If you’ve been following Rock Town Hall for even a couple of weeks you probably have an inkling of my severe distaste for the mainstream culture of the 1980s. If you didn’t live through that era and find it “charming” or whatever, I feel slightly worse for the future of humankind. That’s OK, I’m used to feeling that way. What troubles me is how we got to this point considering how great my generation was and how much greater our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were. If we were so great, shouldn’t the youth of today be better?
If you lived through that era and look back on it fondly, I am not-so-secretly jealous of you. I had a lot of youthful energy and love to give to the world at that time, and for all my exquisite taste I would have been happy to spread my energy and love on a mutually appreciative world, as you may have been able to do back then. Bravo, ’80s Mainstream Culture Beneficiaries!
Many of my associations with the ’80s, then and now, were filtered through my not-always exclusive pursuits of rock ‘n roll and girls, as I was young enough to call them through most of the decade. I desired a mastery of both, yet constantly found myself falling short of the mark. Most of the roadblocks encountered were part of my genetic makeup and/or self-erected. I think of all the poor decisions I made and inflexible stances I took owing to my born and bred stubbornness. I did have good taste, however, and I have no regrets about that. The mainstream culture of the 1980s threw its share of roadblocks at me. Perhaps no cultural artifact was a more daunting roadblock than a copy of Duran Duran‘s Rio placed at the front of a stack of albums in a girl’s dorm room or apartment.
We know there is a solid history of nonsense syllables in popular music, from Mairseydotes and Ragmop to Ob-La-Di and De Doo Doo Doo. Some of this usage is intentional or wordplay, but some of it is basically lazy lyric writing by a composer, who can’t seem to find better words to replace the ones that were ad-libbed.
On this front, is there any greater offender than Phil Collins? I know that ABACAB is a reference to musical structure, but let’s dispense with that lame defense because ABACAB is not a word. What is a “Paperlate” and a “Sussudio?”
I recall an interview with Paddy MacAloon, the man behind Prefab Sprout. He relayed a conversation he had with Paul McCartney about the song, “The King Of Rock and Roll,” which has the chorus lyric: “Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque,” which is really intended to be a parody of mindless pop song lyrics. The irony was that this was Sprout’s big hit, thus McCartney told MacAloon that the song was his “My Ding-A-Ling” and that every songwriter gets to have one “My Ding-A-Ling.”
Thus, Phil Collins, in writing at least three nonsense songs, has vastly overshot his “My Ding-A-Ling” quota, which I believe is grounds for charging him with a Rock Crime, and surely he’s guilty of others. But the Cocteau Twins aside, is there anybody more guilty of lazy, nonsense, my-dingalinging than Phil Collins?
John Wetton: yet another good egg enters the Halls of Rock
Following a tosssed-off aside in a recent analysis/appreciation of a Lark’s Tongue in Aspic-era King Crimson performance an immediate groundswell of support gathered around the previously inconceivable notion that John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, Uriah Heep, and much more) was the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.
To clarify, it’s not that Wetton’s good looks had previously been inconceivable but that good looks ever played a part in the brainy, challenging progressive rock scene. In the wake of this discussion Townspeople were polled, and between the results of nearly 1000 voters and a panel of rock experts, Wetton was officially deemed – once and for all – The Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.
That’s the silly part of the story. We managed to contact Wetton for his thoughts on this distinction (“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter,” he replied). Better yet, he agreed to an interview with us. It’s the following interview, one focusing on his musical experiences rather than beauty tips, that’s the most appreciated thing to come from a silly notion and an unexpected encounter with Wetton and a broad swath of prog-rock fans.
As you probably know, if this is even your second day in the Halls of Rock, Rock Town Hall regulars tend to be deeply immersed in the music we’ve lived through. Musicians like Wetton, whose careers have woven through a broad swath of rock history, can be especially enticing as interview subject. We spend more time than the average person contemplating Rock’s Big Issues, and who better to hear from than musicians who’ve straddled eras, genres, and band responsibilities? In the following interview, John Wetton provides insight on these issues and displays an enthusiasm for and confidence in his musical ventures and colleagues that I found refreshing. I hope you do, too.
RTH: How is your health, John, and what are you working on these days? Did I read correctly that been at work on projects with both Asia and Eddie Jobson?
John Wetton: My health is good, thank you—having survived (with enormous help on both counts) two life-threatening conditions, I’m being a little more circumspect, but still have a lust for life and a desire to enjoy the journey, regardless of the destination. I’ve just completed 50 dates with Asia–in Europe, USA and Japan—we complete the world touring for 2010 with a 5-date UK tour before Christmas.
I played 3 dates in Poland with Eddie Jobson last November, “for old times’ sake.” It was generally regarded as a UK reunion and was great fun, but we have no plans to extend that run right now. It was a terrific band–myself, Eddie, Marco Minneman, Tony Levin, and Greg Howe.
[NOTE: Mogul Thrash would spawn not only Wetton but two the founding members of Average White Band, which Townspeople also know as the band that gave us RTH hero Hamish Stuart.]
RTH: Your career must be a dream for writer Pete Frame and his Rock Family Tree books. The earliest band I knew of that you were in was Family, but I learned that you were in an earlier band that recorded an album, Mogul Thrash. The music sounds in the jazz-rock vein of Soft Machine and Colosseum. Prior to Mogul Thrash, were you already rooted in jazz and improvisatory music?
JW: I guess my name would have cropped up on many of Pete’s Family trees, but I did most of my band-hopping in the ’70s—since then I’ve done side projects, but the bulk of my work has been either with Asia or as a solo artist.
Jazz was never really an influence until I was in my early 20s, when I started to listen to some fantastic players–John McLaughlin, Miroslav Vitous, Herbie Hancock. My huge early musical influence from around age 5, was my brother, a church organist and choirmaster. Piano is my first instrument.
