In a previous analysis of Google Trends, I noted that it would seem that prog is a dying genre. While I made a couple loose assumptions to come to that conclusion (namely, that search engine results say something about the ultimate popularity of prog), I have been reflecting on what it might mean that prog is diminishing in influence or popularity.
Of the conclusions I made in a Reddit discussion of the post, I think the theory that I favor the most, and the one that holds the most hope for prog fans, is that Le Morte de Prog is a branding problem.
In my own field, clinical psychology, we could see an analogue in the use of hypnosis. Hypnosis was once considered a highly effective, albeit mysterious, form of treatment. In fact, some scientific research supports the claims of hypnosis in the treatment of various physical and mental health concerns.
The problem is that hypnosis suffered from an image problem. The idea of having a bespectacled Austrian man waving a pocket watch in front of you and delving into your unconscious mind – or even worse, associations with stage hypnotists who get paid to get people to cluck like chickens or act like they’re giving birth – were too bothersome and scary for most clients. Combined with some theoretical fuzziness and controversies with “repressed memories” meant, for the most part, the death of hypnosis as a mainstream psychological treatment.
Except hypnosis never went away. Now, therapists of all kinds employ mindfulness practices and other forms of meditation, “guided imagery,” progressive muscle relaxation, and various other techniques that tend to suspiciously resemble hypnosis but are different enough – and, importantly, don’t carry the same marketing connotations – to sell more comfortably to clients. I’m currently involved in clinical research on some similar techniques (namely, guided scripts that encourage people to savor happy events in the past or anticipated events in order to reduce stress).
So if we extend this analogy to prog, I think it’s very possible that the very exclusive and incestuous genre of “Progressive Rock,” characterized mostly by its excesses, may be losing branding power. This seems especially true in an age where the album format is losing steam and songs are streamed, downloaded, and listened to individually.
Does this mean that prog is gone? Absolutely not. It would just mean that prog has diffused itself into other forms and genres that tend to shun the p-word altogether. Reviewers might rightly point out that a band might be “prog-tinged,” “proggy,” or “psychedelic,” but tend to shy away from the words “Prog Rock.”
So prog fans, rejoice! Prog is still out there. You may just have to look harder for it. Or you can find a decent prog website and let them do some of the work for you.