Do I Have to Get it to Like it: Thoughts on Progressive Rock

Certain genres continue to be my favorites years after years, one of which is progressive rock. Sure, there are plenty of others too and my tastes are forever evolving, but for some reason I'm very drawn to progressive, experimental and more "adventurous" (a horrible term to use) forms of rock and roll... probably because of my "pretentious-art-major" background. That's not a knock against any other genres at all, it's just part of my personal tastes. Recently I've been listening to a lot of progressive bands... in particular the Mars Volta, but they're not really the focus of this piece... and I found myself starting to think about this genre, why I'm so drawn to it and why some people are not as keen on the avant garde edge.

As for the definition of what is progressive, what is not, that is highly debatable, and something I've written about before. For the purpose of this piece, I'm going to be leaning towards the more experimental, artistic and what some might call "odd" side of the genre.

One of the things I think drives many people away from progressive rock, as well as more progressive forms of other art as well, especially some modern art, is that they "don't get it". "Getting it" is one of those vague terms that is thrown around related to artistic media and can be debated, but as someone who's used this term before, I think that it relates to not being able to understand what the artist was trying to say with their work, whether it be music or any other format. I had those very thoughts when I first heard a number of bands, including the afore mentioned Mars Volta. I remember checking out this band back when they first arose from the ashes of another band, and just couldn't get into them, thinking... I just don't get it. Well, times have changes and with their latest release I decided to check them out again. Let's just say my opinions have changed as I've been listening to a number of their albums on rotated for the past week or so. Do I still not get it? Or have I had some sort of artistic epiphany where suddenly everything makes perfect sense?

Actually, I think the difference is in how I'm looking at it and that might be the key to maybe encouraging a few others to check out some of these more experimental bands.

Instead of looking at what the artist was trying to say, I'm thinking about what it says to me instead. Music is a very subjective media, as is all art, and so I wonder how important it actually is to understand what the artist was saying. Perhaps instead it only matters what we make of the music, as the effect that it has on us is what will make us come back as fans... right? This is pretty standard, "music is what you make of it" territory, something I say all the time.

In terms of progressive rock though, I think one of the things I like about it so much is that although I have come to conclusions about what I think the artists were saying and what effect the music has on me, I didn't come to it directly. Instead, it took a few listens to really solidify it within my mind... I had to think about it. Now, I don't always want to think about music, (but I do anyways because I'm obsessed), but I like the fact that music makes me think, and progressive or experimental rock really makes me think. What's really interesting is that I find that the bands that make me think the most, the ones that are really into the avant garde end of the musical spectrum; they're the ones that on every listen I hear new things and end up thinking new things on every listen. That's another aspect that makes music (and other art) so exciting; it can provoke new thoughts and new ideas on every listen, even if the songs are the same.

I'm not going to knock anyone who doesn't want to think about their music. I know I have times where I just want to kick back, rock out and listen to some straight forward rock and roll and not get all deep and philosophical. If you're passionate about your music though, you're probably already thinking about it though, so what's a little more? I guess what it boils down to is don't get all caught up in ideas of having to "get it". It's not about getting it... it's about what it means to you, so don't shy away from a little noise rock, or psychedelia, or experimental avant garde music the likes of you might never otherwise listen to. You might not get it, but it might just like it.

Sounds like it's time for me to put my headphones back on, turn the lights down, close my eyes and just let some good progressive rock flow over me. Who knows what I'll think about it this time.


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