|A Fandom Of Oxy-Morons, Part-1
||[Apr. 23rd, 2012|07:33 am]
An extremely long essay, broken into two parts, designed to explain everything I might want my local music friends to understand about how I listen to music, and to get out of my mind and out of my way all the reasons why I find myself at total odds with The Prog Fandom.
The other day I got a call from one of my “Music friends.” (I used to say “Prog friends,” but I’m trying to break that bad habit.) And he said something along the lines of, “These days I’m leaning more towards Neo-Prog than “Conventional Prog.”
I had never heard the term “Conventional Prog” before, and he just didn’t get why I seemed so blind-sided by that term, or why I was saying it was an oxymoron. Still, he insisted that this was the term Progression Magazine was now applying to that small segment of the music they report on which tends to appeal to me. And I especially took exception to that.
For those out there who don’t get what the big deal is, as my friend didn’t – “conventional” means standard, ordinary, expected. “Prog” is short for “Progressive,” which means unconventional, beyond the bounds of the ordinary, and pushing forward from what has gone before to hopefully open up new territory for exploration. So “Conventional Prog” translates to “Ordinary Extraordinary.”
An “oxymoron” is defined as a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect, e.g. "wise fool" or "legal murder."
You also need to understand that “Conventional” is only used in the Prog Fandom as a term of condemnation or dismissal. As opposed to a term like “Classic,” which indicates something is to be revered.
“Classic Prog” is what the music in question used to be called in the fandom, but apparently “Classic Prog” gives that music too much respectability for a large segment of the fandom that would like it to be dismissed in favor of whatever the bands coming out of the fandom are producing today.
Now, you might think the Prog Fandom would have more sense than to demonize the very object of the fandom. Unfortunately, this fandom suffers from a typical problem that plagues smaller fandoms. It has maybe one or two main fanzines and one or two main web sites to rally around. And, as I’ve explained in the past, such web sites and fanzines are not democracies. They are dictatorships where the opinion of the owners always rule over common sense. And the personal taste of the owners is given special attention over all others.
And thus a handful of people are given power to alter the thinking of an entire fandom. Or at least that segment of the fandom that bothers to read the fanzines and web sites. If you’re like me and have long realized there’s no usefulness to these fanzines and web sites, and therefore haven’t followed them for years, but your friends subscribe religiously, it can be more than a little shocking when your friends repeat something they’ve read that lets you know how low The Prog Fandom has sunk.
Unfortunately for The Prog Fandom, the dictators at the helm of these fanzines and websites are a bunch of self-absorbed idiots who totally drown any positive attributes the fandom might develop in ridiculous politics, like arbitrarily deciding how music will be classed, respected, treated with indifference, neglected or totally dissed. And then backing their decisions by threatening derision and excommunication on anyone who dares speak out against their agenda, as well as anyone who does not want to go along with the oxymorons they create which keep everyone in perpetual confusion.
Indeed, it will quickly become apparent to anyone entering The Prog Fandom that even straight up terms are never used with any consistence to apply to specific things. A wise music fan would think the literal interpretation of terms like “Art Rock,” “Symphonic Rock,” “Progressive Rock,” etc. would enable people to more easily discover music that appeals to them. The Prog Fandom will have none of that. They use these terms willy-nilly to apply to just about anything.
Consequently, if you’re looking for music of a predominantly classical nature, you would be looking through reviews for the term “Symphonic Rock.” Doesn’t work in Prog Fandom. These writers will apply the term “Symphonic Rock” to everything from Fusion to Avant-Garde. Still, you’d think that they wouldn’t be calling it “Symphonic Rock” if there wasn’t something classical about it. And in this way you are deceived into buying album after album of stuff that has nothing what so ever to do with the kind of music you were looking for.
And, even worse, if you put the screws to them to make some solid definitions to these terms, “Symphonic Rock” will be ascribed to anything but music with orchestral or classical content. It is a fandom that is just bent on getting everyone used to doing everything wrong. And it’s the powers that be in this fandom who get to decide what the wrongness of the day shall be. And they enforce the wrongnesses they decide upon with an iron fist.
I’m serious as a heart attack. It’s like you must be approved by the state to write for The Prog Fandom. If the state doesn’t like what you write, it won’t be published. The only thing you can do with contrary opinions is blog them, or [gasp] try to start your own web site. In which case the dictators will deem you a threat and unleash their trolls to destroy anything you try to create.
