As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to read it. Progressive rock has been much maligned over the years, but that has never deterred my love of the genre. Some of my happiest musical moments over the years have been created by the sounds from bands such as Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, and Genesis. Just saying the titles of the songs makes me smile – “The Revealing Science of God,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Gates of Delirium” – there is nothing quite like progressive rock. Back in the eighties, I used to listen to “For Headphones Only,” a weekly show devoted to Prog Rock on Pittsburgh’s main rock radio station.
I really wanted to like this book, but many of the mostly male contributors made this hard for me to do. Most of them seemed to be saying, “I liked/loved Prog Rock once, but now I’m too cool, too old, or too normal to like it. This means that I’m better than you, Dear Reader.” I don’t mind a few guffaws or criticisms about the genre – I’ve even done it myself with an essay called, “Sailing the Topographic Oceans to the Gates of Delirium” – but a whole book of it didn’t work for me. I expected the essays to be a celebration of Prog Rock, but most of them seemed to be apologies. Seth Greenland says in his essay, “When Punk came along and beat Prog to death with a club, I was not among the mourners.” As a woman who became a big fan of Prog Rock through other female fans, I take issue with Matthew Specktor’s statement, “In fact, I’d say that most Prog, while short of being misogynistic, is generally afraid of women, hence its exclusion of them lyrically, its limited appeal to them musically…” And since I didn’t get heavily into the genre until I was in my twenties and I’ve never done drugs, I didn’t grow up Prog like Tom Junod, “stoned and semi-smart, sensitive and without any real prospects for getting laid.”
But I did enjoy the book, in spite of my disappointment. Most contributors had good things to say about their favorite Prog bands, even though most of the comments were in past tense. Peter Case says, “Form followed content, so, wherever you dropped the needle on the record, you’d be lost for a time. Like Progressive groups Pink Floyd or King Crimson, you had no choice but to follow the melodic breadcrumb train out of the enchanted sound forest. And it was wonderful.” The book has several essays on Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and essays on other bands, including Bebop Deluxe and the Incredible String Band. Styx and Rush are given no love, and one contributor insults my favorite band, but I didn’t let those negative remarks ruin my interest in the anthology. Any catalyst to reopening a dialogue about Prog Rock, its fans and practitioners, means that the music will continue to be explored and enjoyed. We old, nerdy, (and even female) freaks are still out there “On the Silent Wings of Freedom.” Even though these former nerds/writers/musicians would look down their accomplished noses at me, a poor black woman who actually liked GTR, I would still attend a book signing and I do support this book. I even shed a tear when I heard about Peter Banks’ recent death. And I still support those Prog practitioners still out on the road. Anyone got an extra ticket for Rush?