The Narrow Way

I can still remember the days back in the early 90s (yeah, I know) when I started seriously pursuing the still much-maligned Progressive Rock train, reading magazines that occasionally broke into a debate about what Prog was and was not, while fans either tried to push back the boundaries to include more popular but slightly less Progressive acts, while others insisted on the narrowest of definitions, in order to exclude all of the Prog acts that had so disappointed them by changing with the times and actually writing a few songs that were in danger of getting radio play (and thus keeping them from being relegated to the scrap heap). I must have read a few of those epic discussion threads in the front of Guitar and Keyboard and Modern Drummer magazines, and most of it was spurred on to deal with the incursion of Progressive Metal acts that had been washing up on the shores of blighted old Prog Rock.

The funny thing to me is, much of that argument seems to have been swept aside, as new Neo-Progressive Rock and Metal and even Blues acts wander on and off the stage. It’s pretty fantastic, really. I don’t think there’s ever been a time more open to the prospect of listening to music both this diverse and expansive, and yet this accessible. See, that was the big catch with much of what was defined as Prog Rock in the late 60s and most of the 70s. Whereas, anything with a Mellotron of Mini Moog could probably be pretty safely categorized as Prog back then, there was a fair bit of what we’ll charitably refer to as ‘musical experimentation’ that really wasn’t particularly tuneful. Many post-Psychedelic/Space Rock bands threw as much mud and excrement at the wall as they could to see what would stick on the walls of commerce and popular musical taste, and perhaps got away with more than was good for them (I’m looking at you, Magma).

As the 70s dwindled and staggered into the 80s, all blinky-eyed and hung over, many of those old bands just ceased to be, failing utterly to reconcile themselves tot he new reality of commercial recording. The time would never come again when 20 minutes of vinyl at a stretch could be devoted to atonal combinations of kettle drum, keyboards, droning feedback and exotic orchestral instruments (including digeridoo). Oh sure, all of these would be stuck together on various Peter Gabriel and Frank Zappa tracks, but rarely in ‘epic’ form, and with the possible exception of Waffenspiel, not without at least a few juicy melodic hooks to keep the casual listener coming back to the conversation.

And by then, it was on CD, and so 20 minutes seemed like a dawdle in any case.

Now, you can’t turn around without bumping into some new Progressive Rock act. And yet, the radio insists on playing more Justin Bieber and Hedley at us, as if these define all that is out there to be listened to. I haven’t listened to radio of my own free will in over two years, and I stopped basically because I was getting tired of hearing the same sounds and effects regurgitated at me that I had been enjoying back in the late 90s, when Canadian radio seemed to fall into a giant blob of amber and get stuck there for all time.

I’m not saying the answer is more Prog on radio. What I’m saying is, it’s time radio woke up and realized how redundant it’s become, and do the decent thing and either embrace the wide variety of music being recorded today, or just go away once and for all, and let us   get on with our internet searches.

Sorry for the rant. I’m still a bit tired. Maybe later I’ll compose something a little more poignant and relevant to your interests. Meanwhile, here… listen to some classic Pink Floyd: ECHOES


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