Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends

So recently I’ve been reading David Wiegel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock and enjoying it immensely.  Things I’ve learned:

–It’s evident that a few members of Yes either quit or were canned due to insufficient pretentiousness levels.  Tony Kaye was an adequate keyboardist that didn’t play flourishes and got the boot early on.  Rick Wakeman quit out of boredom, and the fact that he had no frigging idea what Jon Anderson was singing about half the time.  Steve Howe actually kind of likes Tormato, their 1978 album that nearly no one else likes, including the rest of the band.  Chris Squire’s bass was, not surprisingly at all, mixed loud, front and center on their first albums.

–Van der Graaf Generator were well-loved, even if their music made no damn sense at all.  The same goes for The Soft Machine.

–Robert Fripp is a genius guitarist…but no one knows what the hell he’s trying to play.

–Greg Lake had an ego about the size of Great Britain.  Keith Emerson not as much, but close.  Carl Palmer just wanted to play his drums.

–Keith Emerson’s famous stage shtick of sticking knives in his keyboard to get sustained sound was originally courtesy of some old Army knives from a roadie named Lemmy Kilmister.

–The guys in Rush write great songs, but they’re kinda sorta meatheads.  Singer Geddy Lee didn’t always know what the hell drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics were going on about, just that they were virulently Libertarian.  [This political bent seems to have faded into the background around the same time Geddy started playing synths on the albums, interestingly enough.]

–The more members Genesis shed, the poppier and more famous they became.  Keyboardist Tony Banks said if they’d called it a day when Peter Gabriel left, they’d have had a significantly smaller fanbase.

–Most bands, when interviewed by Creem magazine in the 70s, would make these wildly erudite but utterly vacuous proclamations about how progressive rock will change the world.

–Marillion singlehandedly brought back prog in the 80s by saying ‘Screw you, we’re going to play this stuff anyway.’

Seriously, though, it’s a fascinating (if slightly sarcastic) read if you’re a fan of the genre.  One of the pleasant surprises is that he does briefly touch on the less famous prog bands, including a handful of non-English bands from Italy and elsewhere.

 

It’s a Mad Dog’s Promenade, So Walk Tall (Or Don’t Walk at All)

I just recently finished reading my first book of the year, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.  It’s quite the lengthy tome, and if you’re familiar with his music (particularly his early epic-length songs like the one above), you’ll feel right at home with his life story.  His long-format musical storytelling fits right in with his literary storytelling.

I’ve mentioned it here before, but one of the most common threads I see in a lot of music biographies is the musician’s moment of how the hell did I get here?, especially when they’re put in an unexpected situation.  In Johnny Marr’s book Set the Boy Free, his moment was when he was jamming and talking personally with Paul McCartney about the breakup of the Smiths (Macca’s words of wisdom for him: “That’s bands for you.”).  For Bruce, it was the moment he was on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame stage, with Mick Jagger on one side and George Harrison on the other, singing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.  And the most interesting part of that tale thread is that, more often than not, they didn’t climb up their Marshall stack and yell ‘Top of the World, Ma!’.   They just smiled and laughed stupidly at their incredible stroke of luck, and kept doing the only thing they know how to do best, and that’s play music.

Bruce Springsteen has always been the Champion of the Working Man sort of singer, and Born to Run makes sure you know that.  A sizable portion of the book — at least half –is dedicated to repeated returns to New Jersey to see old friends, visiting his sisters and parents, and bringing up three kids.  He may not be the Troubadour that people make him out to be, and he frequently reminds the reader that that’s not his aim, to be the next Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan.  He’s just a storyteller who knows how to tell a good story about the blue collar man and woman, the people he grew up with and still connects with to this day.

[If I had one complaint, his writing does hint just a tiny bit at being a newbie, as I can see some of the usual writing habits that nag us all when we start out.  He relies on hyphenated phrases, ellipses and ALL CAPS more than he should.  That said, however, I’m not going to shoot him down for it.  I’m just as bad in my rough drafts.]

It’s definitely a fun read, though.  Well worth picking up!

 

Side note: I chose the above music and title, as it’s one of my favorite early Bruce tracks from his second album.  It’s a lovely piece, and I used “Mad Dog’s Promenade” as the name of my radio show my sophomore year in college.  I also put that there to note that there’s more to Bruce than just the hits we all know, and he’s one hell of a solid musician and songwriter…the deep cuts from his albums are often just as fascinating and imaginative.