Friday, November 24, 2017

The Schism - An Intro to Two Different Worlds

The crucible had been simmering since The Mothers' Freak Out. Though not truly a progressive album, it was the first to take classical and jazz elements and pair them with the avant-garde, all with a rock core. Kind of like stone soup. Trout Mask Replica also plays a role, but the Mothers and Captain Beefheart were American and lived, nonetheless, in Laurel Canyon. The progressive ideology would never truly take hold for American musicians. There was a different sensibility. America would propel Jethro Tull to the No. 1 position with one long song on two album sides (wtf?) (Thick as a Brick), yet with the exception of progressive light (like Pepsi Light - bands like Kansas and Styx), progressive rock simply wasn't an American forte.

To pinpoint it, it was Days of Future Past and the Moodys that set the scene, the result of a combination of new technology (in short, the Mellotron, which crudely emulated choral and orchestral sounds) and desperation, leading to an increasing number of British bands expanding rock's canvas musically and lyrically without the slightest consideration of the pop hit mainstream. The next more vital step was found in King Crimson's stunning 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, which inspired others, such as fellow Londoners Yes, to release Close to the Edge less than a year after their breakthrough album Fragile, or Meddle by Pink Floyd, containing the 18 minute futuristic opus "Echoes." 

L.A. was (and is) less a metropolis than an eclectic collection of odd communities. Maybe it was the weather; maybe the hubbub or the big city sensibility, but London was something different, a place where progressive rock fit. The Laurel Canyon scene, even Morrison and Zappa, weren't mystical at all, and conversely, by the early 70s there was nothing even vaguely hippie about London. Traffic's The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, built around the 11 minute hypnotic title song featured electronically synthesized saxophone, while Jackson Browne's L.A. instrumentals were pure jazz or pure country and no less tony or classic than those from Burt Bacharach or Pet Sounds. Trilogy from Emerson , Lake , and Palmer  and Foxtrot from the Peter Gabriel-led Genesis had critics raving and cash registers ringing, and all of it would culminate in the Spring of 1973 with the incomparable Dark Side of the Moon, an iconic masterpiece which long ago threw off any binds imparted by categorization as progressive rock, but not before Close to the Edge and Seventh Sojourn each racked up #1 international sales.

By 1973 there was indeed a musical schism, a fork in the rocky road. It was Laurel Canyon for L.A., but for London it was the Strand. More so, in the U.K., the factions began themselves to split (which wouldn't happen in the U.S. until CBGBs). Bowie and Mark Bolan would veer off with Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople, while Gentle Giant and Tull, ELO and ELP would take a madrigal pathway forged by KC. And, although it was an American invention that sprang from the blues and evolved into bands like MC5 and The 13th Floor Elevators, Heavy Metal was a far more British construct, relishing in bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

In literature it was as if the Americans took over from the British, as if, after Dickens, there was little left to say (except by Orwell or Forster or Huxley). America would take the reins and from out of Huck Finn came everything, everyone: Fitzgerald, Parker, Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, Steinbeck, Cheever. It was the American century. It wasn't that way in music. It didn't end with the Beatles. The Beatles instead were another British beginning.