Book Review: The Show That Never Ends: The Rise & Fall of Prog Rock

David Weigel

The Show That Never Ends: The Rise & Fall of Prog Rock

"I thought of it as one bar in 7/8 time and one bar in 8/8 time or 4/4; I wanted to make it different from 16/8 so I thought I'd drop a 16th beat." Given the math behind UK prodigy Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, forever distinguished by the appropriation of its opening piano figure for The Exorcist, who says hit-making isn't an exact science? As such, national political correspondent covering Congress at The Washington Post, David Weigel surely has a chart-topper on his hands with The Show That Never Ends: The Rise & Fall of Prog Rock. A genre almost as mocked, reviled, and shunned as neo-Nazi punk, there's an argument to be made here that prog rock and jazz are transcontinental, cross-generational, mirror image genres. Weigel minces zero syllables proclaiming Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886) the first rock star, then diagrams the deployment of classical music in 1960s genus pioneers including Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Bach) and Yes (Stravinsky). Another British Invasion, this one populated by pretension from Soft Machine, King Crimson, Genesis, etc., seeds acolytes across Europe – Vangelis' Aphrodite's Child (Greece), Focus (Holland), Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (Italy), Magma (France) – before traversing the Atlantic into Canada (Rush) and the U.S. (Kansas). Classically complex compositions built around core improv? Sounds like Duke Ellington. Robert Fripp and Brian Eno belong in a similar category despite supergroup Asia ("inflating conventional pop songs with pseudosymphonic grandeur," wrote Jon Pareles) crowning their categorical lumping. Contemporary successors Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, and Coheed & Cambria receive quick vetting toward the end, Marillion standing out for careful consideration, but The Show That Never Ends soars on Weigel's hardbitten reportorial approach to both narrative and musical description – lean, direct, vivid: "Critics had already bludgeoned progressive rock with a rusted shovel." (David Weigel appears at BookPeople today, Thu., June 15, 7pm.)


The Show That Never Ends: The Rise & Fall of Prog Rock

by David Weigel
W.W. Norton & Company, 368 pp., $26.95

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

prog rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Marillion, Rush

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