As bloated and self-indulgent as prog rock became, and as ridiculous as the subject matter of the lyrics could be (Yes’ Don’t Kill the Whales springs to mind), what the musicians — and, unlike the majority of hipster rock bands, they actually were musicians — were trying to do was push the boundaries of rock music, incorporating classical structures and approaching what have become the traditional instruments of rock in nontraditional ways.
Can anyone actually claim that indie rock, for lack of a better misnomer, doesn’t suffer from “bloat, pretension and opaque references to the incomprehensible?” Bloat? Have you sat through an entire Godspeed You! Black Emperor album (did I even put that exclamation mark in the right place?)? Pretension? None of the current media darlings — the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Interpol — could be accused of that. Opaque references? You decipher Jeff Mangum’s lyrics, tough guy.
The bottom line: Rock for critics like Bemis isn’t about music, it’s about attitude, image and an accessible hook — kind of like what mainstream music is about. Revivalism is hip, derivation is a badge, and posturing is a premium. If it was truly about the music, prog wouldn’t be a bad word for critics who crap their pants over badly played, thinly veiled pop music dressed in hipster attire.
Marc Cooper chides the peace movement for failing to build bridges to the political center, but his criticisms never identify elements for progressives to support [Dissonance: “No Gloating, Please,” March 26–April 1]. While he takes potshots at the “parent organization” of the people doing the work to put picket signs and bodies on the streets, he reserves political praise for quirky individualists like Arianna Huffington, whose constituency is no more organized than those of the Santa Monica Pier and the Las Vegas card tables — topics that Cooper has managed to cover without mistaking for political forces.
Why were fewer in the streets this year? What messages should peace activists have about the occupation of Iraq? What was the relationship between the Dean campaign, disciplined but hardly ultra-left, and the momentum of the peace movement? These are good questions. Please, Marc, take a break from deriding Mumia and “squishy liberals” and help answer them.