do) and postmodernism (what anything else can’t). There are valid critiques of either position that don’t rely on outdated or narrowminded ideas. What’s lacking is the confidence to tackle the useful but ultimately limited morass that is postmodernism.

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Adrian Kelleher 08.26.12 at 8:15 am

@CB, 52

Yes, but the outcome of these ideas has had none of the egalitarian flavour that was promised.

If you read the review of Inglourious Basterds by Roger Ebert (whose judgement I hold in high regard), you’ll find lots of explanations of the references that transcend “high” and “low”; what you won’t find is any explanation of why this is worthwhile in any way. A film where Quentin Tarantino is systematically dismembered by Nazis again and again would be as illuminating.

This is where these ideas have led us, but it needn’t be that way. The big mistake is to imagine that just because one elitist hierarchy has been toppled that this signals the fall of hierarchy itself or that the forces that gave rise to it have somehow disappeared.

55

Hidari 08.26.12 at 8:30 am

‘Incidentally, the problem I always had with prog’s version of “rock as art,” was not the idea of art or even Art, but rather the very cramped vision of art-as-classical-music that most prog rock acts seemed to subscribe to.’

Surely this quote cuts to the nub of the matter? There is an implied contrast here between the pretentious seriousness of ‘prog’ versus the ‘hey let’s dance’ attitude of punk. But of course that’s nonsense. Punks hated prog (partly because they were both competing for the same commercial territory: white boys playing guitars). But if there was a revolution in ’77 it was a palace revolution. The one thing punk absolutely took over from prog (as Jon Savage pointed out) was that music could and should be ‘progressive’: that it should move forward to the future, not attempt to recreate the sounds of the past. Also: many (not all) punks were just as keen on the idea as pop music as Art as the most chin stroking of the progs. You don’t write songs about Marxism or alienation or environmental collapse if you think it’s all just dance music. And in any case there was a huge amount of musical crossover, from Steve Hillage supporting Sham 69 and producing Simple Minds, to Paul Weller playing on a Peter Gabriel record, to Lydon’s love of Van Der Graaf Generator, etc. etc. And if you broaden ‘prog’ to include bands like Can and Henry Cow, the contrast is lessened even further.

The real revolutionary force was disco, which really did oppose the idea of music as Art.

56

Leeds man 08.26.12 at 8:31 am

Close to the edge is a masterpiece.

As is Relayer. With David Cross-era King Crimson, and selected Gabriel-fronted Genesis, about the only prog I still listen to. Oh, and Gentle Giant’s Aspirations is still a lovely song.

57

SusanC 08.26.12 at 8:37 am

@47, 49:

There’s two senses of postmodernism here: (a) There’s a cultural trend, influenced by (among other things) the invention of mass media technologies such as printing, photography, recorded music, radio and television; capitalism as the dominant political/economic system; and advertising; (b) an academic literature that, among other things, responds to (a).

So, yes, it seems implausible that the academic literature could be the sole cause of the cultural trend; but they are possibly caught in a mutual feedback loop where one influences the other.

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Hidari 08.26.12 at 8:45 am

@54

Yes, this again cuts to the nub of the matter. We have jettisoned the concepts of ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Art. Who, now, believes that Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is in some sense ‘better’ than Spiderman comics? Only a hopeless square who lives in the past, Daddy-O, that’s who!

But this has mysteriously not led to an end of real (economic) elitism. Instead we are more dominated and controlled (aesthetically and ideologically) than ever before. As Alex Ross(quoting A.O. Scott) puts it: ‘”There is a cultural elite, in America, which tries its utmost to manipulate the habits and tastes of consumers. It consists of the corporations who sell nearly everything with the possible exception of classical music and conceptual arts, and while its methods include some of the publicity-driven hype that finds its way into newspapers, magazines and other traditional media, its main tool is not criticism but marketing.” Indeed, Gabler has it completely upside down. No adult in all the land is being forced to go to a classical concert, yet the products of pop culture are imposed on the entire population round the clock. As I said at a Chamber Music America conference a few years ago, classical music is, in a strange way, the new underground.’

The problem is that when you destroy the concept of Art, the corporations move in with their philosophy of ‘art is a commodity, and only a commodity’. Appalling as ELP remain, they sorta kinda stood up against that, which is why the latest atrocity to be excreted from Simon Cowell’s ego via the X Factor is worse than anything by ELP ( or even, God help us, Rush).

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Chris Bertram 08.26.12 at 9:12 am

Hidari, you would do well to read Taylor’s chapter on Marxism and art. He’s got the number of the “we are standing up for universal values against commodification” crowd. Whatever they (with Adorno in first place) are standing up for is not universal.

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Hidari 08.26.12 at 9:23 am

‘The concept of art has radically changed. Art has ceased to be an exclusive sanctuary of the bourgeoisie, a sort of Schatzalp at Davos Platz for moneyed invalids. It has ceased signifying a spirituality, a higher calling, a mode of discernment and superiority for a narrow elite, something just for them, an alternative to the grubbing commerciality, mass uniformity and vulgarity of economic life in which all are implicated. Suddenly all were admitted, a bit like the bourgeoisie of Petrograd being ordered to share their domestic accommodation with the proletariat. The form of life changed. But the form of life was always prey to its signifiers, more logo than use value, like some medieval buying of indulgences to signify spiritual fidelity without the pain of saintly observances.

Moreover, as the ideology of art developed within the rise of the bourgeoisie, the life of art always existed as the business of art, the art business, although positioned in the haute couture sector of markets. Basically what there is to understand is how a specific speciality market became a mass market of specialties, and how everything else in the form of life ultimately was subsumed under the life of the market. This is what art has become… the art business initially, but then subsumed under the leisure business, reappearing there as a logo denoting amorphous quality.

