Tag Archives: Yes

Time Travel Is Real

Jerry’s brother had a piranha. He was a senior in high school and had moved down into the basement, into what probably had been a storage closet. There was room for a bed, the fish tank, and his stereo. No windows, no closet.

One afternoon when his brother was at football practice, Jerry and I went downstairs and raided his record collection. We dubbed the good songs onto cassette, my first mixtape. I remember a bunch of the songs that were on it, and I can still picture Jerry’s loopy handwritten track list on the j-card. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick, “T.N.T.” by AC/DC, “Destroyer” by the Kinks. Late 1981, maybe early 82.

I’ve been searching for this tape for years. Decades even. I am a bit of a hoarder so I can’t imagine that I just threw it away. I recently remembered a place I hadn’t looked. There was a small duffel bag of my old crap from my mom’s house that had been thrown in a bin and moved from one storage space to another over the years. Inside the bag, along with a bunch of old journals and my high school diploma, I found an unmarked cassette.

Jackpot? Unfortunately, no.


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Do the Work

“With the democratization of music performance, we are all music inventors now. Anybody with a laptop and the ability to whistle a tune may invent the next musical genre without ever finding her way to a rehearsal room.”

That’s Bill Bruford. Former drummer for King Crimson, Yes and an array of his own combinations, Bruford got off the stage in 2009 and went on to acquire a Ph.D from the University of Surrey.

“We are all music inventors now.” That’s the definition of irony.

In an essay appearing in The Absolute Sound, Bruford makes many salient points about how many people want to be musicians without putting in the effort that it takes to be a musician that can actually move the art to where it hasn’t been.

Among them:

• “Before the digital world arrived, you were Liszt or Liberace, Satriani or Santana, Hendrix or Holiday, Marley or Madonna, violinist, bassist, or saxophonist, or you aspired to being one of those, or assisted one of them in your role as a skilled support instrumentalist. Now that facsimiles of all these people are in our laptops, are we still making fresh ones?”

• “To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long.”

And because he is a drummer:

• “Drummers are well placed to resuscitate, to breathe life, to bring life to collective performance, but they remain too ready to abandon training, instinct and intuition at a moment’s notice, to accommodate another’s worldview. They tinker away in the engine room of the music to little effect—an abandonment of their traditional area of influence that borders upon a dereliction of duty. Such dereliction cedes power to others (client/producer/programmer) and eliminates the participatory discrepancies that make a performance unique. . . . To follow that road for a few more years will rightly consign the drummer to oblivion and do a calamitous disservice to popular music.”

But the only drummers who are likely to take stands, to create something that they are confident of, are those who have honed their capabilities. And that takes time. Sure, there is talent, but talent not tested through time is ephemeral.

While it might be thought that Bruford is just a crabby old man bitching about digital technology, yes, he is an old man, 72 years old, but it is hard to imagine that a guy who goes from being a performer on some of the biggest stages to the world to a classroom to get a degree in Music is in some way mentally ossified. Odds are he used a keyboard not a quill to write his essay.

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Shocker: Rock Hall inducts terrible bands

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2017 class and–as usual–it’s disappointing. In a year when musical revolutionaries such as Bad Brains, Kraftwerk, Jane’s Addiction, and the MC5 were nominated, we somehow ended up with guilty pleasures Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, and Yes.

“Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Sure, I suppose you could made drunken arguments that those three bands are worthy of respect. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have made those arguments myself after a few too many rum and cokes. But they suck. It’s cheese. It’s garbage. And even if those bands had an influence on other performers, the performers they influenced sucked even harder.

Of those three, ELO is obviously the least awful and Yes is the worst. And just like in real life, Journey is the mediocre one in the middle. I mean, come on. I enjoy Journey as much as the next guy who grew up in the arcade era. “Wheels in the Sky” is a badass jam and I can still close my eyes and picture Steve Perry’s pixelated head bouncing from drum to drum in the videogame. [It was actually the drummer’s head on that level, not Steve Perry. -ed.] But they’re fluff. Just because you have a song featured in a key scene in an “important” tv show doesn’t make you an important band.

Other performers inducted in this class were Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, and Tupac Shakur. Fine. Whatever. I don’t listen to any of that stuff, and in the case of Pearl Jam I don’t even like it, but I recognize the “musical excellence and talent” blah blah “impact” blah blah blah.

Continue reading Shocker: Rock Hall inducts terrible bands

Yes: Close to the Edge

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.