Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thin but good-hearted Prog history

4 now, Paul Stump's THE MUSIC'S ALL THAT MATTERS: A HISTORY OF PROGRESSIVE ROCK (1997) is the best book on Prog Rock I've read -- at least til I finish writing MINE! (20 yrs in the writing, so far.... Don't hold yr breath....)
The book is a touch thin in terms of the # of acts it covers, it has a definite U.K.-only bias (which Stump admits up front), & there is a lot of time spent on artists that I think R only of side-intrest 2 Prog fans (Mike Oldfield, Anthony Phillips).
BUT: Stump has his facts straight, his heart Cms 2 B in The Right Place, he actually NJOYS a lot of this stuff, & he's definitely not snooty or stuck-up.
He's also not Dfensive. In the only other Prog Rock history I've bn able 2 get my hands on -- Jerry Lucky's hideous THE PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES -- Lucky spends WAY 2 much time trying 2 Dfend Prog from mainstream-rock critics & other attackers, trying 2 protect Prog from the many bricks thrown at it over the yrs.
Stump saves time by just assuming up-front that most rock critics CAN'T HEAR. His approach is much closer 2 my own: This is neat, diffrent, beautiful, involving, sometimes gripping, & sometimes it even Rocks -- U should check it out.
HOWEVER: There R ALL KINDS of acts Stump leaves out of his book 4 reasons unknown, & it's cer10ly not Bcos of his "definition" of prog. I thot Lucky's definition was pretty narrow -- Stump's is pretty wide-open, he just tends 2 ignore artists who he apparently doesn't like or who he thinks R 2 "mainstream."
W/ Stump's obvious English bias admitted up-front, U will look in vain 4 NE mention of American prog-rockers in this book -- there Rn't NE. No Kansas, Happy the Man, Dixie Dregs, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Spirit, Synergy, early Journey, Grace Slick's DREAMS, Love, Steve Tibbetts, Glass Moon, Group 87, Providence, NE1.
Some European acts R briefly mentioned -- there's a little space given 2 Magma. But no Can. Tangerine Dream is mentioned, but no Kraftwerk, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Faust, Neu!, SFF, Cluster, Grobschnitt -- there is no discussion of Krautrock.
Stump is pretty strong on core Prog-rockers & the Canterbury school (not all of whom he likes) -- but even in the core list of Prog acts there R some omissions that bother me. Stump dismisses the Moody Blues & Caravan more than 1nce (after admitting that DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED is an obvious signpost 4 the unofficial "birth" of Prog), Camel is ignored, Barclay James Harvest R treated like hacks (I can almost agree w/ this at times), & Gryphon R dropped just as they got Really Good. Others R mentioned in a quick paragraph or 2 & never heard-of again (Gentle Giant, Gong).
There's a long list of at-least-borderline-Prog acts Stump leaves out -- Roxy Music, Be-Bop Deluxe, The Strawbs, Renaissance, Illusion, Alan Parsons Project, Al Stewart, Clannad, Enya (2 close 2 New Age?), ELO (especially TIME & their early stuff), Supertramp, Saga (Canadian, but Rush gets a brief mention), Argent, Sally Oldfield, Vangelis, FM (Canadian), Wigwam (Finland), Kevin Ayers, Amazing Blondel, Jade Warrior, Rare Bird, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, 801, Phil Manzanera, McDonald & Giles, PFM (Italian), Loreena McKennitt (2 close 2 New Age?), Jon & Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre/Space Art (French), Jukka Tolonen (Finland), Pekka Pohjola (Finland), Popol Vuh, Pierre Moerlen's Gong (2 close 2 Jazz?), England, Fruup, Druid, Fireballet, Starcastle.... (I'm sure there R bunches more, I'm doing this list from my collection & memory....)
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush R briefly discussed, then Bush gets dropped Bcos she's apparently "2 mainstream" -- if she wasn't a progger, then what was she?
(Intrestingly, Stump's book after this 1 was on Roxy Music, & tho some of it was very good & very Dtailed, his snotty tone kept me from doing more than just skimming most of it.)
Stump is very good on the obvious core Proggers: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine (I coulda used more on these guys, but there's quite a bit). He's also pretty solid on 2nd-line Canterbury acts: Hatfield & the North, National Health, Matching Mole, Egg, Robert Wyatt's solo career, etc.
There is rather 2 much info on Mike Oldfield, long past the point where NE1 would care -- tho the in-depth look at his early yrs is intresting. There's 2 much on Anthony Phillips' solo career. There's 2 much on The Enid, who R virtually unknown outside of Britain. There isn't enuf on Hawkwind, of whom Stump quotes some1 else saying they "weren't really Space Rock" (not Heavy Metal, either....). There's about the right amount of space on Van der Graaf Generator -- I gotta track down summa their stuff.
I assume from his attitude that Stump just dropped-out the folks whose music he didn't like. The book still Nds-up 356 pgs long, + there's a bibliography & a (severely) selective discography that doesn't even fill 4 pgs -- he coulda gone a lot further, but mayB he chose not 2 4 "taste" reasons, assuming everything else is unworthy of yr attn. But I don't buy that....
Stump is open 2 both the wonder & gorgeousness as well as the silliness & pretension of Prog, & finds Good Stuff in all of it. Rick Wakeman's overly-inflated solo career & Deep Purple's early fling w/ a symphony orchestra R targets 4 some humor -- he's also open 2 ELP's rowdier, sillier side. & tho there's almost 2 much about Yes (& Genesis, & I'm never quite sure if he actually LIKES them or not), Stump oddly picks Jon Anderson's solo album OLIAS OF SUNHILLOW as possibly the most complex prog album ever recorded. Stump may also B 1 of the few Prog fans who really hates Pink Floyd's THE WALL.
This all may come down 2 who yr faves R -- Stump has his own faves as I do mine. I was hoping 4 more, but I'm not disappointed really, & I cer10ly wouldn't mind Cing an update of this book. But I think it's unfair 2 dismiss an artist's Ntire life's work as worthless, as Stump Cms 2 B doing here w/ Caravan, Camel, Moody Blues, BJH, & possibly others.
Couple minor complaints about the book itself: Tho this is a pretty fast, EZ read, it isn't perfectly proofread: Many of Stump's sentences Cm 2 go on 2 long (I'm 1 2 talk?!) or some punctuation has bn dropped. Sometimes I had 2 go back 2 or 3x 2 try 2 piece-together what he was trying 2 get across. Lucky's PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES was self-composed & virtually self-published & perhaps coulda bn 4given its 9 MILLION typographical errors (tho somebody who can read English shoulda proofread it), but this sloppiness is pretty hard 2 Blieve coming from an English publisher (Quartet) that has also published memoirs by Lillian Hellman, among others.
Stump does at least Cm 2 have all of his facts down correctly, as far as I can tell.
Oh, & a new theory: Stump blames "the death of Prog" not mainly on bad, cynical, weak, commercialized music or record-company pressure 2 sell more -- he blames it mainly on Britain's vicious tax laws that started in the late-'70s, 4cing many of the highest earners in rock in2 tax exile, & tightening the $$$flow 4 those lower down the chain.
So, not as complete as I'd hoped, but not disappointing, & very strong in areas where I'd hoped 2 learn more. I'm let down by the lack of U.S. acts not discussed, & bummed that there's no space 4 summa my faves, but I'd still look at an update. & I'll B looking 4 more of Stump's work in this area.
I might even keep it.

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