We are looking at the market’s creation of individuality, the groups this spawns and by implication an art market with its myriad of opposing fan clubs. Art as a universalising logo of quality for commodities enters all markets quite apart from its use in those areas of the market where the grouping of objects still owes something to the history of art as an ideological tool. Serious commentators will talk seriously about the art of football, the beautiful game, the footballer as artist. Similarly, cars are written about as works of art, Ferrari, Jaguar, BMW, Audi, Aston Martin. Currently a Citroën displays Picasso’s signature. Within these areas of the market there will be clear examples which are not included – Vinnie Jones, the Robin Reliant – but even these can invade other markets and as a result gain cult status which opens the doors to interpretation as art. Vinnie Jones in movies, the Robin Reliant in Only Fools and Horses. This is the not artistic becoming art through the frisson and shock of displacement, aping Duchamp’s urinal, Tracey Emin’s bed. All these commodities essentially fulfil their purpose in purchase; everything else is secondary, demanded by the economics of time and the system’s mechanisms. Your life may be reduced to working and buying but at least what you buy is art. You feel better than those who shop at Matalan and are happy with Real Abba recordings. Those who talk of the end of art, the death of art are ideological dinosaurs. Art is as alive as is Levi’s, Coca-Cola etc., but there is nothing here that I want.’

http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/pol/taylor.htm

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Hidari 08.26.12 at 9:47 am

Incidentally, I never said that the values of Art were universal. I said that when you abolish the values of Art you don’t get liberation: you get the values of the Commodity. What has changed is that we used to be the victims of cultural elitists who were cultural elitists. Now we are the victims of cultural elitists who are the CEOs of large American corporations.

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Peter Erwin 08.26.12 at 11:06 am

SusanC @ 57:

There’s two senses of postmodernism here:

Well, there’s actually a third sense of postmodernism: there was/is a movement in the visual arts, (perhaps even more so) in architecture, and to a lesser degree in literature[*], that got the label “postmodernism”. This had to do with the deliberate and ironic reuse (and even mixing) of artistic elements and motifs from the past, in opposition to modernism’s emphasis on always discarding the past and creating something genuinely new. (It was also a reaction against the extreme simplicity and starkness of modern art and architecture.) It didn’t really get underway until the 1970s and 1980s.

Film may be a bit different — at least, the Wikipedia article on “postmodernist film” (for whatever that’s worth) tends towards the “problematizing master narratives” definition of postmodernism, which is more towards the philosophical/”academic literature” end of things. I suspect this is at least partly because film criticism is perhaps more separate from filmmaking and more integrated into general academia than is the case for, say, architecture.

(And, even in that sense, it’s kind of hard to call Sergio Leone a postmodernist: Once Upon a Time in the West, for example, tells a story that has as its background the inexorable triumph of industrial civilization in the Old West — a very modernist master narrative.)

[*] There’s this charming, if faintly silly, characterization by Umberto Eco, from Postscript to The Name of the Rose:

The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her “I love you madly”, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly”. At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.

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John Quiggin 08.26.12 at 11:51 am

@Chris and JCH Nothing comes from nowhere, and the Enlightenment was important, but I’m still claiming Art for C19. Digging into my own files on the topic, I have

The GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) sector is largely a product of the 19th century, or more precisely, Hobsbawm’s (1988) ’ ‘long 19th century’ from the French Revolution in 1789 to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Although collections of various kinds were put together from the Renaissance onwards, the idea of publicly funded and publicly accessible cultural institutions belongs to the long 19th century, as do many of the most prominent examples such as the Louvre (1793), Library of Congress (1800), the French National Archives (1790), and the British Natural History Museum (1859).

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novakant 08.26.12 at 12:31 pm

at that time the idea of Art as a unique and privileged kind of activity and the Artist as an inspired individual was in full flower

I don’t understand why this claim should be controversial.

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Adrian Kelleher 08.26.12 at 12:41 pm

@62

Even the “Once upon a time…” title (reused with “Once Upon a Time in America”) is an implicit reference, and Leone tried to cram in every cliche he could into his films.

His stuff can’t be classified solely in terms of postmodernism, though little can. OTOH his films and their appeal to successors like Scorsese simply can’t be explained in terms of a finite aesthetic consisting solely of rules rather than other artworks. This was the failure of modernism — or any -ism, because a collection of mutually-referential cultural works can’t be defined in terms of descriptive rules, only vague generative ones. This leaves him classified as postmodernist by default.

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Adrian Kelleher 08.26.12 at 12:43 pm

I didn’t make entirely clear postmodernism’s role in the demonisation of Spears, Bieber etc…

Firstly, celebrity has spread from the gossip columns and glossy magazines to the main news pages of broadsheet newpapers and from light entertainment shows to self-proclaimed serious culture programmes. The editors and producers in question have an excellent excuse ready: that public fascination with celebrities is itself a significant statement about society. So theoretically egalitarian postmodernism is in practise the vehicle for commercialism and prurient, nasty and invasive journalism that helps propel celebrity, elitist by definition, as a social phenomenon.

Secondly (to state the obvious) posmodernism is itself hugely elitist. In inviting the audience to create conscious barriers between themselves and the work it flatters them and elevates them above those who don’t get it (which is nearly everybody at a Tarantino film — read any non-editorial reviews). The outcome is the same as when high art by the very definition of “high” creates barriers between insiders and outsiders.

Thirdly, by obliterating (with whatever justification) positive artistic ideals it leaves only negative ones remaining. But so long as concepts like “art”, “style”, “movement” or “taste” exist, attempts will be made to shoe-horn them into ever greater states of aesthetic cohesion in exactly the same way that religious sects achieve doctrinal purity or political parties hammer out ideology. And with positive outlets for these impulses obstructed as “elitist” only negative ones remain, so no progress is made in pursuit of value, only in the vilification of the tastes of the out groups: tweens and teenagers, “gypsys”, “white trash”, “scumbags” (the preferred appelation in Ireland), “chavs” and so on.

On the subject of “scumbags”, a word which has for decades been in ever-increasing circulation, here are Google’s Ireland/Rest of the World page totals for “scumbag” and “scumbags” respectively:

161,000/13,800,000
165,000/847,000

So in Ireland “scumbags”, being referred to principally in the plural, constitute a class although one determined exclusively by non-members. Being defined as bad, they’re socially acceptable to hate. There was a time when the same was true of the working classes — prior to 1789, or maybe 1848. And how are these “scumbags” known? By what their clothes, hairstyles and lifestyles are felt to say about them — by criteria derived from a hypothetically egalitarian postmodernism, in other words.

