At left, a mother and daughter contemplate the misery of the latest album from Spock's Beard.
Perhaps you've had a member of your family who was somewhat of a "rebel", a crazy older aunt or something who always showed up at the family reunions a little bit tipsy, proffering stories of her sordid and wild past, always spurned by the conservative mass of your kin but especially appealing to you. She had been married two or three times, probably had a lesbian affair or two, was beautiful when she was younger and just as smart as she had been sexy- a clever, witty woman, with a vast erudition in popular movies made far before your time, an interest in art, and always ready to suggest to the younger people that The Catcher In The Rye is a book every teenager alive should read. You loved it when she came around, even though the rest of the family barely refrained from proffering their disdain, and spewed pointed, jealous commentary said in whispers behind petulant hands hiding vulgar sneers. That woman had lived more in her life than all of them put together; and for that, she could never be forgiven.
Years later, time has taken its toll on that favorite aunt. She is gaunt, flatulent, febrile, scrofulous, pendulous breasts swinging above a slack belly and the reek of stale milk on her breath when she insists on kissing you "hello"- a horrifying endeavor every time it occurs. Her hair- what is left of it- is wispy, sick, flaking a blizzard of dandruff from her fetid scalp. Gone are the pattern dresses and nifty silk scarves she wore in the last flame of youth, the ones that always brightened any room she walked into; now, formless sack-like garments cover her tumour-ridden body like a sack of potatoes. Often, she shits herself and lies in the waste for days, leaving monstrous roseate ulcers on her creviced and encrusted behind. Purulence leaves a wake in her steps, she scares children with her rubescent sores and hair-sprouting moles- all of them are cancerous, and age, indeed, is a motherfucker, my friends. Her memory is failing her, and the days blend together like a fluorescing nightmare, madness behind every curtain, mayhem in the darkened hallways, the danger of a fall and fatal broken hip the constant refrain of all family conversations regarding this formerly so-vibrant soul. Like that woman from Grey Gardens- a Bouvier, for Christ's sakes. Once she had class, beauty, style- oh god did that woman have style- but now she's just a batshit crazy shut-in living on cat food (all puns intended) and just refuses to die- despite the fact that everyone knows, as Uncle Frank has said many times as he plots how to spend his share of the house once it is sold, "it would be for the best".
Two family members become involved in the care of this vestige of life. A niece, with all of her Christian compassion, dedicates herself to washing her feet, balming her sores, even caring for the mangy cats which roam the house like vagabonds, spectral creatures themselves who howl through the night in withered-brained derangement. The girl is determined that her "Nana" will have dignity in her final days, no matter how long they last; and these days are spent in meaningless reminiscences, dates misremembered, critical events from a long-ago life hopelessly jumbled, all the while incontinent effluvia drifting through the air between them like pestilence, a life that is dying consumes one that could yet still be vibrant, here is your Christian charity, I say to you, Cross-fetishists.
The other family member is her nephew- no longer young himself, but not ready to surrender to the dessication of time and the baneful effects of such succor as he witnesses day after day. The spectacle nauseates him, sickens him; his aunt has had her life, and watching it trail away to this miserable fraud of a lingering death-spasm incites in him the the foulest anger. Above all, he cannot tolerate the vanity- yes, vanity- of the niece. How dare she suffer so fulsomely, so publicly, calling attention to her martyrdom like this as if she were doing anything other than prolonging what everyone secretly knows is a futile resistance to the inevitable: Death. The cold scythe that awaits us all. Some it calls quickly, mercifully; some it torments like what the old woman faces. But the niece has become hand-maiden to this vile process; alone, the nephew decides that there is only one truly gracious and forgiving thing to do. "It's time, Nana," he says to her one night as he slips into her bedroom, quietly, knowing each of his steps could betray his brief plague of mercy. "It's time?" she says in the delirium of age mixed with sleep, her eyes rheumy and vacuous. "Yes, it's time- time to go see the Baby Jesus, Nana." "Baby Jesus..." she says, trailing off, wondrously like a child, to the final confusion of her final, sad days. And then the nephew grabs a pillow from under her head and deftly places it upon her face, pushing only lightly so as not to betray his "crime", and holds it there until Nana does, at last, breathe her last and return to the infinite nothing from whence she came. It is a murder that could come from only the deepest and most abiding loves.
