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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Prog Slog

I've been too busy vomiting on airplanes to keep up this blog or call people on their birthdays (Four barf bags and two garbage bags. Really. I used to be able to take a plane. Wuhoppen?) But fear not, I'm going to get back to that Rahxephon recap you've all been waiting for. First I have to talk about MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" video.

I don't think I ever actually watched this back when the song was unavoidable, but for some reason Laurie showed it to me last week and I've been pondering it, probably more than whoever directed it did. Now that I've watched the thing it's obvious to me that MC Hammer wasn't a rapper so much as a dancer with a hip-hop inflected patter. Apparently it was that silly baggy-pants dance that caught Laurie's eye back when she was fond of wacky entertainments like this:

But as fun as that is, let's stay focused on Hammer. Notice that the "Can't Touch This" video's full of beautiful dancing women of various ethnicities. At several points Hammer does a little gag about watching the women and not being able to decide between them. Then in the final shot he starts dancing with the whit

est looking girl we've seen in the video, a blond in some kind of schoolgirl outfit. I think interracial relationships just might save humanity; by extension I certainly have zero problem with a black man dancing with a white woman, and if the shot were in the middle of the video somewhere I wouldn't have anything to say about it. But placing this essentially modular shot at the end of the video suggests a narrative Hammer probably never intended; faced with a bunch of tantalizing black and Latin women, he chooses a blond honky schoolgirl. What kind of message does that send? White girls are the most desirable women? No wonder White America elected him White America's Favorite Rapper, a position held in tandem with Vanilla Ice.

Anyway, I tried to extend the old school rap video watching party with one of my favorites, Egyptian Lover:

Laurie was unimpressed. I love that shot of his Dad making time with mature, plus-sized women. Inspiring. And terrible mummies make everything better.


So today I listened to a really long podcast (Rogue's Gallery) devoted to prog-rock, the kind of thing that used to be called Art Rock by fans and Pomp Rock by foes. I call it The Stuff I Listened To In High School.

Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator... say what you will about them, but at their best they didn't sound like anyone else. No one listened to Yes and thought "Yet another band that combines symphonic song structures, Easter Sunday organ solos, and Les Paul-inflected guitar stylings." Nobody listened to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and said "Of all the militantly atheistic bands that play Bartok-flavored synthesizer flatulence noises, which one am I listening to?" King Crimson not only sounded like no one else, it didn't even sound like itself; founder Robert Fripp continually replenished the band through the magic of firing everybody.

Modern bands that position themselves as carriers of the Prog torch, though, seem to start with the question: "Which familiar band should we sound exactly like: Styx, Kansas or Whitesnake?" None of which fit my definition of Prog, although Kansas's fancy-pants boogie and portentious lyrics make them ringers. Styx also has a Prog-influenced emphasis on fancy interplay, high harmony vocals, virtuosity and SF/Fantasy concepts, but they are disqualified for sucking. If Prog bands must be derivative, why don't they at least copy actual Prog bands? I feel like I ordered baklava and got a baggie full of crumbling Oreos.

Another question modern Prog bands seem to ask: "Should we get 12-year-old Goth girls to write our lyrics, or 12-year-old Goth boys? Hmm, decisions decisions." Not to slur 12-year-old Goths; just that their poetic stylings shouldn't be coming out of grown-up mouths. If I had cash enough and time I'd buy a few Norton anthologies and lob them at Prog bandleaders. Please, guys and girls, write lyrics that couldn't have been whipped up by Instant Lyric Generators.

In the Seventies, it seems, Prog and Heavy Metal were seen as diametrically opposed. (I'm going on hearsay with this: my age was in the single digits at the time.) Prog was by and for Eloi, while Metal was by and for Morlocks. Then Punk came along and revealed just how closely related Prog and Metal were. They shared a fussiness and conceptual goofiness that Punk could only jeer. So current Metal and Prog seem to cling to one another for support. They blend the bombastic in-your-face heaviness of Metal with the maximum-arpeggios-per-square-inch fretboard knitting and precision ADD drumming of Prog.

From a quick online not-paying-any-money survey of the situation, there are some rewarding post-Seventies Prog acts out there. I'm indebted to the book Rocking the Classics by Edward Macan for tipping me to most of these.

(Something goes wonky with the formatting past this point. I'm learning not to care.)

  • There's a Swedish or something band called Anglagard that, from the online samples I've investigated, made instrumental music that sounded exactly like Yes during its early Seventies peak. They were doing this in the early Nineties, when I was yearning for Yes to make that kind of music; at the time Yes could only make music that sounded like a bunch of guys who hated each other and were only back together for the money. If only I'd known about Anglagard.

  • Apparent fan favorite Marillion is supposedly a Prog band, but I don't hear it. They sound like a really good adult pop act, though. I wonder why they aren't VH1 faves. Does VH1 still exist? Anyway, the first stuff I heard from them sounded like Mandy Patinkin's Nyquil-fueled tribute to Elton John, but deeper listening showed some kind of real adult sensibility, with life experience and earned wisdom, seems to be encased within this prettiness; if this isn't Prog, it's probably better.

  • Ozric Tentacles. Jam band flirts with House. Fortunately they seemed to have recorded about five hundred albums: look for the corny Shroom art. That's how you'll know.

  • Edhels. French. The 17 year old Aaron within thinks this is pretty fab. A dulcet, delicate quality that defines what I loved about Yes's best efforts.

  • Djam Karat. Another smart (D)jam band. Forty years earlier they would have called themselves Carrot Jam. Lead guitarist looks like he knows what 3D20 means. Racially integrated, which matters more than it maybe should to this guilty white liberal. Anyway, really fun nerd-testosterone stuff.

    • Hermetic Science, the band of Edward Macan himself. He was too modest to mention it in his book. This video quality matches the professionalism of the Yes concert video I had on videotape in high school. I dunno why a band that favors vibraphones over electric guitars is relegated to performing in what looks to be a hotel room.

    After mentioning instant lyric generators I decided to see if there were any. Yes. I composed the following wonderfuless with it. The lousy formatting is the Generator's, not mine, and It, not me, swiped from Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Please note that Verse 2 is structured more like a chorus than the first verse.

    Public Restroom

    Verse One:
    Smells bad
    And the whole world is driving you mad
    my leg
    But you may feel a little sick.Can you stand up?

    public restroom
    There was lightning in your arms and then the
    vomiting in a garbage bag
    Me and some guys from school

    Verse Two:
    public restroom
    Is there anybody in there?
    where's my money
    Is there anybody in there?

    Chorus Two:
    public restroom
    Is there anybody in there?
    vomiting in a garbage bag
    Bound to win a prize

    Chorus to Fade

    Eat it, Leonard Cohen, there's a new boy in town.

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