Unless you’ve been under a rock (see what I did there?), you’ve probably seen the footage from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2017 Induction. Yes, like a big divorced polyamorous family, joined together onstage and pretended to like each other for a few hours while they played through two of their biggest hits, “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. For fans of Yes, it was a delight- seeing Yes, one of the most influential progressive rock bands of all time, receive such high praise from Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and play to great applause, was a treat. Though I never much cared for the whole idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that inducts Run-D.M.C. (and I love them) before they induct Deep Purple, it was really awesome as a Yes fan to see them be honored for their contributions to Rock and Roll.
2 of the most important albums in my development as a musician are Fragile and 90125 by Yes. I remember our mom bought them both for us at the same time. I think it was a really great way to be introduced to the band, because I was able to fall in love with the sounds of two very different iterations.
With Fragile, I listened over and over again, and over time, I fell in love with each instrument: Steve Howe’s diverse sonic pallet on the guitars, Chris Squire’s melodic and thunderous bass playing, Bill Bruford’s quirky drumming , Rick Wakeman’s keyboard wizardry, and lastly, Jon Anderson’s pure, innocent, boyish vocal tone. I had never heard any musical blend like Yes, and they started me on a path that likely led me to where I am at today musically- co-founder of a progressive rock themed blog and podcast.
With 90125, I heard progressive rock blended with pop in a way that made sense to me. I wasn’t crazy about “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, but I loved the quirkiness of “Hold On”, the weird intro to “Changes” (which might be the best song on the album), and the harmonies in “Leave It”. I remember drumming along to the song “Cinema”, and jamming out to one of Yes’s closest flirtation with metal (“City of Love”- heavy for Yes, but still layered with enough cheese to keep us comfortable).
I think the benefit of hearing the albums this way was that I was able to understand that Yes, for me, is not just a group of dudes who wrote music together. It was a vessel of artistic expression for several of the greatest minds in progressive music. And in every iteration, they produced brilliant works of art that were beloved by their fans. Throughout their various lineup changes, Yes maintained this powerful, spiritual sound, that was capable of tenderness and beauty and intensity all at once. Yes wrote music that set them apart from their peers. Roger Dean’s surreal, beautiful, otherworldly art became the perfect backdrop for music that truly transported the listener to another world. For me and for many musicians I know, Yes was just as important and foundational and brilliant as the great canonical classical music of the past.
Perhaps I’m placing an unfair responsibility on them by saying that their music transcends any disagreements or differences that they have. I know for a fact that, as a listener and fan, I am given the privilege of enjoying the music, rather than having to go through the pain of writing it, or having to deal with personality issues and pettiness. I acknowledge that there is a history in the band that has not always been consistent with their ever present projections of peace and love, and no one person is completely at fault.
BUT. As a fan of almost every Yes iteration, it was really disheartening to see the bitterness unfold as the credits started rolling. I know, they’re all human, and they’re all big personalities, and there is drama that I’ll never know about or understand. But it was sad to me that the night had to be a reminder of all of the backstory and drama and bitterness instead of a celebration of the music. Yes’s greatness wasn’t due to any one member, though you could argue that some members had much more influence than others. The story of Yes is the story of many distinct and brilliant voices coming together and creating something that was much more powerful and sublime than anything they could have made on their own- as evidenced by their solo work, that was occasionally brilliant but never was able to reach the heights that the band could when they worked together.
It’s probably idealistic and a little naive to think that all Yes fans will share my sentiment. Almost every couple days there is a new quote or tweet or private message from someone involved, and it’s a bit like a 5 car pileup, but every day another car crashes into it- you just can’t help but look as you drive by. So, I’m not gonna say that only good Yes fans will ignore this and not take sides, because that’s just human nature. But I recall a post right after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert from Jon Davison (I think it’s been taken down- probably following some legal advice or maybe a band discussion), where he talks about a conversation he had with Jon Anderson, and it just seemed to capture the spirit that we all hoped could be felt. Seeing them fight is like watching family members fight over their will, or a big group of divorced parents arguing over their kids, and it just ends up being a bummer for everyone involved. Not saying they don’t have the right to do this, but I’m just expressing my point of view as a fan: it’s a bummer, and I think it unfortunately damages the Yes ethos and brand.
So, I’ll just sit in my chair tonight and put on “The Revealing Science of God”, and remember the legacy of a truly legendary band that truly broke countless boundaries and helped write the prog-rock playbook.