David Weigel's THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS (2017) is a fast, easy-to-read, mostly-well-written history of the rise and fall of progressive rock. I read its almost-300 pages in three days -- pretty fast, for me.
But it's thin. It reads as if it was edited rather tightly from a longer manuscript -- as if the order from the publisher was to get all the story told in less than 300 pages. This is too bad, because the book could have been twice as long. It's cut too tightly -- a sentence here and there gets mangled. It isn't always clear who's being quoted.
The best part of the book recounts prog's early days, when the form and the players were just coming together. There's some excitement and freshness here, and Weigel interviews some folks you don't usually see quoted in histories of this sort -- Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine, Daevid Allen of Soft Machine and Gong, Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine, Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair of Caravan, Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Peter Banks of Yes....
But unfortunately, this section is too short. The next thing you know, Yes is dropping members, King Crimson is falling apart during their first U.S. tour, and ELP is arguing about what to do after their first album. And the prog-rock story has barely gotten started.
Not long after that, Weigel starts to skim the surface and skirt the edges. It's a "highlights" history, sort of. As happy as I was to see Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, Egg and Magma mentioned in some detail -- and even the Canadian band FM gets mentioned -- there is so much more Weigel could have done.
Pink Floyd is in here just for DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. Though Floyd's WISH YOU WERE HERE, ANIMALS and THE WALL also sold millions, they're not mentioned. The Moody Blues are in here just for DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED. There's rather too much about Mike Oldfield, though the story about making TUBULAR BELLS is pretty neat. Caravan is mentioned in the early-days section, but that's all. Their career isn't followed. Camel is mentioned in passing, but that's it. There's a lot about Daevid Allen before and after Gong, but nothing about when he led that band/hippy commune....
There's almost too much about Genesis, Yes and ELP, but don't get me started. I think it's helpful if you know a lot about prog history before you read this book.
I was pleased to find a section on Italian prog, and I was happy with the mentions of Caravan, Hatfield and the North, FM and Egg. I just wished there had been more. There's a bit on American prog bands -- Kansas is in here. But not Happy the Man. Or even Styx, though they're pictured. The section on neo-prog and later prog bands (Porcupine Tree, Coheed and Cambria, etc.) will probably mean more to younger fans than it does to me.
The book opens with a trip on a modern-day "Prog Rock Cruise," backtracks to the early days of the genre, and ends with the death of Keith Emerson. There is no discography, or even a "Where are they now?" update of what the acts did after being mentioned in the book. It's also saddening how many of the folks Weigel interviewed have since died. Since the book was published, Greg Lake has passed away. There is a long list of notes and sources, which includes lots of books and websites to track down if you're interested in learning more.
So, a great idea, smoothly written (mostly), but not long or detailed enough. Any chance Weigel might have a sequel in mind, in more depth? Until that happens, Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY is still the best place to start for a prog history.