Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Storytelling and Ideas - Progressive Rock and Poetry

"I bought eggs," is not a story.

Even if a few characters are tossed into the mix and the reader learns that you and James went to a farm stand to get fresh eggs on the way to Chloe's house and you bought them from the millennial chick with purple hair and a sleeve tattoo who left her job at a nonprofit in DC to come back home and restart the family farm  it still isn’t a story, it's a report. It isn't a story because there is nothing at stake for either the teller or the listener, the buyer or the seller.

Such is not the case with poetry. From ee cummings to Childish Gambino, poetry, while it often indeed tells a story, is about ideas. Thick as a Brick, the anti-concept LP, when all is considered – theme, poetry, ideas, Gerald Bostock, the ruse, the newspaper – is complex storytelling along the lines of a mystery novel in which all the pieces must be put together. But separate the poetry from its incidental parts and the poem itself, despite its epic length (long enough to be in italics rather than quotes), is more a collection of ideas.

Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.
My word’s but a whisper — your deafness a SHOUT.

The poem opens with a slight aimed at the concert audience who can't sit through a performance of quiet songs, at least according to Ian Anderson, but more, the insult is meant for a wider audience – for society's leaders and elders, who won't listen anyway.

I may make you feel but I can't make you think.
Your sperm’s in the gutter — your love’s in the sink.

Society is driven by lust. The only way "I" can make an impression is to appeal to base senses. Morals are in the gutter and common sense has gone down the drain. (My how this feel's like Trump's America).

So you ride yourselves over the fields
and you make all your animal deals

Society moves through life without stopping to think, like animals.

And your wise men don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

The "wise men" know nothing, consider the source; the implication that we should all think for ourselves.

And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away
in the tidal destruction
the moral melee.
The elastic retreat rings the close of the play
as the last wave uncovers
the newfangled way.

Beautiful metaphor. Anderson describes society's fickle virtues and morals by likening them to sand-castles that crumble with a new set of waves.

But your new shoes are worn at the heels
and your suntan does rapidly peel

Whatever is shiny and new (i.e. a new moral/religious fad) quickly becomes dull and worn, just like a suntan which looks good on you, but only for a while.

And your wise men don’t know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

The idea: think for yourself. The poem on its own is clever but not genius. The genius is realized when the parts are assembled and brought to life through the musicianship. That's what music is all about.

Often, though, ideas are more random. When Cummings writes "Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands," ideas are reduced to images. And that's what we find in progressive rock more often than not. From "Close to the Edge" to Gentle Giant's take on R.D. Laing's "Knots," progressive rock lyrics are all about imagery. Indeed, so is progressive rock's symphonic tone. Like Beethoven's 6th invokes a sense of the pastoral, Camel's The Snow Goose tells a story that, while know to Scandinavians, is left to an American audience to decipher. Any sophisticated listener (and if you read about music, that's who you are) will find the story in this lengthy instrumental piece.

Seriously, "Sharp. Distance./ How can the wind with its arms all around me?" means nothing (how can the wind what?), but one is a buffoon if the imagery coupled with the music doesn't conjure up Roger Dean-like imagery.

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