But really it’s the same over much of the world. In the US there’s “Jersey Shore” and elsewhere there are various knock-offs like “Geordie Shore” (UK) and Tallafornia (Ireland). They all serve the same purpose.

So elitism, including artistic elitism, is anything but dead. Although the cultural elite is now so broadly defined that it can neither have a united purpose nor engage in collective action, its members are perhaps more aware of their status and certainly revel in it more unselfconsciously than for a very long time.

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jonnybutter 08.26.12 at 1:10 pm

The parallel to Prog Rock in interest and in weakness is Jazz Fusion.
For an understanding of the blues in relation to “Art” talk to any expert on Bartok. Or talk to Charles Rosen. Talk to Rosen about about Art Tatum; Horowitz could play Tatum’s solos from memory.

I’m not sure the last thing about Horowitz qualifies as even apocryphal – it’s just BS. Horowitz was impressed by Tatum’s technique and ability to improvise, but that’s it. So what?

The main problem with prog rock was that it was humorless, just like much of this discussion. (And of course I don’t mean that the problem is that the music wasn’t ‘funny’, but that humor – or perspective – was conspicuously and unnaturally absent from it, even on those rare occasions when it tried to be ‘funny’ (except for Zappa)). There is a sense of the word ‘pretentious’ which is not entirely pejorative: a striving – successful or not – for something better or higher. Quite a bit of prog rock is worse than that because it really just apes 19th century ‘romantic’ bombast, which was of questionable value to begin with. However you feel about the concept of ‘art’, the good stuff isn’t vulgar in this literalistic way (in this case more notes/more physically virtuosic = better music). I’d also say that the good stuff doesn’t take itself as seriously as does both most 19th century musical ‘art’ and prog.

If I may also just assert something in response to the discussion above of PoMo: postmodernism is not a counterpose to conservatism. PoMo *is* conservative, and deeply and fundamentally so. It’s just the latest form of romanticism, and just as feckless and nihilistic. By no means am I saying that all pomo *art* is bad, but at base pomo is about politics, and it’s ugly ugly ugly – not to mention anti-progressive.

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Hidari 08.26.12 at 1:10 pm

David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity and Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism
or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism both seem relevant here.

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Watson Ladd 08.26.12 at 1:47 pm

In the fetish character of music essay Adorno takes on more then just popular music. He begins by denouncing classical music for adhering to a few well known pieces with the cult of the maestro, a pre-disk DJ whose ability to select and modify existing pieces is his mark of “artistry”. Adorno is concerned that the space for apprehending unities which art has has been smothered by a commercialized art, which is precisely a class marker.

Think about a Stradivarius. Most people cannot tell what is so good about a Strad. Yet they feel it is something special and important when one appears in an orchestra. Taste, and with it any sort of critical faculty, vanishes when this is the way art is received.

So far I’ve said nothing new. But what is worth noting is the response. Adorno wouldn’t write “On Jazz” about Coltrane. He was writing about big band music, which thankfully has vanished. The response to the condition of philistinism was to try to make art again.

This is why I think Chris is wrong. If making art means producing an elite (which is not exclusive necessarily: see Sparta), and to not resist commodification is to surrender, then we are left with destroying the entire activity as human, and going back to folk music, produced with no idea that anything is happening. Postmodernism is exactly what Adorno takes on, in the figure of the tune detective. The distortion Chris talks about is exactly the production of an aesthetic.

There’s nothing wrong with music produced for reasons other then art. But there is something wrong with saying it can serve the same function as art music, because that amounts to saying art is superflous.

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Chris Bertram 08.26.12 at 2:11 pm

John, since all your dates (except for the very last) overlap with my dates, I don’t think there’s an issue between us.

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Zb 08.26.12 at 3:21 pm

At the big U of Chicago comics conference this summer, Art Spiegelman said that when technology or commerce shifts a craft either dies or becomes Art. This is not cause for celebration, but it may be inevitable — part of the life cycle of artforms.

It was a kick to watch R. Crumb and Lynda Barry and Gary Panter on the edge of their seats watching for the academic machine to, in Crumb’s words, “cut their dick[s] off.”

The Bastard Offspring of Art and Commerce murder their parents and go off on a Sunday Outing.

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etc. 08.26.12 at 3:44 pm

Poetry is art. Music is art. Phidias was a sculptor and Sophocles was a playwright. Both made art. Philosophers wrote about all the above.
Art is not an invention of 18th century Europe. Neither is art theory.
The 18th C didnt give us even the first scholasticism, just the scholasticism we’re recovering from. There’s a lot of art on HBO.

“Today there is no denying that narrative films are not only “art”—not often good art, to be sure, but this applies to other media as well—but also, besides architecture, cartooning and “commercial design,” the only visual art entirely alive.” Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures”, 1934

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etc. 08.26.12 at 3:47 pm

67 are you accusing me of lying?
Look it up, jackass.

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ed_finnerty 08.26.12 at 4:47 pm

god help me but I have rick wakemans Journey to the Centre of the Earth in regular rotation.

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etc. 08.26.12 at 6:49 pm

I stand corrected on Horowitz playing Tatum’s solos, so I apologize for calling you a jackass. That would be me.
He was a fan, as others were of Tatum’s art.

As for post-modern, art or anything else, the only thing we’re post is modernism. And, pace Panofsky, it’s proof of the marginality of comics that their ‘serious’ authors hover around academia with concerned looks on their faces. Plenty of college professors would kill to meet Coppola (father or daughter) or Scorsese, Fincher or Nolan, let alone Godard et al. David Simon doesn’t lose any sleep over the opinions of anyone at the University of Chicago.

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jonnybutter 08.27.12 at 12:17 am

I stand corrected on Horowitz playing Tatum’s solos, so I apologize for calling you a jackass.