That batshit crazy old woman is Progressive Rock. Surely, you have figured that out by now, but I wanted to be clear regarding my choice of euthanasic metaphor. When she was younger- oh those happy, blessed days- she was a Lark's Tongue in Aspic, that first great ELP record, perhaps she even had a little Magma in her bones. At the time of her merciful demise, she has become the swollen, putrescent corpse of Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, or- horror of all possible horrors- the unimaginable wafting aural faeces that is Phideaux. Now, I realize that there are going to be some angry protests to my use of metaphor, even some shocked readers who will say to themselves- "My god, surely The Curator has gone too far this time. Mocking Jesus is one thing, but- he's not advocating euthanasia, is he?" Oh, but I am.
I'm not just advocating it, I'm demanding it. I want Mike Portnoy to drink the Conium. I yearn to see Spock's Beard immolated. My dream for Dream Theater would be something like the craziness of Logan's Run, only far more violent and cruel. And I find the image of that tortured duckling Phideaux strapped to a gurney and essaying his best Edward G. Robinson ala Soylent Green to be a delight on par with a mountain sunrise, or a young girl's breasts. Yes, I see death put to mediocrity and I see only one thing- beauty.
What I am saying is this: Progressive Rock had her day- man, did she have her fucking day. But- like the United States- that day has past, and the long, tortured and tortuous demise that awaits should be mitigated and spurred to final fruition with all due alacrity. And- and this is critical- as Spengler advised in The Decline Of The West, not only is this death not to be mourned- but, as an inevtibable process of life, it is not even to be ameliorated nor slowed in its march. No, rather- we who love Prog must face that it is time to put the old lady down, decency and true love demand it, this wretched walking, humming corpse cannot be saved and must be with all dispatch annihilated, before another poisonous sound can be made by that shrieking asshole James LaBrie. I am calling today in the most strident terms possible for the murder and timely burial of Progressive Rock.
This has been building for some time. I spend most of my days listening to some kind of Prog or another- especially since the launch of Radio Anthrocide on Radio23.org, The Curator has been immensely busy sifting through over 100 gigabytes of files to present the best possible reprsentation of the type of music to be played that week. It is work, but it is not toil; it's actually the most fun I've had in years, and reminds me every time I happen upon an old Terry Riley track or something from Heldon I haven't heard in a while...yes, this is what I love, this is what brings me joy, this is something I cannot imagine living without. But I try to hear other things as well, always seeking to broaden one's horizons, as it were. And last week, I made the fateful step of downloading the newest album from Porcupine Tree, the one that actually made the fucking charts in England. And what absolute miserable dreck I did find when I opened that RAR file.
Not that I wasn't expecting just such a result- there are no pleasant surprises when you're dealing with Neo-Prog. No, as predictable as man doing evil and as inevitable as feigned shock from the sheep-like herd of proles when such evil comes to pass, modern Progressive Rock bands commit atrocity after atrocity in the best traditions of piddling, banal malignity. Theirs is the realm of Thanatos.
What I find most annoying of all of these bands is the sheer, outstandingly unoriginal derivitiveness of every single one of their songs on every single one of their albums. The track from Porcupine Tree called "Time Flies" is a destructive case in point proving my thesis. Clearly meant to remind listeners of the kinship between this "modern" band and Progressive pioneers Pink Floyd, the opening guitar is an act of acoustic plagiarism taken directly from "Dogs" on Animals. Anyone who says otherwise is an apologist or a fool, period. The reason I bring this up as my main point of attack on this pitiful band is that The Incident is a clear and shocking example of what can best be called "Paint-By-Numbers-Prog". All the bands do it. A nod to Genesis here, a Rickenbacker bass-line there that is the band saying- "SEE? We're PROGRESSIVE. That's just like Yes, isn't it? Remember Yes? Here's some fake Mellotron- that's just like King Crimson, isn't it? Don't you feel cool being able to get all of our references?"
