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audiobrian1 View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Show that Never Ends
    Posted: February 24 2008 at 14:37
NOTE for Prog Archives readers:
I originally wrote this for a MySpace post, and wanted to share it with a more appreciative audience.  Please overlook the MySpace references.  Thanks for reading and commenting in advance.
-Brian Dotson

*****************************

Let me start this by giving credit to this very inspiring writer friend of mine, Doug Boucher.  You can enjoy reading his ode to Keith Emerson, "Hang on to a Dream" (January 31, 2008) by going to http://www.myspace.com/dougboucher and locating it in his blog pages.  Since Dougie inspired me when he posted this, and last night I read the last pages of Keith's bio, I feel like sharing my thoughts on this incredibly brilliant musician, and ... here goes!

In the art form we call rock music, there have been very few power instrumentalists that dominated the stage with their playing on keyboards.  This has been a place held by guitarists.  My music worship began with a band presenting with a loud, powerful guitarist - Jimmy Page.  I have been an avid music listener since the age of five when my Dad blessed me with the priviledge of playing his album collection as much as I wanted!  The thing is, growing up in south Alabama, I didn't really have anyone to hold my hand over the years and turn me to the artists who were changing things.  I did hear Yes for the first time around 1973 or so on our amazing local FM radio station [manned by music-loving acidhead kid DJ's, God bless them!], and was immediately drawn to a form of rock that had elements of jazz, classical, and brand-new forms of musical expression.  I wouldn't know to call it "progressive rock" until much later.

The lineup of Yes at the time had a virtuoso guitar player that could achieve God status in the minds of young music listeners (Steve Howe), but he had some serious competition for attention in the group's keyboardist, Rick Wakeman.  Rick has this classical piano player's studious approach to writing his music that I love to this day.

When you're 18, you have to evangelize upon your current music gods, and I remember going to work one day at the little Radio Shack franchised dealer I was lucky enough to be employed by, and raving to the twenty-something audio repair technician at the place about something Wakeman was playing on a record I was listening to, and he said something to the effect that if I though Rick is the best rock keyboardist, I should go check out Keith Emerson's playing on the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album "Brain Salad Surgery"!  I promptly did.  This guy played with classical influences, but he brought some emotional dynamics into his playing that just absolutely blew me away!  There was rage, sadness, fear, and even horror in some places!  I have often thought since then that there just wouldn't have been room in this band sonically or socially for an electric guitar virtuoso. 
Keith just filled the musical space with his melodic ideas!  With this guy, it wasn't just rocking up the classical genre, but a love for jazz and the blues that he worked into his compositions and playing, as well.

In my typical fashion, I began to collect albums in a very focused way - "Trilogy" next, then "Pictures at an Exhibition" (actually one of ELP's earliest works).  Over the next few years, I bought all of them - you don't need the discography here.  What made me able to listen to this music for hours was the eclectic mix of  root influences to be found in it.  I had a respect and slight interest in classical music, but the adults in my life were hung up on the "Great Masters" - Beethoven, Bach, etc.  It was all very White Anglo-Saxon, and I kind of blahed out on it early.  There is a darker realm of musical expression available to the symphony orchestra that I had, at that time, never heard.  It came from "The Russians"!  This kind of orchestral music had emotional dynamics that  Beethoven just didn't get to.  There was rage and anger in spades, counterbalanced with idyllic sweetness and euphoria!  Who introduced me to "The Russians"?  It was this "rock" keyboardist, Keith Emerson.  The album was "Pictures of an Exhibition", written by Modest Mussorgsky.  Who introduced me to this amazing sound journey?  Keith Emerson did!  I remember my Dad heard me listening to the record, and was immediately intrigued.  He asked me to turn it up, because he wanted to know what lyrics Greg Lake and writer-collaborator Pete Sinfield had come up with.  He wasn't impressed in the performance as a whole.  Maybe this was due to Keith's insanely over-the-top Moog synthesizer freakouts which he sprinkled in between the movements.  Anyway, he very quickly produced a conventional classical LP of a "Pictures at an Exhibition" recording, and we had ourselves the most memorable shared musical experience of our lives!