No biggie. Big of you to cop to it. The thing is, no very accomplished musician would make the mistake you did (for one thing Horowitz had a completely different kind of technique). I get grouchy on these music threads because a.) they are so often about anything BUT music itself, but rather about lyrics or poses or politics or _______; and, b.) there never seem to be very many highly skilled musicians commenting. I am a guest here, so I try to keep it reigned in, but..arg. I’m not saying you can’t have anything intelligent to say about music if you’re a ‘civilian’, but..I mean, I would be very careful commenting on technical matters vis a vis a particular school of oil painting or architecture, as would most people – because I/we don’t know much about it. But who has that kind of reticence when it comes to music?

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GiT 08.27.12 at 2:33 am

“Poetry is art. Music is art. Phidias was a sculptor and Sophocles was a playwright. Both made art. Philosophers wrote about all the above.”

This seems rather anachronistic.

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John Quiggin 08.27.12 at 3:13 am

I’ve blocked etc. from commenting further on this thread, so there’s no value in further replies.

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godoggo 08.27.12 at 4:31 am

Well, I have a comment on it anyway. The story I’ve heard is that Horowitz met Tatum, who improvised something, which Horowitz was able to play back by ear (presumably not with the same touch etc. but with the right notes), but was still impressed that Tatum had improvised it, since he had no knowledge of improvisation. The story is definitely out there, so it at the least “qualifies as even apocryphal.”

80

godoggo 08.27.12 at 5:10 am

Sorry, but I must, regardless of value. Googled it: http://lacunajournal.blogspot.com/2011/10/greatest-pianist-in-world.html

One famous story claims that Horowitz, so impressed with one of Tatum’s versions of the song “Tea for Two”, transcribed it and played it for the jazz master during to show that he too could play what Tatum had played. Legend has it that Tatum responded by sitting down and improvising yet another even more dazzling version of “Tea for Two” then announcing, “You can copy it, but it doesn’t matter until you understand it.”

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Niall McAuley 08.27.12 at 9:49 am

On the original topic, I wasn’t quite a teenager when Tubular Bells came out, but I didn’t think it was pretentious, I thought it was really funny.

Looking up the release date on Wikipedia, I see that the voice introducing each instrument was Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, which makes me think Oldfield intended it to be funny.

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John Quiggin 08.27.12 at 11:16 am

@Niall A couple of others have said this, though mostly in the context of recent re-releases. I guess it’s one of those questions about the intent of the author. If Oldfield intended it as a bit of a lark, but my friends took it Very Seriously, then there was a bit of mistaken identity and my epiphany should really have been saved for, say, Rick Wakeman.

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Tim Worstall 08.27.12 at 3:56 pm

Viv Stanshall indeed. And as to seriousness of Tubular Bells, to some (OK, a limited extent but it is there) extent it’s really just an arrangement of extant folk tunes. Not just the hornpipe at the end: the double speed guitar bit on side one is the spiritual “Joshua something something the walls of Jericho”.

84

Hidari 08.27.12 at 6:40 pm

The funny thing is, I genuinely never saw Tubular Bells as being ‘prog’. I saw it as a very English and whimsical version of minimalism and, if you Google ‘Tubular Bells’ and ‘Minimalism’, large portions of the internet would seem to agree with me.

Rick Wakeman is fucking awful, mind.

85

Substance McGravitas 08.27.12 at 6:45 pm

The Intro and the Outro got there first.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DUEAG5eO6c

Maybe Oldfield got into the prog bin because he could Play Instruments and he could thus be spared the company of less-skilled racket-makers.

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godoggo 08.27.12 at 7:16 pm

Anyways, it’s not something I know a lot about, but my sense is that some of the less-popular prog bands (and there were a hell of a lot of them) were more adventurous and less kitchy than the stadium acts that the article focuses on – an example would be some of the Rock In Opposition bands, who get just a mention in the article. I just find that there just tends to be a problem with any music that tries to appeal to crowds of tens of thousands shouting “Whoo!” whether it goes by the “prog” label or not.

87

godoggo 08.27.12 at 7:23 pm

And, no, etc. wasn’t me, however much I may sympathize.

88

Substance McGravitas 08.27.12 at 7:26 pm

I just find that there just tends to be a problem with any music that tries to appeal to crowds of tens of thousands shouting “Whoo!” whether it goes by the “prog” label or not.

If you look at the history of the bigger prog bands they were pretty obviously doing what they liked. In a lot of cases the egos could not allow otherwise. The good question in the Weigel articles is why audiences were putting up with 20-minute excursions into Indian scriptures.

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godoggo 08.27.12 at 7:36 pm

Maybe I should delete “tries to.” And then I guess I should conjugate “appeal,” too. Nothing necessarily wrong with 20-minute excursions into Indian scriptures, if the music is good.

90

Substance McGravitas 08.27.12 at 7:52 pm

While I had this and enjoyed it getting 60000 people together in a stadium to enjoy it now seems insane to me. Avoid looking up lyrics.

91

jonnybutter 08.27.12 at 8:08 pm

Substance McGravitas beat me to it! Click on his link to the Bonzo’s ‘The Intro and the Outro’. It’s very funny, as is a lot of their work. My last comment on the main topic is that a lot of prog doesn’t seem as ridiculous now as it did when it was happening. In that sense prog was ‘ahead of its time’ – it fits into an earnest, humorless time like ours better than it did into the 60s and 70s (a time when there might be Bonzos….).

@ godoggo:

The story I’ve heard is that Horowitz met Tatum, who improvised something, which Horowitz was able to play back by ear (presumably not with the same touch etc. but with the right notes), but was still impressed that Tatum had improvised it, since he had no knowledge of improvisation. The story is definitely out there, so it at the least “qualifies as even apocryphal.”

You are right, it qualifies as apocryphal! Sorry about that.

