Friday, 24 May 2013


Marc Weingarten Tyson Cornell  

Every morning, I sit down with my cup of tea, and - depending how psychotic I feel - a cigarette (smoking being a habit that I am supposed to have given up five years ago) and settle down to do the daily blogs for Gonzo Multimedia and the CFZ. The first thing I do is to check Google News Alerts into the search engine of which I have entered the names of a whole slew of Gonzo and Gonzo-related artistes, and every day I check to see what new news there is.

The other day I found this article about a new book. And I was so intrigued that I emailed the publishers and asked them to send me a copy.

I then promptly forgot about the whole thing, and therefore had a nice surprise a few days ago when a fat parcel (that had obviously been opened by H.M Customs, who seem to have a habit of opening my post these days) arrived on my door mat. The premise of the book is simple; it is a collection of essays, by various well known and up-and-coming authors on the broad subject of progressive rock.

And this is where it gets interesting. Because within minutes of starting to read the book (which is excellent, by the way) I had an epiphany. No two people agree on what 'Progressive Rock' (I actually cordially dislike the term 'Prog') actually is.

And this is what makes this book so excellent, and such an absorbing - and sometimes moving - read.

The stories are all either from life, or purporting to be so. Several are pure rock reportage about the history and the mystery of various luminaries of the prog scene. The essay on Pink Floyd by Rodrigo Fresan, for example, is impeccably researched, and laid out in an academic style, even including voluminous footnotes. But the majority are stories from the author's own lives, mostly coming-of-age stories - which use progressive music as some part of a subtext to throw the author's own experiences into sharp relief.

Most of the authors are male. Well, duh!! As we have all known, most progressive rock fans are male. I do not wish to appear to be being sexist, but in my experience most women have a musical taste which, umm........ does not mirror my own (there..I said it without being offensive). My first wife, for example liked the music of Chris de Burgh, and another girlfriend of mine had all the albums by Roger Whittaker. Most of the women of a certain age that I have met are obsessed with Les bloody Miserables, and I maintain to this day, that one of the things that made me fall in love with my second (and final) wife, is that she once saw Henry Cow and Gong.

The essays by female authors are not just greatly in the minority, but are often more overtly sexual, whereas many of the male authored stories have drugs or violence as their leitmotif. As I first smoked pot at 16, some years before I ever saw a girl with no clothes on (who didn't have two staples and a fold down the middle) and had an adolescent love for Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer which has never left me, a lot of this resonates with me.

Most of the stories, like my own adolescence, took place in the 1970s; an age where we were all inhibited by social constraints that largely don't exist any more, but when so many of us believed that we should reach for the stars and that everything was possible. Now nobody cares, kids are not hung up about their own sexuality, and no-one reaches for the stars because they know that they are merely a mass of incandescent gas, and that to reach out and grasp them merely results in badly burned fingers.

I loved this book, largely because it portrayed such a very different one to that in which we live today; a world which the young people whom I know in these benighted times would no doubt reject out of hand - a world whose rampant consumerism seems tame and quaint by today's standards, and where people truly believed that narcotics were a valid path to enlightenment.

I was sexually repressed, screwed up my mental and physical well being with substance abuse, lived in Bohemian squalour for many years and did all sorts of things which I regret. But I can still put on Tales from Topographic Oceans and be transported to a plane of existence in a universe far away where it all not just makes perfect sense, but where - if I were given the chance, I would probably do it all over again. Reading this lovely book - which made me laugh out loud, came close to making me cry, occasionally made me cross, and provoked various one sided diatribes from me which both bored and baffled my poor wife, dog and Mama-in-law - I realised, or rather was reminded, that I am not the only one.

This is a glorious book, and I only have two regrets: firstly that the book was not twice as long (or at least that there was a firm promise of one or more sequels), and secondly that I didn't think of it myself.

Thank you to all involved.

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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.