My music education - deprived childhood was remedied almost entirely by Keith Emerson.  As I just pointed out, he prompted Dad to kick in with some education that he would have otherwise forgotten to give to me!  Not only would Keith give me a lifelong love of Russian classical music as composed by Mussorgsky, Ravel, Prokofiev, and other contemporaries, but he introduced me to this amazingly rhythmic piano player  and composer by the name of Scott Joplin.  This introduction would be the immortal "Maple Leaf Rag" as arranged by Emerson and recorded on "Works, Volume 2" [1977].  He brought me my first piano jazz recordings.  Any ELP fan knows, he sprinkled them everywhere - even in the middle of the famous rock suite, "Karn Evil 9", on the "Brain Salad Surgery" album.  Oh, and I'm about to forget my introduction to the work of the man who is perhaps the finest American orchestral composer to date - the great Aaron Copeland.  The wide-open musical landscapes evoked with Copeland's beatiful progressions of fifth intervals just urged me deeper and deeper into my study of music!  As recently as the early 2000's, I happened across a collection of live recordings by the late (very recently deceased), great Oscar Peterson.  I heard a lot of Keith's pianistic musculature in the way Oscar savagely attacked the jazz chords and scales!  I felt the same anger and forcefulness.  Keith didn't create a new music style; he just wove a tapestry of the greatest writings of many different artists into rock pieces!  Very, very, cool!  It is hard to underestimate the impact that Keith Emerson's approach to being a rock musician has had on my life, and indeed, on the lives of countless others who grew up in the 1970's.  I know he's not here on MySpace, but I'm glad I got some kind of forum to acknowledge how he has spoken into my life.

This, dear readers, is what PROGRESSIVE ROCK, is about.  It was invented when rock - and -roll was a baby, at a time when young white Brits took the amazingly emotionally expressive African-American art form known as the blues and adapted it into something new.  Progressive artists like Keith from the seventies, cross-pollinated this new blues styling with classical and jazz root forms in a wonderful, "throw - it - all - in - there - and - let - it - cook" soup.  You listen to these recordings, and it's an adventure, a journey of musical styles that can point you in a hundred different directions!  Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, knew that in the early 1970's, rock was a baby that had to develop its own personality.  Thank God that he was open-minded enough to help finance its mad scientists, like Keith Emerson.

But was the Progressive personality representative of the whole of rock?  Probably not.  It is interesting and somewhat sad to note, that later, even Ertegun saw the financial necessity for rock musicians to write "radio-friendly" pop songs that weren't too long and didn't delve too deeply.  Here is a quote from Ertegun in the final chapter of Keith's autobiography:

"Look, why don't you guys just get yourself into a studio and jam like you always did back in London and Montreux?  There's no need for concept albums, just do your own thing.  Come up with short, radio-playable stuff and don't make it too complicated."
[reported by Keith from a conversation at Atlantic Records offices, New York City, 1978]

I'll give Mr. Ertegun due respect - he was feeling the needs of the mass market, which relies on FM radio, and for which it was not practical to come up with songs that took a while to listen to.  Emerson, Lake, and Palmer delivered "Love Beach" [1979] after taking his advice.  It didn't really fit ELP as they managed to come up with a mini-concept piece which took up most of side 2 of the album.  This suite, "An Officer and a Gentleman", was decidedly NOT radio-friendly, and I love ELP for including it.  I'll give Lake his due here, because I think it has more of his and Pete Sinfield's signature on it than it does Keith's.  Sadly, this was to be ELP's last studio album for about 12 years.  It was obviously unfullfilling work for them.  I know that it kind of left me flat, too.

