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Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame matters for prog

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Lets face it: everyone, on a fundamental level, knows that music awards shows are a joke. Most of the time it’s just a popularity contest instead of some objective measure of quality or influence. The judges are often out of touch; case in point, the year that Tenacious D, who I love dearly but know are a comedy duo,  won over Mastodon for their cover of “The Last in Line” for Best Metal Performance. Complete with a panflute solo in the middle. And ultimately, these things can be viewed as- forgive the expression- big, egocentric, masturbatory events for people in the music industry to pat themselves on the back and assert their relevance in an ever shifting industry.

I don’t really feel like I’m saying something new or profound or controversial here. I feel like even those who are participating understand this on a fundamental level. Charles Ives, who was largely unappreciated throughout his life, once said “awards are merely the badges of mediocrity.” Alex Lifeson, after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Rush, hilariously lambasted the award with a speech that solely consisted of him saying “Bla bla bla” for several minutes.  Art is so hard to objectively, qualitatively judge. We know popularity is a poor measure for success- remember when Milli Vanilli won Best New Artist? The influence of artists is hardly ever known during their success. Rolling Stone famously lambasted Led Zeppelin early on. Things like complexity, emotional depth, and good songwriting just can’t really be consistently measured.

Now that I’ve trashed awards ceremonies, let me tell you why they matter. Rush, for many years, were the ultimate “geek” band,  permanently branded as uncool. Genesis, in both iterations, were hated by the press, as they were either viewed as unpalatable and weird,  or too bland. Yes, despite chart success in the 70s and 80s, were and still are viewed with derision from rock snobs and critics who delighted in their missteps and failures. Even last year, following the release of journalist Dave Weigel’s book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, we saw a wave of awful articles that reaffirmed the snobbery that we’d seen for generations, ignorantly eulogizing a genre that continued to find success, though in slightly smaller measure, in every decade to follow.

Regardless of this, in the last few years, Yes, Genesis, and Rush have all been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Famous artists from other genres, such as Phish and The Foo Fighters (watch the video above- it’s brilliant), delightfully introduced these bands, and claimed them as fundamental in their musical development. Despite the horrible attacks from fellow artists and press, jokes at their expense, and general disdain from the masses, they’ve carried on, and for the most part, their fans have stuck with them. And it isn’t an understatement to say that those three bands alone have influenced thousands upon thousands of musicians. There are so many other great prog bands that have done the same.

Now, The Moody Blues have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Moody Blues has been around for 50 years, and for some reason, rock inteligensia has never been able to take them seriously, despite a prolific, inventive, and impressive career and scores of hit songs. So, as progressive rock fans who love and appreciate The Moody Blues, we have two options: we can continue with the “Awards are a waste” mentality, which is my default setting and is very easy to do, or we can see what these awards mean in a greater context.

We, as progressive music fans, have always secretly delighted in our outsider status. For us, the music was always too complex or interesting or challenging for the mainstream, and we took those hits from the press or other artists as badges of honor. The outsider status created a kind of solidarity among fans, who knew, despite what magazines like Rolling Stone or blogs like Pitchfork are saying, that the music was something special. Well, now we have evidence that there is something of a sea change for these artists. The appreciation, as we all know, is late. But, imagine being in their shoes and taking so many pies to the face over the years from the critical press. Isn’t it about time they get some sort of recognition? We all know they deserve it.

I’ve hinted before on this site that I feel like progressive rock, with each passing year, is becoming less of a dirty word. Many popular bands have become openly more progressive over the last few years, such as Mastodon. Folks like Steven Wilson are topping charts. Dream Theater has been nominated for 2 Grammy awards. And now, Yes, Genesis, Rush, and The Moody Blues are all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While progressive rock is still mostly a niche genre, it is no longer a major marketing misstep to label a band as prog. Sure, progressive rock might not ever be as famous as modern pop, but but I for one, am happy for this societal reassessment, and will try and minimize my proglodyte-ish tendencies to cheer for the recognition of the bands I grew up loving.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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