I swear, I do not jest. The Prog Fandom is the single scariest fandom I’ve ever experienced. It totally dwarfs any nastiness I’ve experienced in any of the other fandoms I commonly write about. If they are given the slightest reason to think you’re not down with their clique, out come the hammers, the posturing, the derogatory insults and personal attacks.
With Furries or Anime fans, if they think you’re an outsider, they’ll be a bit wary, but they’ll still be generally polite. The writers of The Prog Fandom are more like predators who see outsiders as their prey. And they get all excited when an outsider comes in, as they are looking forward to the exhilaration of tearing that unfortunate music fan to pieces. It’s a very scary place for anyone with a lick of common sense, good taste, or just a sense of individuality.
Does this sound like an atmosphere where fans of The Moody Blues would be comfortable? No? That’s why you won’t find many of them there. They tend to be found in Classic Rock Fandom, which is too big to be dominated by any conglomerate of fanzines or web sites.
Unfortunately, Classic Rock Fandom doesn’t offer a special focus on the range of recording artists which have been used to define this phenomenon called “Progressive Rock.” You need to hang with the elitists to read about that - those that I like to compare to the scowling professors in the Tyl Eulenspiegel story who were so serious they would never smile. And they would shower their derision down on anyone who dared display a lack of seriousness in their presence.
This, of course, is completely contrary to the nature of the music in question – the formerly termed “Classic Prog” which has now been demoted in significance to “Conventional Prog.” The music in question is often whimsical, prone to flights of childish fancy, laced with the optimism of its age, and is often heard to burst out in expressions of unbridled joy.
This stands in total contrast to where the scowling professors have led Prog Fandom. And apparently the incongruity is getting harder and harder to dismiss. Thus we are starting to hear statements to the effect that, “We, as serious adults, should feel embarrassed by the tendencies of bands like Genesis to indulge in childish fantasy stories. And therefore we should condemn the music that drew us to this fandom, and learn to be more focused on the reflections of stark reality the fandom has brought into being. This “Conventional Prog” does not suit the mindset of a proper Progger.”
Ever joined a fandom for something you like, only to be told what you like is no good, and that you should like something else? Wouldn’t you quickly come to the conclusion this fandom was oxymoronic by nature – a contradiction of its very self?
This is the sad fate of any fandom that manages to put itself in a position where it feels beyond criticism. It loses the ability to think for itself and becomes a society of mindless followers, breathing in propaganda as if it were fact. And the result, in this case, is the total confusion of music history when young students try to research the past. It’s all been mucked up by 40 years of Oxy-Moronic writers committing their opinions to the historical records, which are anything but borne out by an actual listen to the music. But no one will let the music speak for itself. The moronic writers have prejudiced them too much.
An outsider who has not absorbed much propaganda might more quickly notice some things wrong with this picture. For instance, the music in question is hardly what could be termed “Obscure.” Even though Prog Fandom insists that nothing that is popular can be considered Prog, it is actually some of the best-selling music the industry ever produced. It not only set sales records in its day, but has remained consistently salable. Therefore, the realistic fandom for this music must be huge.
Yet, the music promoted by the Prog Fandom doesn’t sell so well. In fact, it rarely, if ever, gets anywhere near the charts. Why then is the music produced by fans for fans so lacking in appeal to such a huge fandom? Answer, the fandom isn’t making music for the huge fandom that keeps that old music perpetually in print. It’s making music to please the scowling professors. And the scowling professors demonstrate extremely bad taste.
Another question I’ve often asked as an outsider is why the surviving musicians and producers of the old music are not producing or otherwise assisting these fandom bands. Why are they not helping them achieve a potentially more appealing sound? Likely answer: the musicians of old do not relate to this music. They may even see it as a completely different theory of music – one which they find too lacking in appeal to pay any attention to.
I fully expect we will see the day when these scowling professors will attempt to cut the fandom off completely from its musical heritage by declaring that nothing may be considered Prog unless it’s produced by the fandom for the fandom. Yet, they will still stop at nothing to prevent anyone from taking the music they’ve dissed into another fandom.
I explained to my friend that this tendency to create oxymoronic terms in an attempt to control the minds of readers is typical of why I don’t read Progression, or write for the Progressive Ears web site, or waste money on the CD’s that are recommended in those places. And the uncertainty in his voice was a little disturbing. He seems to be caught between 2 entirely different worlds of thought, and fearful of rocking the boat in either direction.