An interesting question that I ponder about progressive rock is this:  Were Mr. Ertegun and other powerful people in the Record Biz right about the market demand for music, or were they trying to influence it based on greed?  Are the masses incapable of taking longer musical journeys?  Radio-friendly doesn't matter anymore in the age of MP3 downloads, satellite radio systems with gazillions of channels, and even the same terrestrial FM transmitters being cheaply outfitted for simultaneous transmission of two digital broadcast programs.  The bad news is that mega-corporations own all the FM stations now, and the likelihood of grace being shown to musical experimentalists who STILL EXIST TODAY like Keith is not good.  However, many of you who have enough money to spend are subscribing to your own listener-financed music delivery - XM, Sirius, cable music channels, subsciption internet radio, whatever!  The radio-friendliness was driven, I expect, by the need for frequent commercials, and many of us are buying ourselves EMANCIPATION from the advertisers!  Can you say amen?

But I digress, and I think I have landed on a subject for my next blog.  I will leave you readers, and particularly the younger ones who make up most of MySpace (hope some of you are here reading this!) with a question.  If you are emancipating yourself from commercial FM radio in this brave new digital world, what will you choose to listen to?  MySpace has a few young artists who are trying to make sure that Progressive Rock becomes "The Show That Never Ends".  Keith Emerson was, to me, the founding father of this genre.  Other Progheads will argue that this is giving him too much laud, and perhaps they are right; there were many, many others with equal genius which blazed the trail now followed by a tiny few.  The question I want to ask all of you who actually have the time and interest to read this far is this: do you have the time to actually SIT AND LISTEN to great music?  Do you need radio-friendly because your lifestyle won't accomodate the requisite attention span, or are you willing to go on a musical road trip and "see" things you have never seen before?  There are still artists who are willing to take you on a trip like that, and I hope you will support them.  I don't want The Show to End.

Peace!

Yours truly,
Brian Dotson




(lines removed by Max)



Edited by [email protected] - February 24 2008 at 16:31
Brian Dotson
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 18:08
hmmm.. interesting... started to read this...  will come back to it.  Looks interesting.
I find your lack of Bassoon disturbing.....
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 18:17
good blog-- to answer your question Brian, it's up to us, always was... we all have to find time to closely listen to good music though that's not always easy.. sometimes I'll bring over some new (or old) music to a friend's house who enjoys prog, and I get much enjoyment and listening time that way


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 18:49
Well written!! Clap
 
I share your ideas about this new commercial evolution of music, and obviously Keith rocks it out and IMO he's one of the greatest keyboardists of all time, doesn't matter the genre. Definitely a magician of the instrument.
 
About the question you asked, I'm 17 and have enough time to sit and listen, as you said, to this hard music, and the time to re-listen the albums which are difficult to appreciate for me, specially on holidays. But I don't really know hot it' ll be like in a couple of years when I start working and some other changes come in my way. And lately I've been having less and less time. Hope that helps. Thumbs%20Up
 
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 19:41
Atavacron,

Yep, I fell you on the time thing!  I have three kids at the house between the ages of 6 and 18, and a very demanding job!  Fortunately, I work designing whole-house music systems, and we have a wealth of content delivery mechanisms that we are always working on for our product line.  Now if my brain could only learn to enjoy prog while I am writing embedded firmware!  The prog just takes too much mental bandwidth!

I'm actually very excited about all the listener-supported radio options and how they will influence music stylistically!  Whatever happens, it will be truly about popular music listening preferences, untainted by the need to cram in radio advertisement!

Cheers,
-Brian
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 19:53
Barla,

> Well written!! Clap
Well, thanks very much for the complement!
 
> I'm 17 and have enough time to sit and listen, as you said, to this hard music, and the time to re-listen the >albums which are difficult to appreciate for me, specially on holidays.

I'm just very gratified that sitting and listening isn't a totally archaic activity, given the plethora of "listen on the run" choices that we have today!

>But I don't really know hot it' ll be like in a couple of years when I start working and some other changes >come in my way. And lately I've been having less and less time.

