Tag Archives: progressive rock

Would You Die for the Things You Believe In?

I lived most of my teen years during the 1980s, which is to say I pretty much grew up during the 80s. Musically speaking, I’ll always think of this as the video era: the MTV generation, the time when image—specifically, what a band or artist looked like and how they presented their music in videos—meant the difference between success and failure. Yes, it was a time of glorious excess.

Because of the reliance on videos, I’m sure some music became popular that never would have gained an audience without the visuals, and probably as a result of poor video choices, some artists failed whose music deserved a better fate. MTV promoted the airing of a new video by a big-name band for weeks ahead of its debut, much like movie releases. Some of the best videos were high-quality mini-movies, with intriguing storylines, special effects, and large casts.

And then that fad faded. MTV got into broadcasting all sorts of content besides music videos. No one really seems to spend much time on videos anymore.

So imagine my surprise when I came upon a music video made just a couple of years ago that took me back to the halcyon days of music videos. Continue reading

The Strange Dichotomy of “Life”

What do you do with those really great moments of life, those times when you’re most happy? Like when you’ve just sold your first short story, or a novel. Or it’s your wedding day, or the birth of a child. Maybe you’re celebrating a fiftieth anniversary. It’s your parent’s or grandparent’s eightieth birthday and they’re in great health. So you’re beaming. And do you, at that moment, spare a thought for the ending, the fact that no matter where we are in life, eventually it ends in death for all of us?

Of course not! Why would you? Revel in the now. (Unless you’re of a particularly morbid character.) . . . And yet, that death is still out there waiting for each of us, isn’t it?

Before I lose you, I’m not here to dwell on death, but rather to examine the uplifting message in the song “Life” by Devin Townsend. As the two or three people who read my posts regularly will recognize, I’ve been rather obsessed with the music of Devin Townsend recently. And I’m OK with that. “Life” is a happy song; you can have a listen while you continue reading below:

Continue reading

“Pixillate”: Fractured Identity & the Power of Art

I spent a lot of time writing about literature in college and during my MFA program. As a writer, learning to evaluate and talk about writing is a pretty handy skill, some might say an instrumental skill. Even when I read for pleasure now, part of my mind is always evaluating, trying sentences in different constructions, trying to predict character actions or upcoming turns of plot, and so forth.

Because music is a vital part of my daily life, it’s probably no surprise that I frequently run the same mental games on the songs and albums I listen to—evaluating how or why a song achieves its effect, explicating how lyrics and music combine to form meaning. I’ll show you what I mean.

A while back, I wrote about a musical selection by the Devin Townsend Band called Synchestra and how it had influenced a short story I was writing (“Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street”). I’d like to take a look now at one of the tracks from this album, a song called “Pixillate.” The song comes on the second half of the album; if we were to consider the album as a novel—a not inappropriate comparison, considering we’re talking about progressive rock here—this song would be well into the rising action, heading into the dark of the woods, approaching the black moment or crisis.  Continue reading

Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing

I’ve pretty much been writing stories for as long as I can remember. It’s the only way you can get away with lying all the time. You know, if that sort of thing appeals to you. I did quite a bit of writing when I was first in college, right out of high school, in the late ‘80s. That was also the same period when I first listened to the music of Jethro Tull. It turns out that even back then, my stories were influenced by the music I was listening to.

When I started listening to Tull, they had already been around for nearly 20 years. In fact, the second time I saw them in concert, in 1988, was for their 20th anniversary tour. I was only 21-years-old at the time, so naturally, they seemed really old: I mean, they’d been performing for basically as long as I’d been alive. (Their first album was released in 1968; their best-known album, then and now, Aqualung, was released in 1971.)

As part of that 20th anniversary, Jethro Tull also released a box set of rarities and live performances. Among those tracks were a few songs from their famous abandoned album (from 1973), known as the “Chateau D’Isaster Tapes.” Due to technical difficulties, illness, and other problems, they scrapped a nearly complete album, but those recordings were still around; this was the first chance to hear a bit of what the band had been planning, warts and all.  Continue reading

Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street

I’ve written before about my reliance on music to form an appropriate mood while I’m writing, and how music can influence a story I’m working on. And I’ve written about my constant search for new and stimulating musical experiences. The point is: I really love music. A while back, someone posted the following pic on Facebook, and yeah, I totally get it:

That moment when the music is so good you turn into a transdimensional space goat

