I’m told by Jeff that if I try to argue that the contempt with which the band Yes is treated is nothing more than some sort of reverse snobbery that I will be piled on by virtually every person who has anything to do with this site.
Given that the Comments section is open to the entire Internet world, this could be a big pile.
While I don’t want to completely deflect attention away from the Red Cross that is below, I do want to bring back some attention to normalcy: Although, as Jeff argues below, it is important that we maintain some sense of vigilance, it is also essential that we don’t allow ourselves to ignore many of our usual concerns and interests because to the extent that we do, the Bad Guys win. And that is unacceptable.
One more disclaimer. I am making an argument for Yes, not for any of the other bands with which they are normally associated; I am making an argument for their recorded music, not for the live performances (which I have never seen—hell, Phil, 30 years per Crenshaw show, and none for this band: What kind of fan is that?), which I suspect must be fairly disturbing nowadays (which may explain why they are rolling out with an orchestra).
Seems to me that people are dismissive of Yes because the music is highly produced/engineered. It is labeled “Art Rock.” On the one hand, one could say that if rock is worth its, well, rocks, then it is Art. Consequently, to be called “Art Rock” is a compliment, one unappreciated by those who are using the term as an epithet. On the other hand, there is the idea that “rock” is fundamentally, well, fundamental, and to the extent that music is heavily artistic (in the sense of being something that is consciously thought out and executed in a manner that is calculated), it is bad. Perhaps this is a particularly American notion, one that can be best summed up in a Walt Whitman term: “Bardic yap.” Pure rock is argued to be “yap.” And Yes ain’t Yap.
There are few guitar players who have a signature sound, guitar players who can play on the recordings of bands with whom they are not associated and who could be identified from their pure sound. The Edge. Pete. Van Halen. And a few others. One of those that I’d put on the list is Steve Howe. Through the years, he has been able to pull sounds out of his guitar that overcome the excessive flourishes of Rick Wakeman’s Grand Central Station-sized keyboard array. He has been able to play notes that distract us from the Hobbit-like lyrics and sounds of Jon Anderson. (BTW: Howe, on his solo albums, has a voice with an inverse relation to his guitar playing: Just Say No.) But Howe’s distinctive sound, supported by the remarkable drumming of, especially, Bill Bruford and Chris Squire’s bass, create remarkable music.
Perhaps the music that is produced by Yes simply isn’t rock. It is in a category onto itself (and, yes, I can imagine some of the categories that it can be put in by many of you, most of which are noxious). But let’s put that notion aside. Let’s assume that it is rock based on nothing more than the characteristics of the (1) time it was created; (2) the instruments with which it was created; (3) the nature of the people who create(d) it, it is rock.
So what’s the problem?
Let the games begin.