However, I would be amazed – AMAZED – if Horowitz could have played back a Tatum solo of any length by ear. That is so vanishingly unlikely. It wouldn’t have been easy – even for Vladimir – to just play the notes, since, as we all know, Tatum had a fierce technique. Could Tatum have played back by-ear something virtuosic that Horowitz played? Now THAT is much more likely. Horowitz didn’t improvise, so it’s very unlikely that he had developed the skill to play by ear to that high a level. The ear is a gift, but the ability to play by ear is a skill. Tatum was in fact, as it were, all ears.

The version of the story I heard – don’t ask me where, because I can’t remember – is that Horowitz was impressed with Tatum’s technique; when he heard Art improvise something he asked him for the score, and Tatum said there wasn’t one – that he had improvised it.

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dsquared 08.27.12 at 8:35 pm

this is one for the lexicon I think:

“pretentious” music is music made by skilled and trained musicians acting like what they are.

“unpretentious” music is music made by skilled and trained musicians pretending to be naive peasants of one kind or another.

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Leeds man 08.27.12 at 8:48 pm

@90 Avoid looking up lyrics.

You never got your Jon Anderson decoder ring, did you?

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godoggo 08.27.12 at 9:02 pm

ignoring dsquared…

The quote I provided and my memory of the legend weren’t quite the same, so maybe I remember wrong – I don’t actually even remember where I heard it originally. The quote says that he did a transcription (I guess from a recording), rather than just playing it right back – I noticed after quoting that the link is actually fiction, meant to expand on the evidence, but I bet if I looked I could find the same legend somewhere else. The other version I’m finding is that Horowitz was inspired by Tatum’s recording to write his own arrangement of Tea for Two. So who knows what the grain of truth is, if any (Ethan Iverson does, I imagine). But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the century’s top virtuosi had perfect pitch and an extraordinary memory.

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godoggo 08.27.12 at 9:30 pm

Oh, sorry, I must try to be civil…

96

godoggo 08.27.12 at 9:33 pm

But yeah, I agree that the reverse would be easier to believe.

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jonnybutter 08.27.12 at 9:48 pm

@godoggo

What do perfect pitch and and an extraordinary memory necessarily have to do with being a great piano virtuoso? Really?

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.12 at 10:08 pm

“pretentious” music is music made by skilled and trained musicians acting like what they are.

A quick site search of ac.uk did not reveal any courses in rock-opera theory; generations have passed without a clear theoretical basis with which to balance the amount of opera vs. the amount of rock.

Mind you the search did turn up a Ph.D. thesis full of survey-derived numbers related to musical taste.

http://www.hwurpa.hw.ac.uk/bitstream/10399/2275/1/LonsdaleA_0509_sls.pdf

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godoggo 08.28.12 at 12:58 am

jonnybutter: they just seem to be fairly common attributes, it seems to me. Why? Perfect pitch comes from studying music at a very early age, which is generally considered necessary to be a great classical virtuoso. Memory would be useful for learning the repertoire in all its detail (i.e. not just banging out the notes). It really isn’t just a matter of Michael Phelps-like pure athleticism.

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godoggo 08.28.12 at 1:03 am

But, again, I have no idea bout Horowitz. Maybe I could google it.

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jonnybutter 08.28.12 at 2:21 am

Perfect pitch comes from studying music at a very early age

OK, now you’re toying with me.

No. If you’re interested in what PP actually is, you can use Teh Google. It’s a rare thing, kind of like synesthesia. Perfect pitch doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with musical greatness – most wonderful/genius musicians don’t have it. Likewise with unusual powers of memory. People who don’t read – music or words – tend to have more developed memories, right? So it’s Tatum rather than Horowitz who probably had the highly developed memory.

It’s easier than it’s ever been to learn about anything, including music. There seems to be something, however, in the Anglo-American makeup that resists (like plague) to learn about, but nonetheless can’t resist lecturing about, music. It’s really weird.

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jonnybutter 08.28.12 at 2:24 am

ok, that wasn’t clear. I meant that, unlike with PP, you CAN learn to develop your memory. But it’s more likely Tatum – or any jazz player – with the well-developed memory for music.

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godoggo 08.28.12 at 4:48 am

Well I googled Perfect Pitch Early Childhood and got, from the first result, “It is sometimes said that, in its highest form, perfect pitch ability occurs in as few as one in 10,000 persons in the general population, almost always among people who have had musical training by the age of five. ” Also I understand it’s comparatively common among people who learn tonal languages at an early age. In other words, it’s an acquired trait, which can only be required during early brain development. Again, my points were a) it’s generally thought that it’s necessary to study music at an early age to become a first-rate classical virtuoso and b) perfect pitch is an effect of such early musical education. Plus I’ve just run into a number of anecdotes of top virtuosi having perfect pitch over the years. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to find it in Horowitz. But, again, as I said, I don’t know for sure. And, again, I said, “But yeah, I agree that the reverse would be easier to believe,” by which I meant, yeah, it’s likely that Tatum would have an easier time copping from Horowitz than the reverse.

No idea why you’re assuming I don’t know anything about music. I’ll just take your word for it that you do. But the reflexive condescension is… well, I guess it’s an Internet thing.

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godoggo 08.28.12 at 4:49 am

“required” should be “acquired.” Probably other typos, too, but I’ll just leave it.

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godoggo 08.28.12 at 5:32 am

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jonnybutter 08.28.12 at 11:05 am

“It is sometimes said that, in its highest form, perfect pitch ability occurs..

Oh boy, that sounds definitive. What would its ‘highest form’ be? Exactly the kind of mystification I was talking about earlier.

Whatever. I am not condescending to you. I am deducing that you don’t know that much of a technical nature about music, which (the latter) is not, btw, a crime. I do know a lot about it, which is not an outsized special virtue. Just trying to stick up for an art form I love.

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ajay 08.28.12 at 4:21 pm

There’s a lovely bit of criticism from Matthew Ingram that reversed the usual logic and portrays punks as Reactionary / Thatcherite / Reaganite against the beardy communal lefty Prog types.

