Prog is Mainstream

Jerry Lucky Commentary February 2016

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved


Recently the music world was taken by surprise with the passing of rock icon David Bowie. It’s a reminder that old man time waits for no one. I happened to be switching channels on my TV and noticed Bowie being interviewed in the early nineties and he made some comments that caught my attention.


He talked about the divide that exists between the artist and the critic, pointing out that critics have a dismal record when it comes to pointing out the future of music. He said, and I’m loosely paraphrasing, that SOME critics are OK at offering up thoughts about the music of the present and some depending on their age are OK at referencing the music of the present in the context of what has gone before. But both fail miserably in determining what the public will like “tomorrow.” That, he said was the domain of the artist. He went on to say the artist rarely looks back but instead is by nature looking to the future to do something different.


I submit to you that this applies even to the world of Progressive Rock. Many critics within the genre are prone to criticising prog that they say or feel is too much like something from the past. What they fail to appreciate, I think, is that the artist is the one who is making the musical statement. The artist is the one who is in many cases risking everything to say something musically. They will have been inspired by what they’ve heard but as Bowie suggested and I truly believe they are looking to the future.


In this context I would suggest it is the critic who is locked in the past, forever comparing what they are listening to today, with what they’ve heard yesterday. Such a critic serves the needs of the listener in the present day by being reactive rather than proactive. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest, off the top of my head, that regardless of how erudite they may be, the critic is able to do little more than simply say what they like or don’t like.  I’m reminded of what prog musician told me once; no critic has ever made the next record better. Now I don’t say this to be negative or mean-spirited but rather to simply state the obvious. I count myself in this group as well.


Does having more knowledge about what we write about count for something? I would say yes, and the more a writer or critic is able to “equip” themselves with the appropriate knowledge the finer the writing may be. But I also think, a critic, of any artistic endeavor, needs to be humble and know where they sit in the “food-chain.” As Bowie seemed to be saying – the artist is the one creating something – the critic is just the one talking about it.


Staying with the same thought I wanted to pick up on a thought I started in last month’s commentary and that was where I posed the idea that perhaps Prog is part of the mainstream in 2016. Call me crazy but it sure feels that way to me as I reflect on comments being made by the new crop of music writers. All those guys who hated Prog because they were raised on a diet of Iggy and the Stooges living a life under the false notion that if it wasn’t rebellious it wasn’t rock have either passed on or passed the baton to the next generation. The new critics – and there are many of them – have come onto the scene post prog’s heyday. For them Prog is just one of many different kinds of music out there.


In addition what actually constitutes “mainstream” these days? There is no longer the need or requirement of getting on the traditional media, because traditional media no longer has the impact it used to. Mustic television has long since stopped playing music videos and traditional radio is locked into an ever shrinking loop of “safe” formats. Oh sure there will still be the pop superstars but for the most part artists are much more in control of their destinies and have many different means to get their music out there and to get people to hear it. Social media has become a significant tool that is used effectively by all musical genres, but especially those outside the Pop mainstream, and is only starting to see traction in the prog genre. Getting the word out to people who then tell other people is proving to be a much more powerful promotional tool than old-school advertising because it is both targeted and yet reaches many others.


The growth in new musical platforms is quite amazing. I get many artists who post their music on platforms such as Bandcamp or Soundcloud. And while streaming hasn’t hit Prog as significantly as other pop genres, perhaps there will come a time. Will we see the demise of the physical CD – I hope not. Certainly the fact that Adele sold over a couple million physical CDs at the beginning of the year bodes well for a medium that many have already discounted.


So when I say Prog is in the mainstream now, what I’m really saying is that the mainstream has changed and is no longer what it used to be. The mainstream of today is much more eclectic and adventurous, not restrained by the major labels in any way. All this is good news to my ears and means that Prog in its many variations can compete on an equal footing with all the other music out there. We simply need to continue doing our part and support the genre in whatever way we can.


At least that’s what I think.


Jerry Lucky