But, like an old Dennis Miller routine gone haywire and become lost in the boccage and bramble of cluttered syntax, sometimes it is forgotten that pointless references to arcana and ephemera merely to show a culture-whore-like adulation of a range of discursive subjects is...pointless. It means nothing, signifies nothing; it is Wittgenstein's Nightmare (there's a name for a Neo-Prog band, don't you think?) of language which communicates nothing but the fact that it is making noise. Noise, not understanding, not beauty, not truth, not even honestly created rubbish. Noise, the kind the maker of which Schopenhauer memorably observed "deserves there and then to stand down and receive five really good blows with a stick." Oh, and how I long to wield that judicious truncheon, to whack the bloody Jesus out of the impertinent rabble who dare disturb my dreams with their risible noodling...
In this case, the language may be musical, but the paucity of meaning in the proffered "text" is all the same. What if an idea were so banal that it might float away- like a Kafkan death immortalized in a feather, just as heavy, just as light- would we notice this flight towards undoing, would we even care? Because, in fact, the problem is just this severe: Spock's Beard and Porcupine Tree are not merely bad bands; they are metaphysical crises the kind of which emerge every so often to challenge the basic bounds of decency in man. To the list of 20th Century monsters (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nixon, E.L. Doctorow) the 21st Century adds its first: Neo-Prog. A Holocaust in 15/8 time, a Gulag with nods to Jethro Tull and Yes. There is so much to say about the horror of these bands, and I'm not even going to pretend that all of these observations are my own. I'm sure that Dr. Micah Moses- my companion in scorn here at the PRHOI and a man incapable of tolerating shit when it is blatantly placed upon the pedestal called "Art"- has spoken to me at length about the sleeve design of these albums. Dream Theater's are still the most comically inept- like an unusually precocious grade school student interpreting Surrealism with the help of Photoshop and too many sugary-snacks to alight his imagination- but all of them are bad, reliably so, enragingly so. What I find most amusing is how busy the designs are; you can always tell kitsch at a glance when it seeks to make reference to a school of design and throws every possible permutation of that school's "look" onto its own canvas. Take Spock's Beard, for example, an example of which I have helpfully linked to in this essay. Behold- superficial pomposity at its most vulgar: What is this, what does it mean? The answer, of course, is nothing; this is so much nothing that it almost allows one a glimpse of what the end of the Universe will look like after the Big Crunch. It's not enough to hate shallow pretense of this sort; it must be combatted, and, yes, it must be slain. During the Second World War, one did not stop and offer therapy and a hug to Nazis, or enquire as to the pain their fathers may have caused them or other touchy-feely bullshit; one killed them. That's what you do to extreme evil and banality. That's what must be done to Neo-Progressive Rock. It must be killed.
I hope this essay has offended you- to the point that you realize the scope of the disaster and do something about it. It is not enough to listen to Radio Anthrocide (although that will be a start), it is not enough to wear your favorite King Crimson T-shirt like an insolent poseur declaring to all and sundry that you have "cred". Progressive Rock must be hung from the rafters and its skinned flayed and belly ripped open; the snakes must fall from its guts and the thighs rendered for meat to be thrown to wild dogs. What remains must be drawn, quartered, hacked into ever-smaller pieces, burnt, and then scattered to the winds, never to raise a peep again and never to be the sorry excuse for Heavy Metal that it truly is. Prog Must Die. Let this be our rallying cry, let this be our cause. Let terror guide our steps and murder be our guides. Let the villagers quake and the sycophants cower. Let burnt ashes and smoking ruins and salted plains be all that we leave in our wake, and let the survivors know that should they ever raise their heads anew...we shall come again. Let no two bricks stand atop each other. Let no well be un-poisoned, nor any road lay un-mined. Let them feel terror, let them feel the lash. Let them know us by three things: the knout, the whip, and the lack of our mercy. Make resistance to Neo-Prog be the most relentless horror the world has ever known, and make Phideaux cringe in fear that the Horsemen are riding...and they are coming for him.
Courage, courage and- On Les Aura!!!!!!! - TKR