But there’s no need for this, of course. I’m not about to stop being anybody’s friend over a music issue. I don’t get mad at my friends for repeating the nonsense they’ve read. I get mad at the writers who have played with the minds of my friends.
Regardless of what anyone writes, music is just music. You like what you like for whatever reasons. You share what you like. And the people you share it with will either like it or not like it.
If they don’t like it, that’s no big deal. You just learn that you don’t share that particular sound with them and look for something else in your collection that has more appeal for them. And it’s the things you share a liking for that provide a connection with your friends.
Where the writers of The Prog Fandom create a problem is when they subconsciously encourage my friends to insist I must go along with what they’ve read. It’s like they’ve had this thought planted in the back of their minds that they must be followers of the writers, and if I’m not willing to follow the writers, we’re not going to be able to hang out anymore.
In other words, Prog fanzines try to be trend setters, just like Pop magazines. And there you’ve got another oxymoron, “Trendy Prog.” This, I think, demonstrates the root of the problem. The writers in The Prog Fandom want to have everything that the other music fandoms have. But they can’t have it, because the very nature of Progressive Rock denies them all that stuff. The minute you try to force Prog into an ordinary way of doing things, you’ve betrayed it. Once you’ve jammed Prog into the confinements of the ordinary, it can no longer be progressive.
By creating trends, rather than just saying “Music, Music, do as you will,” some things are lost, and others changed. In the previously termed “Classic Prog,” you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes you’d like what you got, and sometimes you wouldn’t. But you were never put in the position of judging all on the basis of what you didn’t like, because freeform creativity guaranteed that you weren’t going to be hearing those things you didn’t like in every recording act.
It’s just the opposite when you put the music in a box and stick a label on it like “Neo-Prog.” The box provides rules that tells the music what it can and can’t do. And therefore variety of sound is greatly curtailed, and you can tell after a few albums whether you’re going to like the other stuff in the Neo-Prog box or not.
After 20 odd years of sharing music with me, most friends would have caught a clue by now that there are elements of post 70’s Neo-Prog bands that make them a hard sell for me. I do not regard Progressive Rock as an ongoing thing. I regard it as a dated musical idea which was only valid in its original state, or as a rare continuance of its original state by one of the original bands, or new bands that have somehow managed to capture a bit of that spirit.
What my friends call “Neo-Prog” I regard as an entirely different theory of music – one which I see little appeal to, but which I can tolerate to some extent. After all, my main complaint against Neo-Prog is not that it’s bad music. I just have no sense of it progressing anywhere.
I’ve noticed this about my own listening habits, particularly when buying music that’s current. I am listening for potential progression. Bill Bruford said something to the effect that he always thought all music was supposed to be progressive. He would never have understood any suggestion that it was supposed to stay the same.
So, if you hand me a new album . . . Well, let’s go back in time and say I’m auditioning the first Queen album. If I listened just for the sounds that were there, I might not think it was so hot. What’s exceptionally cool in that album is the potential promise I hear in it for where this band could go. And with each album such a band puts out, I’m listening for the direction they’re progressing in. And the more they progress, the more promise is there, and it’s that promise that is the real hook.
Going through the CD’s I bought in the 90’s, I see that I consistently latched onto bands that I saw as having promise – the potential to progress into great things. And they were all dropped at some point where it became obvious they had no intensions of pursuing that promise. Which has the odd effect of making the CD’s I bought now totally worthless to me. The promise was a lie. The Progression didn’t happen. And, without the great achievements that came from bands like Queen, their early works would suffer the same. They maintain a sense of greatness because the overall progression of the band’s output was so great.
That would be a fair literal definition of the term “Progressive Rock,” if anyone would use it. But, of course, they won’t, because the quality of progression for the fandom is “Fail. Fail. Fail.” If the fandom progresses anywhere it goes backwards and down. Never forward or up. Never towards positive or truth. And this makes the fandom the music’s worst enemy, because it doesn’t encourage bands to progress. And you can’t have real Progressive Rock without progression.
Now, that’s not to suggest that music has to be progressive to appeal to me. There are many standardized music forms I can take just as they are. Rock & Roll, Swing, etc. In such genres some artists may progress. Brian Setzer sometimes surprises us by progressing. But it’s not necessary. Dance music forms just have to be danceable, even if the listener doesn’t dance. As long as they put the bounce in your behind and get your day moving, you’re happy.
If Brian Setzer was to do an album that engaged the mind in an artistic, conceptual manor, he would have progressed entirely beyond the bounds of his chosen genre. He wouldn’t be making dance music, he’d be making think music. And I’d be really impressed and interested if he did that, but I don’t expect it of a Rock & Roll or Swing artist, and I don’t miss it when they don’t progress.
