Thursday, July 13, 2017

Friday Fragments

Vacation offered a chance to read something entirely unrelated to work.  I picked up “The Show That Never Ends,” by David Weigel, which probably wasn’t my best decision.

It’s a sort-of history of progressive rock, and it solved a mystery for me.  In high school, I could never figure out why so many other kids my age liked progressive rock.  To me, it just sounded windy and preposterous.  The Stonehenge scene in “This is Spinal Tap” struck me as the definitive last word on the matter.

Apparently, the “progressive” side of “prog rock” came from its ambition to progress beyond the three-minute pop song.  It featured songs covering entire album sides -- for younger readers, that’s roughly 25-30 minutes -- and subject matter resembling hobbitry.  The early, painfully earnest forays were meant to show that rock was “real” music, drawing heavily on classical European music.  Emerson, Lake, and Palmer even did an entire album based on Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” to show their chops.

Weigel’s focus is narrow, looking mostly at Yes, King Crimson, and ELP.  He addresses Pink Floyd only in passing, skipping The Wall entirely.  Led Zeppelin barely gets a nod.  I don’t recall a single mention of Frank Zappa.  I was of the generation that knew Yes only from “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which apparently wasn’t representative of its work, and knew ELP not at all, so much of it was new to me.  But I have Spotify, so I could try it out.  

I still don’t like most of it, but now I know why.  Weigel explains that It was self-consciously developed to purge any influences from African-American music.  It’s entirely free of blues.  It’s jazz fusion without the jazz.

Maybe in England in 1972 that could come off as, I don’t know, locally affirming.  But to my American ears, even in high school, there was something deeply off-putting about it.  It’s complicated but staid, with a twerpy “see how clever I am” feel.  It’s also painfully humorless.  The musicians themselves come off similarly in Weigel’s telling; at one point, the members of ELP reacted to poor ticket sales for a concert in Toledo by referring to the city as “impudent.”  Entitlement is a hell of a drug.

Kudos to Weigel for connecting some dots, and for honesty in revealing just how unlikeable the entire project was.  I can’t really recommend the book, but partial credit for solving a mystery I couldn’t quite figure out on my own.  I’ll even forgive him for getting me to devote three minutes I’ll never get back to “Tarkus.”


Thanks to all the readers who responded to yesterday’s post about college tours.  I was especially grateful to the many, many, many readers who questioned the point of doing college tours in the summer, when the feel of most campuses is entirely different than what a student would experience.  I hadn’t put it together that way, but had to agree.  


The Girl turned 13 this week.  For those keeping score at home, that means we have two teenagers in the house.

As her Dad, I’ll admit a boatload of bias.  But having said that, she’s a remarkable kid on her way to being a formidable adult.  

At this age, she flips between “kid” and “adult’ at random intervals, sometimes within seconds.  She’s uncommonly self-possessed, with elephant memory and an uncommon verbal sense.  She has a sly sense of humor that a still-cherubic face lets her use without consequence.  In formal debates, she can be lethal, and she does it without raising her voice.

Raising a girl in this culture is a minefield.  I don’t want her to fall into the self-doubt that so many girls do, or at least not to a degree that does damage.  (Some insecurity is probably the price of admission to the teen years…)  So far, she makes my fears seem silly; she’s not boy-crazy, and she avoids the girls who are.  She seems content to take her time in that department, which is more than okay with me.  (My dating advice: “Take your time, kid…”  I stand by it.)  She has no problem standing up for herself, although the whole “picking your battles” thing could benefit from some more practice.   

In the Diefenbunker, we got a picture of her at the head of the table in the war room, a concerned expression on her face, as if she were listening to her generals advise her.  Despite the young face and all those curls, it looked convincing.  The Force is strong in this one.

This year for school she wrote an essay she called “Killing the King,” about the first time she beat me at chess.  I didn’t let her win; she won.  When she got my king, she jumped up and ran through the house, exclaiming “it’s so satisfying!”  At the end of the essay, after she was done celebrating her victory, she wrote: “when I looked in his eyes, I saw no jealousy.  Only pride.”