What do You Mean Progress?
Jerry Lucky Commentary March 2011
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2010 All Rights Reserved
It’s been said – ‘it’s not that we don’t like change; it’s that we don’t like being changed.’ After all we change
things every day; we change our clothes, where we eat lunch, the route we take to work and all those changes
are OK, BUT when people change things on us, that’s when we can get a little uppity. Any of you who’ve ever picked up
and moved will know that it’s all about change. (By the way - speaking of change and moving, this is my first commentary
from my new digs on the mainland. After living on Vancouver Island for twenty-three years we made the decision to move to the
mainland. Like any major move, it had it’s moments of glee and it’s moments of pain.) So what happens when we think about changing how we view certain words, or word in this case.
There has been a lot said over the years about the term progressive as it applies to the Progressive Rock genre. Some feel it’s supposed to mean music that is progressing (although I’ve never been clear of where it’s progressing from or to)…others feel it’s music that is supposed to be a combination of different genres and then become some new genre (although in this case I fear we might end up with way to many genres.) Through all of this one thing is clear: there is little consensus as to what Progressive Rock music is.
The other day while reading a book by Andrew Potter entitled The Authenticity Hoax I took note of his take on the word “progress” and it really resonated with me. In the context of what he was writing about Potter refutes the idea that “progress” means things are getting better all the time, but rather that historically “progress” simply means constant change, something that he also says many people find unpleasant and even alienating.
To use his interpretation of “progress” then, what qualifies a type of music as being Progressive Rock is that it be a kind of music that is always changing. Not that it necessarily be going somewhere in particular, although it can, but that it simply be changing. To expand on that a little further some, musicians and critics alike would argue that Progressive Rock or progressive music in general needs to as they say progress, or be different from the previous work, but if I’m not mistaken they’re using the term in the context of changing from the last thing, or the last genre or the last release. And that to my mind misses the point of a genre label.
I would propose that any music that changes within its own compositional framework qualifies for a Progressive Rock identification. Whether that prog piece is 3-minutes or 30-minutes the idea is that it is changing, going through changes, creating a sense of musical journey. It is music that is speeding up and slowing down, getting loud and getting quiet, it may feature different instruments each taking a solo spot, it may be changing time signatures, or it may be doing all of the above. The bottom line is that it is a piece of music, much like Classical music that is written with the idea of it changing.
The other part of what Potter ascribes to “progress” is the aspect of it being unpleasant and even alienating. It’s fascinating to me that there are many people over the years who have felt that very way while I played some new prog piece to them. It is that constant sense of change or some would say busy-ness that drives people up the wall. For them music is supposed to be predictable. They’ve been conditioned to hear music in a linear fashion of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus and that’s it. When it starts changing time and tempo or time signatures or going from loud to soft, or features multiple melodies it becomes unsettling to them.
Now the fact is with all the stuff that’s been written about “what is Progressive Rock” and some of it has been some mighty fine writing, I still tend to feel the multi-part definition I put forward in The Progressive Rock Files holds up pretty well and certainly works for me. The confusion about the term progressive can now be solved if we read it in the context of - always changing.
A Progressive Rock song is a song that features one or more of the defining elements of my original definition and then is constructed within a compositional format that is always changing in some fashion. That’s not too hard to grasp is it? Prog is music that is constantly changing within its composition. I like that. It really gets to the heart of the musical matter…at least that’s what I think.