Living in the Moment
Jerry Lucky Commentary August 2011
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2011 All Rights Reserved
The other day Phil the promotion manager at the radio station made a comment to me that resonated. He offered up the view
that what seems so wrong about music today is that so much of it is “in the moment.” It’s all about what’s happening right now,
this very second and that to him took away some of the larger aspects of what music can provide. I offered the questioning view that
perhaps it was a natural outgrowth of the “me-generation” of the seventies and we agreed that we recognized the enemy and the enemy was us.
Why this came up is that Phil has more than a passing knowledge of the world of progressive rock and we both acknowledged that prog has always tended to focus on the larger picture or certainly the more esoteric, using metaphors, allegories and generally speaking big-picture lyrical ideas.
My concern as I thought about this, especially in the context of so many new prog bands coming to the fore was that I hope they don’t get caught up in this same sense of lyrical immediacy. It’s entirely possible for this to happen of course given that many of the new prog bands are younger and perhaps easily influenced by what I would call “the now.”
The danger as I see it is that in an effort to make prog more “relevant” or “contemporary” we may lose one of its more defining characteristics and the end result is that we end up with more of what we already have a lot of; namely less meaningful lyrics. Heartache and teenage angst may be heady lyrical fodder I’m sure but how many times do we have to hear it before the plot starts to wear thin? It’s all subjective perhaps but clearly it’s the grander lyrical concepts that tend to separate the prog genre from other musical styles.
We’ve actually seen this happen with churches. The more that the established denominations have tried to craft a message that is more mainstream or less offensive, the more attendance has actually declined as parishioners no longer see their attendance as something that sets them apart but rather something they could simply forget about. Asking themselves, if attending this church makes no difference, why am I doing it? As I see it, there should be something that makes you different. That’s a question progressive rock artists should constantly be asking themselves…If all I’m doing is writing a strait forward pop song that might fit in anywhere, why is there any reason to call it prog.
Let me be careful here. I’m not suggesting that prog shouldn’t be relevant or speak to the contemporary, or that prog artists shouldn’t write shorter more melodic compositions, this has always been the case from the very beginning. But what I am saying is that based on my own definition in The Progressive Rock Files the lyrical content of progressive rock music works best when it serves a grander vision. Much like a church’s message while being contemporary can never lose its higher purpose. It can’t just be about how to make you feel good by taking the easy road. There needs to be the view from above. If prog is going to tackle contemporary issues (and I think it should) it needs to stretch and at the very least use allegory to do so. This is not always easy if one’s lyrical kit-bag lacks the necessary tools, but the risk for Progressive Rock music is that it can easily slip into uselessness and very easily lose not only its distinctiveness but its very fan base. Other than those who simply choose to ignore lyrics.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen with prog. Lyrically there is much to discuss and debate and the Progressive Rock genre, and all of its sub-genres, provides a nice sturdy platform for such verbal exposition. It would be shame for that aspect of the genre to disappear. At least that’s what I think.