I can’t say the same of a band like Spock’s Beard, who were pitching themselves as progressive. When you hand me an album by somebody billing themselves as progressive, I couldn’t care less how many Genesis or King Crimson licks they’ve learned. I’m listening for something unique to this band which has the power to move and go somewhere interesting. Preferably somewhere that no band has ever gone before.
As long as I perceive them as moving forward, I’ll keep buying their records. If they stall in the same place for too long, I may get off the train. If they turn around and double back, with no apparent intensions of moving forward again in another direction, I’ll feel like my time has been wasted. In fact, I got to feel like the fandom itself was wasting my time, and that’s why I left.
It’s my friends who continue to pursue these newer sounds that originate from the fandom. And when they play them for me I’m sad to disappoint them. But I’m not one to fake enthusiasm for something I didn’t really get anything out of. Only on very rare occasions will they play any fandom approved music that I’ll hear any potentially progressive elements in.
Sadly, a lot of the music that comes out of the fandom is of such a dark and unpleasant nature that, even if I hear some potentially progressive elements, I won’t like the thought of where they might be going.
In the 70’s, the momentum of progression was almost always up. If the only way to get these bands progressing is to get them in a race to see which band can tunnel its way to hell fastest, I’m sorry, I don’t want any part of that.
Those who write for the fandom would accuse me of being stuck in the 70’s. That’s their political way of putting down those who refuse to surrender the old high standards of quality. They will say I need to open my mind to newer, darker sounds.
I explained at Progressive Ears that my ears were open to plenty of new sounds in the 80’s. I did not find the 80’s to have any shortage of creative, innovative music. But when I listed the artists I liked in the 80’s, the site went ballistic, as my list included not a single Neo-Prog band and showed that I was not at all prone to mandatory Prog Fandom prejudices. “How dare you even suggest that Dire Straits and Prince had any musical credibility at all?” the scowling professors demanded.
And for this crime against the state I was eventually banished from the site. Which was no great loss to me. They weren’t helping find any music I liked anyway. In fact, dealing with them was such a traumatic experience that I couldn’t even listen to the 70’s music for quite a while. I am still today trying to free myself of poison injected by their fangs.
My MP3 collection is a mess, due to the confusion they forced on me. I’m constantly retagging genres as I bounce back and forth between caving in and being defiant. So I need to put the law about this down in writing and stick to it.
I’ve never been too keen on having my music called “Prog.” That’s a fandom term, and a rude 4 letter word that hardly suits the music I’ve referred to since the classic era as “Art Rock.” But I let the fandom beat that word into my skull, and I continue to use it for a number of things that do not deserve such an indignity, simply because it makes communication easier with friends who are swept along with the tide of the fandom. But I’m bound and determined that this is one bad habit I’m going to break, one bit of poison I will be free of, by God.
My goal is to edit my internal vocabulary, take out the term “Prog” and put “Art Rock” back in its proper place. And then I’ll replace “Proggers” with “Oxys” in reference to the people who write for the fandom. This being the short form of “Oxy-Morons.” And, yes, I do mean to put the emphasis on “Morons.”
These Oxy-Morons base everything they write on personal taste and skewed versions of musical history, attempting to make everyone in the fandom see and hear things as they do. Which is totally ridiculous when you realize that 80,000 people can listen to the same album, and not one of them hear exactly the same thing as anyone else, no matter how hard you try to condition them to hear what you want them to hear.
Oxy-Morons do not understand that music does not only appeal on the basis of its instrumental or vocal content. Music’s appeal is greatly determined by what happens as the sound passes through the ear and is processed through the brain – applying it to the individual’s unique personality, experiences, music education, spiritual consciousness, rage, passion, unrelated fan interests, and any number of other things. There are hundreds of factors that occur in the brain that determine whether a piece of music will appeal or not, as well as what it will say to the listener.
If it was possible for anybody to produce music that you knew everybody would love, they’d be doing it. But it’s not possible. And that’s why the music business is all trial and error. You not only have to find a sound that will be received positively by a lot of people, you have to build a pop culture phenomenon around it to give it support and make more people receptive to it.
That’s why a lot of popular music sounds dated beyond its time. All the things that geared multiple minds to being receptive to that music are gone, leaving the music to stand on its own merits. And in some cases you find that past popular music can’t stand up at all without its hype.