I’d be very interested to read that – certainly punk’s always struck me as simply a movement of reaction against whatever happened to be around in terms of dominant culture, so you got pro-Nazi punks in eastern Europe, racist punks and anti-racist punks in different bits of England, deliberately violent and offensive and badly performed punk music against a background of heavily produced big budget prog rock, etc.

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dave heasman 08.28.12 at 10:32 pm

> Lee A. Arnold
Yes did quite possibly the best Beatles cover, “Every Little Thing” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIcpJFQDa64 The tune doesn’t start until 1:45 (after the most lovely appearance of “Daytripper”) and it is such a shitkicking rocker that it ALONE justifies Yes.<

The first 2 Yes albums, with Tony Kaye & Pete Banks, are great but hardly prog, don't you think? Intelligent melodic pop, obscure covers – Stills' "Everydays" – mainstream English pop, really. The Move were doing something similar. Tragically, and this has just occurred to me, those Yes records led to Queen.

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dave heasman 08.28.12 at 10:44 pm

>Tim Worstall

Viv Stanshall indeed<

Remember Viv wrote the lyric to Steve Winwood's "Arc of a Diver".

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godoggo 08.29.12 at 12:22 am

jonnybutter: as I said, that just happened to be the first google result I got. Didn’t you tell me to google? It’s not exactly a controversial view…

I presume “highest form” means you can immediately recognize any note when you hear it, as opposed to someone who can recognize, say, a middle C when he hears it, and uses intervals to recognize other notes.

And, no, you didn’t “deduce” jack; like you, I haven’t seen any reason talk about theory; because it’s not relevant to the conversation, if you want to call it that.

If you really really want tech talk, there’s allaboutjazz forums, david valdez’s blog, postclassic, etc. etc. etc.

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godoggo 08.29.12 at 12:46 am

… or Ethan Iverson’s (whose music I happen to dislike, but two or three of his essays went a ways towards curing me of the inclination to say “I know a lot” about the stuff).

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Kaveh 08.29.12 at 2:46 am

jonnybutter @67 The main problem with prog rock was that it was humorless, just like much of this discussion. (And of course I don’t mean that the problem is that the music wasn’t ‘funny’, but that humor – or perspective – was conspicuously and unnaturally absent from it, even on those rare occasions when it tried to be ‘funny’ (except for Zappa)).

Proposition:people tend to assume that rock has to have a certain emotionality, or else there’s something wrong with it. It doesn’t have to be about sex, but it has to be about strong emotions somehow. Usually negative or frightening emotions (like, feeling too good about something can be frightening).

More than that, it has to try and evoke those emotions, to manipulate you emotionally. If it just kind of refers to them or talks about them, if it isn’t personal enough, it’s doing it wrong.

I’d be very interested to see if anybody is willing to defend this expectation as reasonable (assuming you agree that that’s part of what’s going on).

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Kaveh 08.29.12 at 2:47 am

Ack. I was going to say, also, what does humor in music look like? What would be different about prog rock if it were present? And does it always have to be present–if a certain song or album has no humor, is it automatically lacking something?

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Substance McGravitas 08.29.12 at 3:48 am

people tend to assume that rock has to have a certain emotionality, or else there’s something wrong with it. It doesn’t have to be about sex

You can do that without words, so whether you think it’s about sex is your call. I tend to think that something like this represents aggression and menace somehow and “rocks” whether I can figure out the words or not. This does not represent aggression, and I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about either but it’s obvious he’s some sort of hippie, and gosh darn it sometimes I feel sappy like that too. Hugs are nice!

I guess that’s a narrow conception of “rock”: some sort of loud noise that keeps the wrong people away (see also dubstep). The Nation of Ulysses had a great lyric: “Who’s got the real anti-parent culture sound?” So looking at it on a parental-annoyance continuum the prog of those bands who wanted to ape this or that European composer was a capitulation to establishment notions of what art must be. Your parents could say “Hey, that Emerson Lake and Palmer sure do a neato take on Bach!”

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Lee A. Arnold 08.29.12 at 4:29 am

@108 –I suppose you are mostly right. The opening 1:45 of “Every Little Thing” sounds progressive to me. But “progressive rock” has gained a wide definition in this thread, so I may be confused even more than is usual. For example, I do not think of the album “Dark Side of the Moon” as progressive rock, I would put it with “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” or The Pretty Things’ “Parachute”. I never thought of “Tubular Bells” as progressive, more like minimalism or raga rock, made into a concert-hall sit-down by Stanshallian sprechgesang.

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Kaveh 08.29.12 at 8:03 am

Substance @114 So looking at it on a parental-annoyance continuum the prog of those bands who wanted to ape this or that European composer was a capitulation to establishment notions of what art must be. Your parents could say “Hey, that Emerson Lake and Palmer sure do a neato take on Bach!”

I think that’s how a lot of people see it, rock has to be ‘dangerous’ in a certain way, and ELP or Yes are inherently rock musicians who could have rocked out if only they weren’t too restrained/capitulating… but this is a really bad way to evaluate, or try to appreciate music. When I was a kid, for a lot of people, publicly liking or not liking kinds of music was a profound statement about one’s own masculinity, ranging from ‘everything not metal sux’ to more sophisticated attitudes, and I think that on some level, for a lot of people, the problem with prog rock is that it’s falling afoul of those standards. Like, Rush has got a singer with a high, effeminate voice, but he’s not even gay, and their lyrics are about Ayn Rand… not cool! But people enjoy music that has a much more heteronormative sensibility, because it’s ‘for the people’ or something. I think that’s the other side of the coin of rejecting ELP’s version of Pictures at an Exhibition as ‘pretentious’.

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Adrian Kelleher 08.29.12 at 11:48 am

I was prevaricating on whether to cut back into the thread or not and that “other side of the coin” argument was my entree. Ah well.

Of course the entire idea of ranking music is strange, as if pieces could be given a numerical rating. Pop music fans are looking for something quite different from artistry. It’s understandable that a pop tune lacks artistic merit when neither the producers nor consumers are looking for it. Conversely, if Shostakovich never wrote any catchy numbers it’s probably because he wasn’t trying.

