Legacy and Masterworks

GUEST Commentator Jean Roby - September 2012

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2012 All Rights Reserved


I’ve just been watching an hour-long documentary – filmed a few months ago – about and with

Gilles Vigneault, Québec’s greatest living poet (he’s now 83 years old).


Summing up is long career as a lyricist, composer and singer, he states that the main goal of

all his artistic (and parental) endeavours was the transmission of knowledge. Given his poetic

and musical journey, that knowledge focuses on the essence of reality. According to Vigneault,

poetry isn’t about daydreaming, but rather looking at men, and women, and children, and nature,

to get the feel of people and things as they truly are, rooted in the actual world, not in some fictitious, hazy or escapist realm.


Naturally, such a position implies that memory plays a key role. But then he adds that it isn’t memory for the sake of souvenirs. Rather, he stresses that the purpose of the transmission of knowledge is to build memory, not so much for what he has accomplished personally as a poet, composer, singer, storyteller, teacher and parent, but in order that those who hear or read his works will learn to look for their own roots as the prime condition for finding themselves. Then, if there are any creators among these people, they’ll be able to create in turn with the truest sense of their own specific way.


Consequently, creation and memory are intrinsically linked together, because both are alternately in time the basis for one another. Thus, the transmission of knowledge becomes an essential legacy, again not for the purpose of building often futile monuments (whether human beings, events, or objects) to remember or glorify the past, but more essentially to nurture the here and now of younger generations who need to create, to add their own vision and sense of the world as it is (or should be) through that vital strain in human life we call culture.


Now, I couldn’t help but transfer Vigneault’s philosophical ideas to that of the Prog realm. Some voice in my brain tells me that I should drop the subject, because arguing about it won’t change a thing. But then another voice suggests that trying to get at the heart of the subject might help to take its real measure. So, for all it may or may not achieve, here’s where Gilles Vigneault’s thoughts have led me as far as creation and memory, and the transmission of knowledge, are implied in the Prog genre.


At one point in the film, Vigneault says there are 230 known versions (recorded and/or in print), or variations, of the famous French folk song À la claire fontaine. He uses this as an example of the transmission of knowledge where creation and memory play an equal part. To him, each version is a creation. They’re not pale or lame copies or, as is said today, clones or Retro-something. No, they’re all authentic creations.


To some, it may be no more than the way of tradition – in fact, it’s the precise meaning of folk lore –, but it’s not at all exclusive to traditional music. More to the point, it’s common ground for each and every musical genre, and even to each and every art form there is. The transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next implies that memory can be and is re-actualized through new creations, which are always rooted in the creations that preceded them in time.


In classical music, examples of variations are numerous. Many great masters, such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten, Chopin, Corelli, Handel, Hindemith, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Schubert and Schumann, to name but a few, have devoted their genius to develop one or more opus as Variations or Variations on a theme by… It illustrates how memory nurtures creation. And as many examples, if not more, could be pointed at in jazz, blues and classic rock, whether they’re called versions, variations or covers.


But when it comes to Prog, there are still (too) many people who feel that, to be labelled “progressive”, a band, or album, or song, or instrumental piece, has to stand alone, owing (almost) nothing to the past… as if each time the wheel has to be re-invented… which is absolute idiocy. From all wheels already rolling through time, each creator (whether a musician, or a painter, a writer, or any practitioner of any art form) does have to find its own wheel or shape one to suit his own purposes, but not to the cost of rising above all others, nor ignoring all others that came before or that still roll around – all of which would be totally impossible in any case.