Is it Prog, or is it Neo-skank Hardprog?

I’ve just started marketing my new album – including sending it to people who write about prog. Yup, I’ve taken the plunge and chosen to openly use that most contentious of terms ‘prog’.

My name is Tom Slatter and I make prog rock music.

Why should I be wary of the term?

Certainly not because I want to be able say ‘my music doesn’t fit into categories – it transcends them’ I’m not quite that pretentious, and my music definitely fits into some rather obvious categories.

Also, not because ‘prog’ is an unfashionable term. I’m not writing top 40 pop after all, the mainstream does not beckon.

No, I’m a little wary of the term ‘prog’ because a few times I’ve seen a certain section of prog fandom engage in discussions about what is or is not prog – and discussions like that are always tedious. You know the sort, those who really care whether Deep Purple are hard rock or heavy metal, who really care whether you’re prog metal or just complicated, overlong metal. Whether you’re progressive – or just prog. Dull, dull, dull.

Being the pretentious muso that I am, my unversity dissertation was on genre distinctions in heavy metal – In particular comparing thrash metal to the NWOBHM.

Yes, I know, I know,

However while researching that I came across Running with the Devil by Robert Walser. This is a great book for anyone interested in heavy metal and sociology (isn’t that all of us?). From this I took the idea of continuums of genre, which is a much more useful idea than strict categories. Think of a continuum that runs from prog to not prog, or from heavy to not heavy. You can place different songs, bands, movements along those axis.

Much more useful than ‘It’s soft trance progcore,’ ‘no it isn’t it’s nervecore hardprog,’ ‘Rubbish, they’re clearly Clockpunk nanocore’

Sizzlerock
Nipplecore
Sazz
Wobbleprog

Making up imaginary genre names is fun.

What point was I making?

Oh yeah, my music is on the prog spectrum, somewhere near where it crosses the English singer-songwriter spectrum.

That’s the point.

Stozzcore

Heavy Slab.

Neo-Skank

Selling out – Like a Pear Cider that’s made from 100% Pear

Selling out is possible. It isn’t always wrong, but it is possible.

I’m a big comedy fan – and one of my favourite comics is melted -Morrisey-lookalike Stewart Lee.

In one of his recent shows Lee performed a wonderful version of Galway Girl by Steve Earle. This was at the end of a long routine about how betrayed he felt when Magner’s Pear Cider started advertising their product with the slogan ‘Give it to me straight like a pear cider that’s made from a hundred percent pear’.

He claimed that this was a folk saying that his family had employed for generations and that Magner’s had stolen it and ruined it for him.

He goes on a long rant all built on the absurd premise that what is clearly a marketing slogan was in fact something that originally belonged to the people and has now been sullied by commerce.

Then he plays his version of Galway Girl, in which he includes a verse about the use of the song in adverts, which destroyed the meaning of the song for him. He also includes references to Johnny Rotten and Iggy Pop, both of whom had recently been involved in commercials.

Yesterday I heard the excellent news that The Fierce and The Dead have signed to the record label Bad Elephant Music for their next record. This is a great partnership and I know it won’t suddenly involve TFATD having to make artistic sacrifices for the sake of commerce – that’s not what the record label is about.

However, perhaps related to this event Matt Stevens, social media addict, certified ‘good egg’ and guitarist extraordinaire posted on facebook asking what ‘Selling out’ was – whether it was something worth thinking about at all.

The short, flippant answer is ‘who cares, it’s no big deal anymore,is it?’ After all, I would never object to a musician choosing to pay the bills. Using your musical skills to earn a pay cheque could never be considered immoral.

Except, that’s not all of what I think, and it’s not all the answer – in fact, I’m kinda with Stewart Lee.

Not all things should be for sale. Prostitution for example is morally difficult because it involves selling something that many of us would think should not be sold.   Slavery is definitely unacceptable because it involves selling something  no-one thinks should be for sale.

Both are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they’re examples of things we generally don’t consider to be commodities.

Less extreme, but of a similar nature is the artist and her intentions. Intention matters in art. In comedy how a comedian means a joke can change the entire complexion. A sexist remark in the mouth of a sexist is just that, the same remark in the mouth of someone who means it ironically – and is understood to mean it so by the audience – is different.

The same is true with music. Use your song to sell jeans, and suddenly it’s not a song, it’s a marketing jingle. That’s not immoral of itself, but it changes the meaning of the art. The songwriter can’t then claim that the song has the same meaning, because it has been tainted by the other use.

Meaning doesn’t just come from the words, it comes from place, context, intention. If your music is an advert, it’s an advert. You can do that of course, but don’t then be surprised if the audience has a different relationship with your work.

Galway Girl was, to Stewart Lee, a song with meaning. Hearing it used in an advert debased it – and although he doesn’t criticise Steve Earle (What’s an artist to do, for the kind of money they offer you?) he does mourn that change in meaning and wants it back.

Selling out is possible – it could lead to music being used for purposes for which it wasn’t originally intended. The musician needs to be aware of that change, aware that the audience has an emotional stake in the music – feels ownership.

That doesn’t mean it’s always wrong, it certainly isn’t. It also doesn’t mean it’s more important that earning a living, putting food on the table and all those practical things. But if your music is on an advert, don’t be surprised if people think of it as an advertising jingle.

The Bullshit Klaxon

Awooga! Bullshit! Bullshit!

Listening to the Pod Delusion on my way to work, I heard a blatant real life example of Godwin’s Law – in a piece on male circumcision there was a recording of a rabbi making the ‘point’ that the only world leaders to have banned the practice were Hitler and Stalin.

Yup, someone was actually prepared to say that in public and carry on speaking as the audience to the debate laughed at him.

Now I could go on a long rant about what I think of people who think their rights as a parent negate the rights of their offspring. I could object long-windedly to cutting babies up for dubious reasons. But who’d read that? Those are just opinions and there’s a more important ideal:-

I’d like to propose that any public debate should include a simple device – the Bullshit Klaxon.

The Bullshit Klaxon would be manned by someone who was well up on logical fallacies and could identify for example, the appeal to authority, godwin’s law, the classic ‘You don’t have an answer, therefore goddidit’ etc.

Any time anyone trotted out one of these fallacies there would be a loud ‘Awooga!’ And they would be forbidden for speaking for the rest of the debate.

We must do this, because it says so in a bronze age book? Awooga!

Someone I met once had a personal experience, so it must be universal? Awooga!

You can’t believe something, therefore it isn’t true? Awooga!

I don’t mean I want a klaxon going off whenever there’s someone I disagree with. I’d like that, but it isn’t reasonable. Whereas it definitely is reasonable that public debate, especially large public debates that include elected officials, be policed for logical fallacies.

This would aid democracy, and mean that a lot of the loud, idiot voices would be drowned out by even louder awoogas.

It would also be a blow against religious freedom, what with the modern popular religions all being based on logical fallacy. The curtailment of religious freedom is of course a good thing, and I know because I personally can’t take the idea of God seriou- AWOOGA!

Oh all right, just because I can’t believe doesn’t mean there definitely isn’t a god. However, religions have done so much damage to so many people that surely – AWOOGA!

All right, that’s not a logical argument against all religion either but… look, just stop it. My opinions are facts, your facts are just opinions!

Erm. Yeah, Bullshit Klaxon. That’s what we need.

__________

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