Neglected Proggers (Or: Who Are You? Oh, You’re in the Band?)
(Warning: This post has a lot of parentheses in it. Like this set for instance).
During the life span of nearly every band that has existed on this or any other planet (NASA has been doing secret bluegrass experiments on Mars for decades) certain events inevitably occur. At some point a band is going to lose its practice space due to uncontrollable circumstances, like an angry neighbor complaining about noise to the land lord, or the meth lab next door exploding and taking out the entire building. Sooner or later a band member’s significant other is going to make an innocuous comment about the band’s sound that becomes a source of band-threatening drama for a minimum of 2 months. And eventually every band has to deal with the fact that, if they develop any kind of popular following, not every member of the band is going to be equally appreciated. It’s not that any member of the band is less valuable, it’s just the natural order of things. A Justin Timberlake or Beyonce Knowles is going to emerge from every N’Sync or Beyonce and the Bitches (that’s what they were called right? It’s been so long…).
Progressive rock is no different when it comes to this last phenomenon. Sometimes the development of a ‘main character’ can result in the fracturing of the group, but often in prog it simply means that the vast majority of attention is heaped upon one or two band members, while the rest of the troupe quietly plucks away in the background. Being life-long nerds, progressive rock musicians are, for the most part, used to being neglected by their peers, and thus prog bands are less likely to break up due to these types of situations (though it has happened in the past, see: Genesis, Yes). In today’s article/blog/lesson/sermon, we’ll examine some of the most noteworthy instances of neglect within a band by the prog fan base. We’re a cruel bunch, but we’re no different than any other genre’s fan base (except for the fact that we have no girls. Still working on that one).
Dave Meros: Spock’s Beard
Spock’s Beard, if nothing else, has always been a band full of interesting personalities. Former front man Neil Morse was a spectacular presence to witness on stage, and who was able to transmit his own joy and passion to the fans through osmosis (prog-mosis?), this is until Jesus told him that his amazing powers were meant to be shared with a (some how) even more ‘devoted’ audience. His brother Alan is an absurdly creative multi-instrumentalist who refuses to use a pick while playing electric guitar OR dress like he lives in the year 2010. Drummer/New front man Nick D’Virgilio has the voice of an angel and the looks to make all the prog chikas swoon (if there were prog chikas, they’d be swooning). Meanwhile keyboard player Ryo Okumoto is either really insane or really Japanese, or both, no one is entirely sure. (note: A Prog Blog does not promote racism, you racists).
That leaves bassist Dave Meros. Bass is already a difficult instrument to become a standout player with, so it’s been an uphill battle for Dave. He does kind of look like Phil Hartman, which could be easily incorporated into SB shows if they were willing to incur the wrath of NBC and the Hartman estate (“I’m just a simple cave man bass player, your modern ‘amplification’ technology scares me”). Beyond that however he’s really the blandest member of the band, at least personality-wise. He does list ‘skeleton collecting’ as one of his hobbies, so that’s a ‘thing’ I suppose (a ‘thing’ that lands you in prison, depending on where he’s getting the skeletons).
Alex Lifeson: Rush
It’s really not fair that Lifeson is put in this position. He’s a gifted guitar player and the most easily likable person in Rush, but he’s often looked over because he’s playing with two of the biggest heavyweights on their respective instruments in all of rock. When asked who the greatest drummer of all time is, fellow drummers will either say Buddy Rich, John Bonham, or Neil Peart, and more of the people who know who Buddy Rich was are dying every day. Geddy Lee gets attention for all sorts of reasons, from being a monster bass player, to having the greatest Jewish nose in all of music (note: A Prog Blog does not promote racism, you racists), to having a voice so high that he and Jon Anderson have conversations that only dogs can hear.
With these titans in the picture, Lifeson is tragically forced into the background. Again, he’s very talented and he’s carved his niche as the goofy member of the band, but how many talented, goofy guitar players are there in rock music? 5492921? (Actual answer: 5492923, you forgot Dweezil Zappa and Janice from Electric Mayhem). Lifeson has been doing his part to get his face in the spotlight over the past few years, including getting punched in said face by the police. Being the only member of Rush with a criminal record is definitely a step in the right direction, now if he can only follow that up with some drug problems or a reality TV show (“Making the Band: Progressive Rock”. Make it happen VH1, I promise you it will tap into a demographic you have 0 clout with at the moment).