My latest transdimensional space goat moments have come from a musical selection called Synchestra by the Devin Townsend Band. Devin Townsend has been around for more than 20 years, recording under a number of different band names, although I only discovered him about six months ago. That introduction, by the way, came via another band that’s influenced some of my recent writing, Voyager. When Voyager tweeted about opening some shows last fall for the Devin Townsend Project down in Australia, I figured DTP was worth checking out, which led to finding all the other Townsend permutations.  Continue reading

Lovecraftian Prog Music for the Halloween Season

The wind is raging and whipping still-green leaves from the trees outside as I write today. When it gets to this point in October, my mind often turns to the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. Although not exactly the classic Halloween type scary stories you might think of, Lovecraft’s tales deal with ancient evils and unspeakable beings that nonetheless go well with the dying season.

In a strange coincidence, yesterday I stumbled on a musical collection from various progressive rock artists with songs inspired by Lovecraft’s stories. The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: A SyNphonic Collection is a 3-CD set with songs based on a number of my favorite Lovecraft tales, including “The Haunter of the Dark,” “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,” and “At the Mountains of Madness.”

The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: A SyNphonic Collection CDAlthough the artists here are not particularly well-known—to me, anyway—the music is quite good and evokes the moody, atmospheric weirdness you’d expect in a collection inspired by Lovecraft’s writing. A large percentage of the overall package consists of instrumental music, as is not uncommon for progressive rock music. And a few of the tracks with lyrics aren’t in English, as the artists represented are international. And then, of course, there are a few songs that tell lyrically the stories they represent, such as the first track, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”

The upshot is that this collection makes for some nice mood music for the Halloween season, and generally a good selection to listen to while writing—particularly if you’re working on something a bit weird or bent towards horror. It’s also a nice, brief introduction to some lesser-known prog artists.

The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: A SyNphonic Collection is available for streaming on Spotify or is available for purchase.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

In Search of Epic Music

The term “musical genius” is tossed about all too often these days . . . but in the case of legendary progressive rock artist Fish, I’ll let it stick. Fish is about to release his first studio album/CD/digital download (pick your preferred terminology) in over 5 years, A Feast of Consequences, and he’s been pushing hard through social media channels to get the word out. Because that’s the world we live in these days.

In doing my part to promote the upcoming release, below is the latest promo video from Fish, including musical samples and artwork. Check it out, then go on below to see what all this has to do with epic music in the modern world.

When Fish got his start with Marillion back in the early ’80s, their music was epic, and his solo work has continued that tradition. What do I mean by epic music? In part, it’s the presence of long songs, songs that are themselves epic, which is a common trait of progressive rock music. The classic example in my mind is the Peter Gabriel–era Genesis song “Supper’s Ready,” which runs in just short of 23 minutes.

But it’s not only long songs. In the Fish catalog, there are certainly several tracks that are epic in length. Every Fish album is itself also about something. It’s not just a collection of songs he happened to write and record at the same time; it’s not so different from someone writing a book or a collection of poetry. He’s working with a story or a theme, and using music as his medium.

Fish "A Feast of Consequences" CD artWhen you listen to a Fish CD, you’ll find images recurring in the lyrics of different songs, musical themes repeated, all building an immersive emotional experience. The music itself helps tell the story. It’s music that feeds the brain as well as gets the feet tapping. Fish doesn’t just write songs; he writes albums. And they’re epic.

To some degree, this epicness is another trait of progressive rock in general because these are bands that release “concept albums,” albums built around a story or theme. But not all concepts are epic, nor is all progressive rock for that matter. So I’ve been in search of more music that seems to me to fit the requirements for epic, with limited success. Are there new bands or artists that rise to the level of epic? Recommendations welcome.

The good news, of course, is that Fish has a new release forthcoming, and I’m pretty sure it will be epic. I keep thinking of a much earlier Fish lyric from the Marillion days:

Where are the prophets, where are the visionaries,
Where are the poets, to breach the dawn of the sentimental mercenary?

Although I don’t think this is what Fish meant when he wrote that (from 1984’s “Fugazi”), to me this a cry for the true musical artists to appear and cut through the sentimental treacle that clogs the airwaves.

Of course, Fish was epic from the beginning. I’ll leave you with a Marillion live performance of “Grendel” from 1983. It’s literary, theatrical, and dramatic: Epic. And it’s got a killer ending, just before the 18-minute mark.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins