Senior Year, 1975: My Physics Tutor the Prog Nerd
With this installment of Rhapsody's Senior Year series, I attempt to construct an alternative to Dazed & Confused's depiction of mid-'70s America. Imagine this: while all of Lee High's jocks, stoners and make-the-scene wannabes partied in the woods to the sounds of Foghat and Aerosmith, the school's introverted smarty-pants types many of whom tutored all them lunkheads in shoulder pads during the school year retreated to their parents' basements. There, they spent the night tinkering with their Radio Shack 150-in-One Electronic Project Kits while exploring rock's outer limits: art rock, ambient music, the more cerebral end of glam, fusion and Krautrock.
Nowadays, it feels absurd to tag all these myriad movements prog, but that's only because the term is a caricature of its former self. Back then prog wasn't a genre per se, the one we think of now that specifically refers to Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull and dozens of other pretentious British bands. Instead, it was a collective and open-minded belief among certain musicians that serious art could result from the merging of post-psychedelic rock music, philosophical thought, science fiction, state-of-the-art electronics and both contemporary and older forms of classical music. As an application, this progressive mindset wormed its way into myriad styles: folk-rock, avant-garde jazz, early heavy metal, glam and even power pop (key elements later popped up in disco and post-punk).
A massive prog fan (and once a teenage nerd himself), Vincent Gallo touched on this definition in his review of King Crimson's The ConstruKction of Light album: "When I started listening to King Crimson and some of the better progressive rock bands then, it really felt like the ideas, sensibilities, aesthetics and certainly the music were complex and very new and had a real relationship with the most interesting younger people of the time ... The friends who I went to see King Crimson, Yes and Genesis concerts with were the same friends who were hip enough to go with me to see The Ramones' first gig in Buffalo, and the same friends who later dug 'Spoony G.'"
What cannot be overlooked when talking about prog is something called The Imports Section. The younger heads reading this probably don't know this, but back in the day, every decent record store had several bins devoted to LPs imported from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and beyond. It was a truly eclectic world, one that produced incredible music for anybody open-minded enough to explore it. This is where the true prog fan shopped, of course. Not only did he buy the latest sounds from England's more obscure groups including such Canterbury heavies as Gong, Caravan and Henry Cow but also exotic-looking albums from a slew of unknown German outfits: Can, Faust, Kraftwerk and, of course, the mighty Tangerine Dream.
And one more thing about the 1970s prog nerd: considering many of them went into computer programming, they basically run the world these days. Wild, right?