You only really have to sit and concentrate the first time you hear it!  Once it drops down into your heart, then you can work to it, man!

I still have some music that I listen to that some part of me senses I need to comprehend, but like you alluded to, it's hard.  For example - a lot of the work of Miles Davis.  "Bitches Brew" [1969], and most anything that John McLaughlin has ever recorded.  Miles and John M are often jarring to my soul, but there's some deep communication there that I sense has something to say to me!  That kind of listening takes quality time, doesn't it?

Thanks for keeping art in music alive!  I'm really looking forward to see where your generation takes Progressive Rock!

Cheers,

Brian Dotson
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 19:54
Hey, Barla.

What is that cool listening diary thing in your post?  Please tell me how you use that!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 20:29
Atavacron,

One more thing I learned from Keith's book.  I see from your profile that you are a martial arts instructor.  Carl Palmer, in the '70's, was a serious student of karate.  The band often tried to find instructors and classes for him on the road!

Kinda goes with the attack evident in his drumming style, doesn't it?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 24 2008 at 20:42
oh, didn't know that.. no surprise I guess, always figured him for the badboy of the group Wink


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 25 2008 at 11:05

Brian, what you said about the very first listen of an album is completely true. Those albums that strike from the beginning are the ones I enjoy the most. Lately it's been just hard to put my mind in blank and fully concentrate on the music. I guess it's a matter of experience, or simply the music doesn't fit my taste.

The only Miles Davis album I own is Bitches Brew, which has never clicked on me, surely because of the reasons you explained in your post. On the other hand, the Mahavishnu Orchestra was love at first sight, and much more listeneable, in my opinion, obvioulsly.

The listening diary in my signature is taken from www.last.fm. There you can listen to customized radio. If you sign in and download the LastFM software, all the music you listen (from the LastFM radio or from the computer) will be 'scrobbled' to your profile and to that chart. And there are always recommendations according to one's tastes. It's a funny tool! Thumbs%20Up

 

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 25 2008 at 12:18
Nice Brian.  I got into prog through the band the Nice.  My mom is a teaches piano and she has some Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and John Ogden albums.  All those pianist have what it takes to actually play the piano.  Touch and feel.  Peterson and Tatum in jazz.  Ogden in classical.  Thanks for bringing up some great memories.Smile
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 27 2008 at 18:21
Originally posted by audiobrian1 audiobrian1 wrote:

do you have the time to actually SIT AND LISTEN to great music?  Do you need radio-friendly because your lifestyle won't accomodate the requisite attention span, or are you willing to go on a musical road trip and "see" things you have never seen before?  There are still artists who are willing to take you on a trip like that, and I hope you will support them.

This is a great part, alot of people just listen to radio friendly stuff because their schedules won't allow any thing more. Some people just don't have time for it which is a shame. I've actually heard certain music criticized because the songs are too long, but the thing is, prog and other songs like that are music for people who are into music, if you don't have the time and the interest, you don't get into it.
"It's music, and I like it" - Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 28 2008 at 20:16
Very interesting reading! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Brian!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 09 2008 at 04:06
- An interesting question that I ponder about progressive rock is this:  Were Mr. Ertegun and other powerful people in the Record Biz right about the market demand for music, or were they trying to influence it based on greed? -

I have always agreed with Robert Fripp on this point i.e progressive rock at the outset answered a need that had been demanded by the discerning but dissatisfied audiences of the time. As the genre became ever more successful and lucrative, the record companies had to create a need for it's continuation.

- The question I want to ask all of you who actually have the time and interest to read this far is this: do you have the time to actually SIT AND LISTEN to great music?  Do you need radio-friendly because your lifestyle won't accomodate the requisite attention span, or are you willing to go on a musical road trip and "see" things you have never seen before? -

A very insightful commentary which contains a great deal of unpalatable truth. Yes, we do appear to have given rise to a generation that have the attention span of indolent goldfish and we do have lifestyles that tend to engender aesthetic snacks in comparison to a fully balanced diet.
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