I am a total prog rock snob. Prog rock in general is a snobby kinda thing, but I am maximum snob. I don’t apologize for it. I don’t care if sharing my musical tastes make me sound like an asshole. I just don’t. I’m snobby about all music, but I am extra snobby about prog.
Prog started with In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson in 1969 and pretty much ended with the horrible Love Beach by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Everything that came after that is something else. Prog-ish. Prog-adjacent. Whatever. It became something else. I’ll still call it prog but I don’t know that I agree that it is. Asia was prog musicians, but is it prog? Hell no. Yes in the ’80s, same thing. Is it? Not really. A few moments here and there, but mostly no. Genesis in the 80s certainly wasn’t either, though they were sneaky and slipped some ideas in now and again. Rush… Rush, in my opinion, is the best thing that has ever happened in popular music, but was it really prog in the 80s? Prog-adjacent, yes, but authentic? I don’t know.
What about the bands that came after that? The next tier, so to speak. This is where my snobbery hits it’s heights and it’s all because of one band: Dream Theater. I had so many friends who saw Dream Theater as the second coming of Rush. The next best thing, so to speak. The bringers of a progressive rock meets metal movement that would usher in the future of prog blah blah blah. Music school friends. Rush fandom friends. So many people telling me how awesome Dream Theater was. Unfortunately, I fucking hated them. Loathed them. Listening to that band makes me feel physically ill, much like most country music makes me sick. I just cannot express in words how much I hate that band.
Clearly I was in the minority and that’s fine. I can respect the people involved for making music out of the mainstream and being successful at it. I very much admire them for that, but the music had such a negative effect on me that it made me avoid any band from the late 80s on that even gave a hint at progginess. No thanks. If this is what it’s come to then I don’t want anything to do with it.
As we got into the 2010s though, realizing that the actual authentic people who were involved in the 70s were starting to go away more and more often, I started wondering if I had missed anything worthwhile. I heard a Steven Wilson record a few years ago that I liked quite a lot. It wasn’t very prog, but it was in the ball park. I knew him as the guy who was remixing so many of the classic records. I dug a little deeper and his work got proggier and better and then I realized he was the guy from Porcupine Tree. That was one of those bands that I had purposely avoided. Should I bother? Yeah, let’s try it. I picked a record at random. It was really good. I picked another at random and it really wasn’t good. Okay. A little more digging and I find that they took a while to evolve, but once they got where they were going they were excellent. Their last 5-6 records are great.
Okay, so if that band is worth a listen then maybe what passes for progressive rock in the 21st century is worthy of more study. Who else should I listen to?
I’ve stumbled across a few good bands. One used to have a guitar player from the band XTC who, in my younger days, I liked sometimes. Not always. They were quirky and weird and those are plusses to me. The band was called Big Big Train. They had just released a record called World Tour. I took it for a spin. Good stuff. Great songs. Not even a hint of “heavy” but that’s okay. I really liked that album. Track two is called Alive and it is a spectacular song.
Apart from knowing one guy used to be in XTC, I didn’t know anything about them. Who are these folks? Who plays what? How many people played on the record? All good questions, but the biggest question that first listen prompted was WHO THE HELL IS THIS SINGER WHO SOUNDS MORE LIKE PETER GABRIEL THAN PETER GABRIEL??? The guy sounded great.
And finally, eight paragraphs later. We get to the point of the post, which realistically should only be about three sentences. That singer who sounded like a young Peter Gabriel on a really good day was named David Longdon and a few days ago, at the ripe young age of 56, he passed away. No details have been released outside of saying it was an accident. I suddenly wish I had started listening to him a decade or so sooner than I did. I missed out on a lot. They were going to tour the US in 2020 but Covid. I think they tried touring in 2021 too but Covid. That means a lot of people who are legitimate fans will never get to see him live. That’s really sad to me. I didn’t see him live because I am a prog snob, but people who are more open than I am will miss him too. Damn it. Rest in peace, sir. Everyone else, give one of his records a spin today. You’ll be very happy you did.