Jeff Coffin: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Jeff had to know what he was getting into when he signed up to be part of the Flecktones. Previously the band had been comprised of genre transcending banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, modern bass god Victor Wooten, and his time traveling brother and unconventional percussionist Future Man. You don’t waltz into a situation like that playing a normal instrument like tenor sax and maintain any kind of pulbic interest for more than a month.
To his credit, Coffin has really done an admirable job of bringing attention to himself while performing with one of the most original bands in any genre. He’s got the whole Ian Scott facial hair thing going and he has a habit of playing more than one sax-o-mo-phoone at a time (to be fair, every 10th grade band student has tried this, he’s just the only one to make a living doing it). As noble as his efforts may be, he must have seen the futility of trying to stand out while playing next to a guy in a pirate costume, using what can only be described as a giant tumor as a midi controller. Thus, I can’t blame him for killing Dave Mathews saxophone player LeRoi Moore in order to take his spot in the band. At least in DMB he has 3-4 other musicians he can hide in the corner with while Dave mumbles his way though “Ants Go Marching”.
Jerry Gaskill: King’s X
King’s X is an appropriate band to put on this list, since as a unit they’ve never been able to maintain a position in the spotlight. They nearly broke into the mainstream in the 90s, but after that fell apart they never seemed to be able to maintain a solid following. Their fan base is large enough, but if mentioned to 100 prog fans only 20-30 might have strong feelings about their work. So why is Gaskill the outcast amidst this group of outcasts?
One strike against Gaskill is that he’s the only member of the band that doesn’t regularly sing. In a band with three people, two of whom having very different, very interesting vocal textures, being the silent member doesn’t really help your public image (King’s X nerds will point out that Jerry does in fact sing on the band’s various 3-part harmonies. I will point out to these nerds that Jerry has only sung lead on like 3 songs ever, so said nerds can kindly keep their mouths shut). Bassist Doug Pinnick is strike two. Pinnick is about to turn 60 and is some how still in better shape than any person you’ve ever met (seriously, check this shit out). He also has the honor of being not only one of the few openly gay musicians in progressive rock, but also one of the few openly black ones as well (note: A Prog Blog does not promote racism OR homophobia, you homophobic racists). He also chooses to spell his name ‘Dug’, something that the majority of the world has chosen to ignore as it’s far too silly for even prog. That leaves Gaskill to contend with guitarist Ty Tabor for most boring King’s X member. Ty has participated in side projects that are actually more popular than some of the recent King’s X releases, and his solo albums are almost universally well reviewed. That leaves poor Jerry in the corner. My advise, Jerry, is to do some sit-ups, change your name to “Gerie”, and start a rumor about a band love triangle. You’ll be right back in that spotlight before you know it.
Nick Mason: Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd was a band defined by its drama. The bar was set extremely high by Sid Barret in the early years, and frankly the group is lucky that he took himself out of the picture when he did, otherwise we might simply know them as ‘Sid Barret and Background Noise’ (they also made all of their best music after he left, but that’s not important for this article!). Once Barret went off to play with the unicorns in his head, the remaining members besides Mason made sure there was plenty of drama being produced to fill the void. In fact they probably over did it, considering that any kind of communication between David Gilmour and Rodger Waters over the past 15 years has been seen as a major music event.
In the middle of this prog-tempest was Nick Mason. Sure, he has some of the stereotypical rock star traits like a divorce followed up by marriage to an actress, as well as a large collection of classic cars, but most Floyd fans will tell you that he barely contributed to the song writing or production process, and that in the later years he needed a team of studio musicians to help complete his parts. He’s also the only member of the band to have never quit the group, making him thoroughly boring. His one awesome contribution to the band’s catalog is the introduction to “Time”, which, at its core, is really just a bunch of random banging on roto toms. I love Pink Floyd and I love Nick Mason, but he more than any other musician on this list deserves his lack of spotlight. Chin up though Nick, at least you’re not Ringo!
So that’s my brief list of prog musicians who, for better or worse, never got their chance to shine. Since my traffic has shot way up recently (probably something to do with google bumping the site up in its search results), maybe some of you new readers would like to respond with artists you feel should be included in this list. Or maybe you want to tell me I’m stupid and should keep my jokes and opinions to myself. Whatever you want to say, say it. I don’t think I’ve deleted a comment yet that wasn’t porn spam (And if strippers started dancing to songs in 7/8, I’d consider leaving those comments up).