Retro Prog and Intolerance

Jerry Lucky Commentary June 2010

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2010 All Rights Reserved


Over the years I’ve written about the use of the word “progress” in the genre description Progressive Rock. And even though

decades have passed since the term was introduced, there are some who still feel the word implies a kind of directive for the music

to ‘progress’ from subjective point ‘a’ to subjective point ‘b’. This has always puzzled me more than a little bit. But what puzzles me even

more are the comments and attitudes of some within the prog community, artists and critics alike that more than imply that some Progressive Rock music is ‘better’ because the artist is, in their minds, actually ‘progressing’ and implicit in this is that they’re not ‘retro.’ These people, whoever they are continue to hold to what I consider the outmoded belief that Progressive Rock even in the new millennium still needs to progress…to go somewhere. In the minds of these people progressive rock is still supposed to be moving forward to somewhere.


I hate to be the one to break it to them…but it already got there. And it got there a long time ago. So get over it. But I ask myself, why is it that some still feel the need to be so judgemental and in the process judge others as being ‘retro’ or even as I saw recently ‘regressive rock.’ Why the need to put someone else’s musical efforts down in a vain effort to feel better about your own work?


Now if you’ve read my many diatribes on this subject you will have seen me say that like all musical forms down through history, Progressive Rock became an established tradition by the late seventies and everything that has been produced since then has simply built on that established musical tradition that we’ve come to call progressive rock. And I would suggest this to be true for all the sub-genres as well. I used to say that the word ‘progressive’ in the term Progressive Rock, at some point in the mid seventies became a noun rather than a verb. But let’s consider for a moment this concept of progressing within a musical tradition. What exactly does that mean and why do some (more than a few, and too many as far as I’m concerned) continue to harp on this as if they know better?


I think we can all agree that music evolves, it changes over time. The symphonic prog that is created in 2010 is quite different to the symphonic prog that was produced in 1975. But at the same time I think we can all also agree that each musician is on their own timetable. Each is at a different level of competence, influences, accomplishment, musical development and awareness, whatever. So I think it follows that each artist should be measured against their own point in musical history. For someone to come out with a record that displays more obvious influences, whatever they may be, well that music needs to be considered on the level of that artist’s development.


It’s quite possible to be showing tremendous ‘progression’ from their last musical effort and STILL sound like their inspiration. The fact they still sound like something else really has very little to do with the concept of progress. This is a category mistake. The progression of an artist’s abilities is not directly linked to their musical inspiration in the same way as the next artist. Each artist operates on their own effort level, and even the most junior of artists will put a lot of time and energy into their musical craft.


So for someone to sit in judgement of the other and say “my music is more authentic because it’s more progressive” is to me the height of arrogance and borders on intolerance or even judgementalism.


Who are we to judge the amount of progress that has been made and in what fashion it has taken – lyrics, composition, instruments, arrangements, production etc. Further, what makes us think that any music that claims to be ‘progressing’ or more ‘progressive’ in a verb sense is better? By what objective standard is progressive music ‘better’ than retro music? It is after all a matter of taste and preference. What we should be doing is sitting back and enjoying the music without feeling the need to pass judgment on it. I’ve said this many times; Tell me that you liked it or you didn’t like, even tell me why you didn’t like it, but please don’t assume you can tell me it’s inferior. At least that’s what I think. 


Jerry Lucky