The Mainstream Media Mirage

Jean Roby Commentary December 2014

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2014 All Rights Reserved


In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, mainstream media implemented a ban on Prog. Although it was done gradually, the impact was shattering for bands and fans alike, but it bore hardest on musicians: loss of audiences, lack of coverage, plummeting record and concert sales, lost record deals and promoting tours, demise of bands, and so on. More often than not, people who lived through the ordeal still talk about it angrily and indignantly – or maybe with some fateful resignation.


Whatever overt or shady reasons mainstream media had for sidelining progressive rock, it is quite understandable that many Prog fans and musicians still feel cheated about the whole thing. If only, because the ban is still on. And it has not faltered much over time. Granted, occasionally, it might be lifted locally, because guys from home have finally hit big time, and there’s still a handful of “big hits” from major Prog bands that have earned a slot as “rock classics”. But that’s about it.


Sure, there are Prog bands today (and not necessarily at the lower echelons) who would be willing to make some compromises, if only to make more money, enabling them to invest more in their next album or to organize larger and more meaningful tours – which is not a devilish reason per se. But would they go as far as sacrificing the very nature of their music in order to achieve that goal? I don’t think so – if they’ve learned from what happened in the ‘80s to bands that walked that same path, only to find that they hadn’t enough leverage to escape from the iron collar of commercial format. But even so, yes, some might be tempted to go for it. It wouldn’t be a general move though: simply because there’s too much to lose – first of all, creative freedom. Which is more than just the key word in the issue at hand; it’s still the keystone of Prog itself.


That said, the real issue at hand is not so much why the ban happened then… but why we keep looking back at it as if we still could change something about it and why we seem to be still hoping things might revert to what they once were. We are now approaching the middle of the second decade of the 21st century… and things have changed tremendously since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And for the better!


It’s a fact that (almost) each and every other musical genre can be heard on or read about in mainstream media today. But it is also true that Prog doesn’t rely on those media today, as was the case not so long ago. Now, Internet, satellite radio, iPods, smart phones and electronic pads provide ways to listen to Prog that weren’t around 35 years ago. Also, various Prog magazines are published here and there, and numerous websites provide information, reviews and forums. And there’s more – slowly but surely, Prog is gaining ground. There are more Prog bands today than there were when mainstream media shut the door. And not only that, these bands are literally sprouting from every corner of the world – even from places we never would have imagined as Prog hot-beds.


Prog has proven it can go through very hard times and yet come out of it quite alive and kicking. Not unscathed, but more seasoned and still driven to move forward. And the generous resurgence we’ve been witnessing these recent years provides ample evidence that Prog not only inspires new musicians to jump aboard and row along, but also gathers audiences from age groups many of us thought definitely out of reach not so long ago.


If mainstream media hadn’t banned Prog from its scene, would Prog have kept intact its main features? Since the entertainment business was standing firmly on its commercial ground and swinging around its own brand of the Big Stick policy, is it reasonable to believe that Prog could have won if it had gone along with mainstream media ?...


Thus, in the long run, Prog was better off, even though it has been a rough road for decades and there were many casualties along the way. Sure, we can go on dreaming that mainstream media would eventually admit its fault and backtrack to the time when it shoved Prog out of its way. But then, we wouldn’t be living in this very real world.


So, the time has come to turn over a new leaf.


Prog has overcome the ordeal. And, while doing so, it has preserved and nurtured its main musical feature. Freedom. A propriety seldom found in musical genres today. One that demands a high price to be kept alive. One that binds Prog musicians and fans. One that can endure without a glance at the shimmering mainstream media mirage.


So, in the end, the question comes down to: Would we be willing to trade that musical freedom for some rating on Billboard’s Top 100 ?...


Jean Roby