Dinosaurs once roamed the Earth. Then came prog rock, as this partial but pleasing account of the love-it-or-hate-it genre chronicles.
As Washington Post reporter Weigel cheerfully admits, professing a love for progressive rock—that sometimes-pretentious, sometimes-endless blend of rock, classical, and jazz forms whose chief premise would seem to be an absence of any discernible African-American influence—can quickly get a person branded as a dweeb. Indeed, as the narrative opens, the author is among “the most uncool people in Miami,” preparing to climb aboard a cruise ship with “the living gods of progressive rock,” namely mostly old men with what rock writer John Strausbaugh uncharitably called “melting cheese faces.” They are also mostly British, and Weigel does a good job of describing what happened to American rock when it fell into the hands of the British kids in orchestra, filtered by way of psychedelic rock and its “simple formula” of guitar, drums, bass, vocals, and keyboard. By 1969, bands like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and King Crimson were beginning to come together, forming a distinct genre marked by compositional complexity and odd time signatures. Some of Weigel’s roster is debatable—purists may argue about including Jethro Tull in the annals of prog, since Tull was really a blues band to which something strange happened along the way—and it’s a little light on the Canterbury scene, but the author ably captures the ambition of rock nerds who, as Yes singer Jon Anderson put it, saw “the possibility of rock music…really developing into a higher art form.” Points and plaudits are due for enlisting Rush, too, and for including the yobbos of Marillion, one of whose fans Weigel credits with inventing crowdfunding in the service of reviving a genre nearly killed off by prog-hating punk in the 1970s.
Prog fans will take to this book like Keith Emerson to an upside-down Hammond.