There’s an exception to modern mores about what consenting adults get up to on their own time: incredibly, a piece of music can drop not just to value zero but actually lower, and it’s peculiar to music AFAIK. Someone who dislikes a piece of music can seldom merely ignore it. The general rule is that they’ll be overcome with a powerful desire for its destruction.

At the Paris premiere of Rite of Spring in 1913, riots broke out between bohemian and conservative factions in the audience and the unfortunate orchestra members were forced to play under a rain of furniture. Inside 30 years sizable elements of those factions drifted to either Action Française or to the Communist Party where they continued the fight, this time with guns. Stravinsky was hardly to blame for that, but it illustrates how at that time the arts were central to the brewing conflicts that were about to engulf Europe.

Although conflict has hardly ended, the arts are of little relevance to it today. Regardless of personal preferences for ‘high’ or ‘low’ and however they’re defined, this must be a failure — the only questions are by whom and of what sort. Not everything would need to be relevant; what’s incredible is that so very little actually is.

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jonnybutter 08.29.12 at 11:57 am

@kaveh what does humor in music look like? What would be different about prog rock if it were present? And does it always have to be present—if a certain song or album has no humor, is it automatically lacking something?

I am saying that if an entire approach to music lacks humor it is definitely missing something, because it takes effort to banish humor (and I did take pains to make clear what I mean by ‘humor’ – i.e. perspective – and what I wasn’t limiting the definition to- i.e. ‘jokes’). I would say it takes a very large effort to wear a codpiece on stage night after night and make albums with names like ‘Tales From Topographical Oceans’ and not laugh at yourself, at least a little.

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Substance McGravitas 08.29.12 at 3:01 pm

I think that’s how a lot of people see it, rock has to be ‘dangerous’ in a certain way, and ELP or Yes are inherently rock musicians who could have rocked out if only they weren’t too restrained/capitulating… but this is a really bad way to evaluate, or try to appreciate music.

Restraint is maybe not the word: the big bands of prog had people who could do extraordinary things with their instruments, and for ELP/Yes it was form of muscle-flexing. It’s not that they’ve restrained themselves, but they’re off the path. This for instance starts off with a lot of heft and then at 2:10 something happens that is just wrong wrong wrong (but also hilarious). And it doesn’t seem as if it’s service to what’s going on before it: it’s a different way to jerk off than just sounding big and tough.

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ajay 08.29.12 at 3:23 pm

I would say it takes a very large effort to wear a codpiece on stage night after night and make albums with names like ‘Tales From Topographical Oceans’ and not laugh at yourself, at least a little.

Well, yes, but you could say the same about people who wear pigtails, fur coats and large pink fluffy trilby hats and call themselves things like “Snoop Dogg”. Is there, Goldie Looking Chain aside, much of a “taking the piss” movement in rap?

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Nick 08.29.12 at 4:03 pm

ajay, you don’t think Snoop’s look is largely all about taking the piss?

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Substance McGravitas 08.29.12 at 4:42 pm

Is there, Goldie Looking Chain aside, much of a “taking the piss” movement in rap?

You don’t call yourself Ludacris unless you know what’s up.

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Kaveh 08.29.12 at 8:56 pm

@118, okay, I understood that before, what I’m wondering is, what does a little humor added in one place matter to the rest of the music? You say ‘the entire approach doesn’t allow it’ as if, were they only to include some self-deprecation here and there, the whole thing would be improved. Would this change our perception of the other songs, too, and change how they feel? And in any case, wouldn’t this criticism apply to a lot of rock music–Nine Inch Nails, a lot of metal…?

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Kaveh 08.29.12 at 11:26 pm

@119 I don’t see what’s wrong with what they’re doing at 2:10. It’s a shift to a completely different tone and feel, like they started imitating harpsichord music, and wouldn’t the track be *really* boring and forgettable without that part? Does rock always have to be hefty? Doesn’t that just get monotonous? That sounds like an appeal to masculinity.

Isn’t rock ‘about’ (if it’s ‘about’ anything) not always coloring inside the lines? (I’m reminded of a comment by John Linnel of TMBG–wonder what people in this thread think about them?–about how it’s a stupid idea that there’s just one way to look like a ‘rocker’–why do ‘rockers have to dress like KISS? “Why not dress like your dad?”)

Would you make the same criticism of the classical-y sounding guitar solo in Deep Purple’s Highway Star? (starts about 4:30) That definitely has heft, and I can see how, in johnnybutter’s terms, it has perspective or humor in the Deep Purple song, but I guess I don’t see why those qualities are necessary for something like that to work.

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Substance McGravitas 08.30.12 at 3:37 am

I don’t see what’s wrong with what they’re doing at 2:10.

Then I think you’re missing some of what’s funny in, say, Stonehenge by Spinal Tap.

It’s a shift to a completely different tone and feel, like they started imitating harpsichord music, and wouldn’t the track be really boring and forgettable without that part? Does rock always have to be hefty? Doesn’t that just get monotonous?

I would say:
No,
No, it can also be screechy (or some other take-charge-of-the-room variation)
Not to me.

That sounds like an appeal to masculinity.

It’s an appeal to a kind of power, which needn’t be masculine – obviously there are women who like and make such music – but which is often lunkheaded. I don’t want to shrink from an acknowledgement that a lot of what I like is dumb; sadly it’s what I always return to.

Isn’t rock ‘about’ (if it’s ‘about’ anything) not always coloring inside the lines?

Yes and no. Rock has to be loud and aggressive somehow. A distorted guitar playing a giant E chord represents rock in one swipe. It’s pretty easy to see why people want to leave it behind as eventually it’s just too stupid and easy. Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü had that feeling when he left the band – the volume is a kind of reliable sentimentality that always works on a certain crowd. It’s pretty easy to make a “rock is conservative” argument if you focus on a lot of the biggest bands out there.

(TMBG were fun live, but I find them wearing to listen to because it seems like one quirk after another. They’re funny and smart guys though, and right to say that clothing doesn’t have much to do with anything. That’s about a show. Kiss before their hitmaking phase were a fairly dull outfit and didn’t live up to their own cartoon.)

