Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bill Martin, Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock: 1968 - 1978

This is one of those books I'm drawn to over and over again. I read it almost ten years ago, when it was first published, and the author -- an Associate Professor of Marxist Philosophy at DePaul University and a musician who plays a choice Rickenbacher bass -- was interviewed about the book in a Chicago Sun-Times article. Being a lifelong fan and collector of Prog Rock, I devoured the book ... and have found myself returning to it countless times over the years!

When I was a kid I would travel by CTA bus down 79th Street to visit my Aunt Gene, who lived in Justice, IL. While she and my Mom would sit in the kitchen chatting for hours, I'd sit in the living room playing my Aunt's classical music albums, which gave me my first exposure to complex musical arrangements, "movements," and other such organizational patterns in music.

Later in high school, I "discovered" the music of such bands as King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, and early Genesis -- bands that revelled in long, self-indulgent musical soundscapes, often using exotic instruments (anyone remember the Mellotron? LOL) to convey a medieval mood. Even later, my affinity for Prog fueled my interest in jazz (especially Miles and Monk and 'Trane), and to this day I sorta retain a soft spot for jam bands like Phish. Maybe it's the Hippie in me (I was born in 1966, after all ... and dammit, I had the Batman bedsheets to prove it!)

Anyways, Martin's Listening to the Future is a fantastic read if Prog is your thing, especially when he gets into his year-by-year guided discography that illustrates the growth and development of progressive rock from its earliest hints in the Beatles's Rubber Soul to its heyday in the early '70s -- Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (which is today remembered as the "sountrack" for The Exorcist), ELP's Brain Salad Surgery, the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire, Yes's Tales from Topographic Oceans, and King Crimson's brilliant Lark's Tongues in Aspic -- to its gradual dissipation and influence on such bands as The Clash and Husker Du.

For Chistmas, I received a CD of Caravan's In the Land of Grey and Pink -- a choice piece of musicianship from the prog era -- and again I return to Bill Martin's book to celebrate a time in rock history when experimentation was king ... and suites were sweet.

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