Reevaluating the legacy of progressive rock

The rise and fall of progressive rockIn the introduction to his book “The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock,” David Weigel points out that rock critics have traditionally heaped praise on punk rock while disparaging progressive rock. I’ve noticed this tendency, too, over the years. Yes, prog rock could sometimes be pretentious and bloated. But you could equally criticize punk for being crude and simplistic. Weigel aims to correct this imbalance by telling the story of prog rock.

I confess to not being a fan of punk. I acknowledge its importance as a cultural movement, though. It launched a return to simplicity, one of those periodic swings between complexity and simplicity that rejuvenates music and other arts. Rap did the same thing at around the same time. But speaking as a musician, punk has little to interest my intellect and spirit. Bands that incorporated a punk esthetic within a broader musical pallette, such as Romeo Void, appealed to me more. But I don’t begrudge anyone their taste preferences. If you think punk is king, more power to you.

Finding Value in Progressive Rock

My gripe is with the critics and those who control the storyline, who attribute value to certain styles and trends at the expense of others. The so-called arbiters of cultural value. Prog rock was sophisticated, experimental, interested in pushing the boundaries of what constituted “popular.” It promoted first-rate musical ability and the heritage of classical music. It was… well, it was just more interesting than punk.

The first progressive rock band I discovered was Jethro Tull. Whether the audacity of making the flute a lead instrument, or the band’s symphonic approach to orchestrating motives and musical lines, Jethro Tull opened my ears to a new world of sound. Soon I learned of other bands: Yes, ELP, Genesis, PFM. I loved plenty of other styles, too of course, from Linda Ronstadt to Deep Purple. But progressive rock offered sonic possibilities that thrilled me.

I hope that music critics surrender their glorification of punk. Yes, it was an interesting moment of popular music history. But the rich experimental amalgamations between rock, classical, and jazz that defined the late 60s and 70s deserve our attention as well. If you want to learn more about why, read “The Show That Never Ends.”

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