I’d say the Deep Purple solo is funny but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the song in the way that the Yes thing does and so warrants exactly 3/4 less eye-rolling (though I like the Yes song more). The Highway Star is about a big dangerous car so fast and hot you want to fuck it, so it seems reasonable to suggest that concessions to powdered-wiggery are inappropriate.

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Substance McGravitas 08.30.12 at 3:38 am

Just “Highway Star”.

127

kiwanda 08.30.12 at 4:50 am

117:

It’s understandable that a pop tune lacks artistic merit when neither the producers nor consumers are looking for it.

I can’t quite manage to assign a meaning to this statement. It does makes me sad for all those poor benighted empty souls feeding at the trough of pop music, though.

Conversely, if Shostakovich never wrote any catchy numbers it’s probably because he wasn’t trying.

I’m not so sure, because I doubt that there is such a strict ordering of skills as all that. It was hardly unheard-of for composers to be reduced to taking folk tunes and making them into music. (As the prof for my college music class put it; a class where a very limited scope of activities was the whole of music, and all the rest invisible.)

128

Adrian Kelleher 08.30.12 at 5:39 am

@127

So you’re saying that all Shostakovich really wanted was some chart-topping success? And that Lady Gaga’s desire for artistic purity inadvertently made her enormous piles of cash?

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jonnybutter 08.30.12 at 12:06 pm

@123 You say ‘the entire approach doesn’t allow it’ as if, were they only to include some self-deprecation here and there, the whole thing would be improved. Would this change our perception of the other songs, too, and change how they feel? And in any case, wouldn’t this criticism apply to a lot of rock music—Nine Inch Nails, a lot of metal…?

The music itself would be different. It would feel/smell different. I don’t think you can ‘add it here and there’. It’s attitudinal and inseparable from the music itself. In fact, it’s only something you take away – it’s a naturally occurring substance – not something you add.

I find this discussion interesting because I think in this moment of our culture we have a fundamental problem with humor itself (or maybe ‘recently had’ – lots of tragedy, and therefore lots of humor, ahead probably). The exemplars of this problem are Matt and Trey, who can of course be *hysterically* funny – who have, at times, made me laugh so hard I DOTTED MY DRAWERS – but who also don’t seem to see a distinguishing line between humor and not-humor, which, IMHO, is why they always chicken out on their satire in the end, no matter how strong they start: no matter how daring and funny something begins (e.g. Team America), there always ends up being a quite maudlin element, usually at the end. Isn’t that strange? I think so.

We also have the entertainment concept of the ‘dramedy’, which is just a pathetic thing. Dramedy is a self-refuting term. You can have a drama with a comic sense, and you can have a comedy with a dramatic or serious level of meaning – or you can have a piece that doesn’t understand what either one is, and doesn’t understand what itself is, and that is the ‘dramady’.

I’m going to have to make this a blog post of my own somewhere…

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Kaveh 08.30.12 at 2:28 pm

@125 & 129 That all makes sense, but I don’t see why it’s a rule rather than a personal preference. It seems like things that make it seem pretentious, or evoke a sense of bathos, or whatever, have more to do with the listener than with the music itself. Like, yeah, if you think of it as music that aims to transcend rock’n'roll and become Art, THAT’S pretentious, and if you can’t help but associate the music with those kinds of critical attitudes, I can see how that would make it hard to enjoy, but if (like me) you first encountered the music in a setting where nobody took it so seriously, that changes things. To me, when I was a teenager, *some of* the appeal of prog rock, art rock, and TMBG was that they stick a finger in the eye of people who insist that rock has to be lunk-headed and powerful (or that power = aggression)–which certainly supports the ‘pissing off society’ theory of rock. ;) And that was at a time when grunge and ska were big, and emo was right around the corner, so I guess it was in tune with the times in a way. I stopped listening much to TMBG for a few years and then came back to it, because (having since started enjoying jazz, among other things) I now appreciate how clever and pithy and well-crafted and well-characterized a lot of the songs are–”She’s Actual Size”, “Twisting in the Wind”, “Minimum Wage”, “Purple Toupee”, “Don’t Let’s Start”, &c.

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Substance McGravitas 08.30.12 at 3:27 pm

Everyone should poke fun at rock or deviate from the path somehow: rock can be silly and deserves it. If you’re a musician that deviation is all but impossible to avoid: you learn to play and stretch out and suddenly you make a concept album or something. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a rock song if you do that; it’s not helpful to have everything not-rock included in the set of rock if the right person does it. It also doesn’t mean you’re doing something bad if you inject some new elements into it, but there’s forcing it in with a hammer and there’s making it fit. I’d say the Yes song is the hammer approach, as unsubtle as Spike Jones but only funny inadvertently.

TMBG are a pop band making pop songs for the most part, although the John who plays guitar does like to make it sound a little dirty now and then.

If you ask a person “Does it rock?” when you ask them about a given song there’ll be variation but I think people have a general expectation of volume and energy.

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The Fool 08.30.12 at 4:21 pm

@ Hidari

“Dark Side of the Moon is a actually a pretty decent album”

Thanks, Scoop!

And you know that Usain Bolt fella? He’s actually pretty fast.

133

Kiwanda 08.30.12 at 10:36 pm

117 implied “Shostakovich could have written catchy numbers if he wanted”.

My reply 127 implied “Maybe not, greatness in High Art doesn’t necessarily include skill in writing catchy numbers.”

In answer to this question in 128, which seems to be intended to be a response:

So you’re saying that all Shostakovich really wanted was some chart-topping success?

…I say, “No”. (And “huh?”)

Unrelated to that: yeah, Dark Side of the Moon is pretty decent, actually.

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Leeds man 09.01.12 at 12:56 am

@67 The main problem with prog rock was that it was humorless, just like much of this discussion.

Me, I’m just a lawn mower. You can tell me by the way I walk.

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rea 09.01.12 at 4:08 pm

Actually, Shostakovich did write some catchy numbers, and was far from indiferent to popular success.

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