I’ve had the good fortune to make acquaintances with a few of my favorite musicians. They’re easily knowable; none of those I count as personal friends have “hit it big,” at least not yet. Sam Quinn (formerly of the everybodyfields and now fronting a new band called Japan Ten), spent this past winter down the road from our home. He came over several times to help us repaint a couple of rooms of our house in exchange for home-cooked meals (he has since gone back to South Knoxville, TN). His former everybodyfields partner, Jill Andrews, has dropped by several times while gigging in the area. Another Knoxville band we met through Jill, the Dirty Guv’nahs, call our home their local “bed & breakfast.”
These artists share distinctly Southern, roots-based musical styles. For one that grew up around bluegrass, Southern gospel (my dad’s family was a singing quartet), Southern rock, hony-tonk music and Hee Haw (my first superstars were Buck Owens and Grandpa Jones), it was logical for me to get into these younger neo-traditionalists.
But my tastes include a completely different side. In the early ‘70s I discovered progressive rock. It was the perfect music for a geek (or nerd) such as I was – too serious and too complex for my more popular friends.
Fast forward to the very recent past. We have three children at home, the oldest of whom just turned 16. Digging through my old vinyl collection, they have been spinning progressive wax on a beat-up turntable they found at a downtown thrift store for ten bucks: ELO, Kansas, Yes, Genesis. Our son is quite proficient on both guitar and piano. The night of his prom he stood in his bedroom, fully attired in his tux, playing intense lead licks to Kansas’ “Icarus, Borne on Wings of Steel” on his homemade Strat copy. He told me that Kansas is the best band he has heard, that nobody today is doing anything of that caliber.
Unfortunately I didn’t keep all my old albums. Among the missing are selections from Rush, the Moody Blues, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I wasn’t sure how our son would react to the latter, since their music was driven by keyboard instead of guitar. But we began looking at YouTube videos; to my surprise, he was transfixed by the classical and jazz elements in ELP. And I remembered what I liked about a band that I was done with long ago.
Pompous? Yes. Pretentious? Indeed. But undeniably creative. And a reminder, too, that rock music has always had an element of over-the-top. Perhaps the truly compulsive ones are obsessed with maintaining purity for the masses.
By the way, we have no Pete Seeger records in our collection. But we do have The Byrds…