By the same token, you look around today at the horrible music people are buying, and you wonder what the appeal is. It’s all hype and pop culture conditioning minds to accept the unacceptable.
And consequently, what’s happening in the Oxy fanzines is an attempt to reproduce those conditioning techniques, not only through trend pushing fanzines, but by co-opting the current popular culture – merging the Oxys with the Metalheads.
Consequently, the driving push in the fandom is for Neo and Metal sounds, neither of which I have any conditioning to accept. Neo is geared towards madness, and Metal is geared towards violence. The two together produce a very angry and aggressive sound, which there would be no reason to expect a fan of Mike Oldfield or Renaissance or The Moody Blues coming out of the 70’s to be receptive to.
The only way these Oxy-Morons would assume such people would be receptive to this would be if they assumed those people had been subject to the conditions they have inflicted on the fandom for 30 years or so. 30 years of high-pressure conditioning to surrender quality and beauty for loud aggressive noise, and bland regurgitations of retro sounds, devoid of anything positive to say to the heart and soul.
How moronic to try to tell people what they ought to like. How even more moronic to try to alter how they define music. But that is the purpose of The Prog Fandom. (Excuse me, The Oxy Fandom) Not to help you find music you’ll actually enjoy, but to tell you why you should enjoy what the person writing enjoys. And to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like it.
Well, I’m sorry, I don’t like it. I’m an independent sort. I don’t read Oxy rags without a grain of salt. I don’t let people rewrite my memories of the 70’s. And I don’t feel obligated to like music, just because somebody writes that it’s the legacy of the music I collected back then.
If it was really the legacy of music I liked, there’d be something in it that would appeal to me. But it’s not the legacy of the music I liked. It’s the legacy of a bunch of Oxy-Moronic writers who hi-jacked the fandom and took it to a place that is completely contrary to what the legacy of my music should be.
Anyway, In order to set things straight in my own mind about who I am, if not a Progger/Oxy, a critical analysis of my musical interests is required, as well as some exploration into the registers and filters my mind processes music through. This will hopefully give my friends some awareness of how different what I hear is from what they hear.
I also need to go into a bit of history to get some of this terminology straight, as well as to set some kind of definition on what exactly it is I’m a fan of. And if I discover that this is another case of two fandoms trying to occupy the same space, I need to determine what the fandom I should belong to should be called and declare its independence from Oxy oppression.
First, let’s look at the term “Prog.” Pretty rude word, isn’t it? 4 letters. Abrupt sound. Sometimes I mistype it as “Frog.” It also rhymes with Slog, Bog, Clog, Fog, Hog, Log, Sog, Prog. Obviously not a very nice sounding word. However, that type of rude word does correspond to something in Rock which the music in question is supposed to be dynamically opposed to. The word “Prog” compares to “Punk.” And that’s what Oxys tend to be, Punk Proggers. Another Oxymoron.
Now, coming out of the 70’s perspective as I do, it would be difficult to imagine why anyone would want something a sophisticated and respectable as Progressive Art Rock to be more punkish, or more thrashish, referring to the merger of the Prog and Metal scenes. What’s so darn offensive about having an area of Rock that is listenable, capable of being delicate, and respectable enough to not piss off your parents?
Well, here we’re getting to the crux of the problem, which has existed for as long as Morons have been writing about this music. What I described above defies the very nature of Rock. Progressive Art Rock doesn’t Rock. It has more to do with late 20th century classical music than Rock. As a matter of fact, it has been said to me by an outsider that the term “Symphonic Rock” is an oxymoron. They are two things which are supposed to repel each other.
And apparently this is true. It is the symphonic nature of Progressive Art Rock that the Oxys seem to be most offended by, and are doubling themselves over to get rid off. They want to be able to rock-out, thrash, head-bang, and otherwise gross out their parents. And you are just never going to be able to do that with bands like Renaissance. That has to go.
Actually, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s perfectly cool with me to draw a line at 1980 and say “My fandom back here, yours up there. Then you can be ‘Prog’ all you want to, and I’ll be something else with a different name, and we won’t have to bother each other.” But the Oxys will kill before allowing anything like that to happen.
This is because the Oxys need the classic music to justify their existence. Without it they have no illusion of credibility. And they certainly don’t want another fandom picking up where things left off in 1980. If real Progressive Art Rock started being produced again, or if there was another fandom that spotlighted the real Progressive Art Rock of the 80’s to present, their empire would crumble overnight.
To be continued in the next entry.