Simon Godfrey's Farewell Letter From America
Sadly Simon Godfrey is taking his bow as a regular columnist as his musical commitments stack up.
This then, is his parting epistle...
I am not a religious man by any standards but today, like most of my fellow Philadelphians in the summer time; I am worshiping at the temple of air conditioning.
There really are no words to describe exactly how wonderful this bit of technology is. In a city that regularly sees temperatures and humidity hit absolutely bonkers levels of heat in the summertime, even the Devil himself might think twice before making the trip down the road to Starbucks for his ultimate darkness double chock, cinnamon, decaf (with extra evil).
The machines we invent to give our lives more comfort, time and indeed excitement are everywhere. They are so ingrained into the very fabric of existence, that for a good proportion of our lives, we are barely aware they are the unseen buoyancy that holds our bulky lives aloft. I lived in a time before smart phones and the Internet and yet without them, I would have to go back to a darker, more barbarous age where shopping was done in the high street, maps were made of paper and talking to friends meant actually meeting the buggers face to face.
Let’s face it; nobody wants to go back to such feudal lunacy.
In music too, the tools musicians use to make noises have progressed immensely. The average person’s phone has more music making capacity and sonic fidelity than Pink Floyd had at their disposal during the making of Dark Side Of The Moon.
Interesting then that in much of progressive rock today, the twin necked guitar, the Mellotron, Mini-Moog and the Taurus Pedal still rules the progressive roost. Why on earth is that? Well there are two sides to this particular issue and both offer some compelling reasons why the Prog sound has remained largely unchanged for 40 years. Much like the force, there is a dark and light side to the argument.
The dark side says that like past surveys of people’s TV and reading habits, we all attempt to look smarter and more cultured than perhaps we actually are. Similarly, there is much talk from both bands and fans about how they love to see the genre explore new and exiting areas of music when in actual fact, the vast majority are quietly content to see the stylistic wheel re-invented time and time again. To quote the irrepressible Garth from the film Wayne’s World ‘We fear change.’ You only have to look at almost anyone’s CD collection to see the stark evidence of this side of the argument, irrespective of genre.
As much as we wish it were so, we are not all brave pioneers on the frontier of sound, no matter how much we wear cowboy hats, leaping about the kitchen, whirling our earbuds around our heads like a lasso and wearing bathmats around our thighs as riding chaps.
Or is that just me?
On the other hand, the light side shoots back that ‘if it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Much like classical music and the instruments that go to make up its distinctive sound, the sheer breadth of the sonic possibilities on offer by the instruments used in prog, arguably have yet to be fully explored. Art is an infinite volume of space and musical instruments are merely tools to help us explore it, so what does it bloody matter if the technology has moved on? The piano is a centuries old device that even today, continues to move millions around the world with the right artist behind it.
Taking that thinking a step further, the familiar wheeze of Mellotron, coupled with a mind intent in taking that sound in a new direction might actually be the prog we know and love have today but the cynics in this world just don’t have the eyes to see it staring them in the face.
In truth, I think it’s a little of both. I’m not immune to hiding in the safe long grass, listening to a copy of Wind & Wuthering when I know full well I could be out exploring a new Godspeed You Black Emperor or William D. Drake record.
At the end of the day, the machines we use are merely extensions of our desires as people. Perhaps though we should not forget that, however much we like to expand our comfort zones, we still prefer to live inside them. Speaking as a man typing this in his air conditioned house while the heat beats down outside, that fact is not lost on me at all.
Where on earth is my cardigan