RTH: At the same time, you’ve also displayed a strong pop sense through your career. As a boy, were you more a Beatles or Stones fan?
Believe us, we care what the groundbreaking popular vote said regarding a poll that resulted from an analysis and discussion to determine – once and for all – The Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock. We care what the humble subject at the root of this heretofore-unexamined topic ultimately may have felt about all the attention he received. We cherish the new friends we’ve made in the last couple of weeks, and we welcome you to our daily gatherings and passionate discussions of rock-related topics, both serious and inane. We’re not sure how the other finalists in our quest to determine – once and for all – The Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock may have felt, but among those we attempted to contact, only go-to bassist/vocalist of the Progressive and Art Rock scene (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, and many more) John Wetton responded to the ardent support of his fan base, summing up the consideration for this honor as follows:
“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter.”
We should all feel delighted to have finally established for all the world’s rock snobs, who have long considered prog-rock the sole domain of stoners and Dungeons & Dragons dudes, that the ladies dig prog-rockers on their own terms, including reasons as earthy as the music may be cerebral or ethereal. Just as cool, a number of Townsmen, regardless of their sexual preferences, felt comfortable discussing the importance of prog-rock bands containing a couple of good-looking guys to pull off those 17/8 time signatures. That’s what I call progressive rock music discussion! Most of all, however, we should feel delighted at the announcement that John Wetton has graciously agreed to subject himself to a Rock Town Hall Interview!
John Wetton: The Rock Town Hall Interview, Coming Friday, October 1.
The interview will cover John’s unique career and, hopefully, stimulate thought and discussion about the inner workings of some of the most-distinctive bands of the 1970s, the difference between “Prog Rock” and “Art Rock,” and the possible threat posed by Punk and New Wave bands. John also gives us a few additional seconds to answer the hard-hitting, rapid-fire questions of Rock Town Hall’s patented Dugout Chatter.
Thanks, John, and congratulations to leading popular vote-getter Carl Palmer and other runners-up Greg Lake, Keith Emerson (yes, the band should have been named PLE!), Chris Squire, and David Gilmour! Finally, thanks to the loyal and enthusiastic followers of one of rock’s most ambitious music scenes for making this silly notion turn into something of lasting value!
Our ongoing poll to determine the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock has garnered interest across the globe. Out of the gates it looked to be a showdown between the the Zelig of the Prog/Art Rock world, stylishly tressed bassist John Wetton, and former model and Pink Floyd hunk David Gilmour. Then, without warning, cape-wearing Yes bassist Chris Squire and ELP’s boyishly macho drummer Carl Palmer jumped ahead of Gilmour and put some heat on Wetton. With a record number of votes pouring in, Wetton and Squire are neck and neck! Before more votes are posted, let’s consider the leaders in this heretofore-inconceivable showdown.
I know this discussion will make some of you manly men uncomfortable, but these prog-rock legends aren’t as smooth as Ken dollsdown there, nor are their fans a collection of plastic Ken and Barbie dolls. For the rock ‘n roll record, I suggest you man up and give these gents the once-over they deserve. It’s clear that only Rock Town Hall is fit to determine, once and for all, the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock. In-depth analyses of our leading vote-getters appear on page 2!
My friends, it took me long enough, but I finally manned up and spent a few days with that Prince deep cutz collection that hrrundivbakshi demanded that I confront for Hear Factor. It was one of the most difficult series of listening sessions I’ve ever encountered, but I am a better man for it – and you, HVB, are a better man for having put me through it.
E. Pluribus, you’re a good egg, too – and thanks for never making me sit through anything as painful as those Prince deep cutz. However, I need to call you into this, too, because you like to make a big stink about how exquisite your tastes are, yet you can’t even begin to appreciate anything remotely in the “Art Rock” camp, can you? I’m calling you into this alongside hrrundivbakshi because I think he can put a little heat on you. I think HVB has it in him to find a bearable angle on Roxy Music. I doubt you do, but I hope he will shame you into opening your mind a little bit. As painful as it may be for one of you to budge, I’m confident that your need to distiguish yourselves from each other will result in one of you expressing something profound and fascinating, something more than what we may expect.
Now, if you have some time, I want to know if either of you have it in you to appreciate Roxy Music. I’m offering a completely unbalanced sampling of two songs each from my favorite two Roxy Music album for your analysis, gut responses, and possible pleasure. In case you need a visual, I’ve also placed a video of the band playing another favorite from their debut album. I feel this will demonstrate the band’s usefulness in the research that is done in RTH Labs. Please take all the time you need, or at least as long as the tracks last. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.
Don’t think the rest of you have not been summoned as well. I urge those of you who’ve stayed on the sidelines through past discussions about Roxy Music to step forward. Do you want to be part of the angry mob forever, or do you want to stand out and be your own person?
I was disappointed to hear that Jesse Sandoval, the drummer from The Shins, was in his words “fired” from the band. He tells his side of the story in an article in the Portland Mercury. While he seems to have a bit of a complicated relationship with band leader James Mercer, I’m in agreement he was fired in a not-so-professional way. I’m sure it was awkward for all involved but still call it what it is and forget the “…I’m going in a different direction” statements.
I particularly like Sandoval’s drumming. Admittedly it was quirky but I think it added interest to what might have been some otherwise average indie rock songs. I’m not sure what Mercer will do next or what it might sound like but it will be missing the unique combination of his Shins bandmates and Sandoval’s drumming.
So the question is What are some other bands that lost players, either fired or quit, that ruined the “magic?” Can we say David Lee Roth out of Van Halen? Eno out of Roxy Music (maybe not)? Can you offer some suggestions?