Ten years ago I was sitting in an MBA tutor group, discussing the pharmaceutical industry when I casually announced my belief that the NHS should prescribe any drug which had a proven beneficial effect whatever the cost and that the production of medicines needed to be brought under state control; 30 years before that during a General Studies class, I made an observation on equality which provoked the teacher to ask if I was a Marxist. My world view is based on the advantages of co-operation rather than the destructive forces of competition and I favour hope over selfishness and greed. These are sympathetic aspects that I coincidentally detect in symphonic progressive rock but I don’t necessarily think they make me a follower of Marxist doctrine.
In the last six months my philosophy has been battered by some devastating political developments, most notably the decision by a small majority of the British voting public to leave the European Union and on the other side of the Atlantic, the election of Donald Trump as US President (the EU Referendum was discussed in the post https://www.progblog.co.uk/post/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go). As I write, counting of votes in the re-run Austrian election has just begun and there are a couple of hours to go before polls close in Italy, where voters have to decide between the political establishment and rising populist forces in a referendum called by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi; the political landscape of Europe may yet take another turn for the worse.
I don’t intend to criticise anyone for voting the opposite way to me but I’m deeply unhappy about our descent into a post-truth world, where both obvious lies and unsubstantiated opinion are presented as ‘facts’ which gain the gloss of validity when they are transmitted over and over again by traditional media, either intentionally or accidentally when news attempts to balance opinion, and by the more insidious new media which is controlled by only a handful of giant corporations. Sometimes it seems that the louder you shout, whatever rubbish you’re spouting but especially if you’re tapping into a source of insecurity the more adherents you get, especially if you’re hiding behind online anonymity. There appears to be an increasing disconnect between elected parliamentary members and the public they ostensibly represent, where in the UK becoming an MP relies more on impressing the party establishment than it does with understanding the concerns of constituents within the community. This is disturbing because communities which existed at the peak of UK manufacturing in the 70s were decimated by the policies of the Thatcher-run Conservative government in the early 80s and whatever new industry has appeared, such as the assembly of Japanese cars in the north-east, it has not compensated for the loss of the original manufacturing base. Neglecting the welfare and potential of people from these areas will only cause future problems as the post-industrial economic strategies of successive governments fail; the reduction in output of physical product was originally partially met by the expanding service sector, based away from high-cost areas in low-rent call centres, but the 'efficiencies' of this model weren’t enough for many high street names who outsourced the work to the Indian sub-continent as a cost-cutting exercise, creating a customer services debacle so it’s no surprise that many of these companies have now brought back their call centres to the UK following a public outcry. Our ability to provide apprenticeships for practical skills has been allowed to wither, demonstrated by the defects present in our recently built submarines, and it seems the government no longer cares about taking responsibility for its citizens as every possible service is outsourced and further sub-contracted.
The world has moved on following the 2008 global financial crash but the same vested interests continue to pull the strings. Our current government boasts of record employment figures while failing to accept the consequences of the ‘gig economy’: unskilled work; low pay; underemployment; lack of job security; a failure to invest for retirement. These effects have been exacerbated by a commitment to austerity but resistance has been poor because of the reduced power of the unions and the voting public has swallowed the misdirection of the government and the press. The lexicon has changed where ‘welfare’, the state safety net for those unable to work, has become ‘benefits’ and instead of seeking out the millions owed by corporate tax avoidance, we want to punish the far smaller number of ‘benefit cheats’. Our appetite for buzz phrases like ‘workers and shirkers’ or ‘skivers and strivers’ plays into the hands of anyone who wants to divide the country. Politicians and the media know that in times of crisis it’s handy to have someone to blame, whether it’s immigrants or the sick or disabled, just as long as it’s not them or any of their coterie running banks and big business; we’ve become lazy, falling for a catchphrase and victimising groups who most deserve our support.
There are a number of terms in music with positive connotations. Harmony describes different voices getting along together; the voices in counterpoint are harmonically interdependent but independent in rhythm and contour; even dissonance can be resolved. As a musical form, progressive rock explores and utilises these techniques in an effort to bridge the so-called high culture of classical music with the popular culture of rock, rejoicing in and incorporating other diverse influences. Progressive rock emerged on the back of hope for a better future and was realised through innovative technical developments, indicating a close relationship between ideals and novel thinking. Many of the ideas expounded in the science fiction books I read as a youth are now reality but the concomitant idealism has been ground into the dust. So when did this positive vision dissipate and why?
Playing in harmony: Yes, Hammersmith Odeon, 17th November 2011
Almost all commentators agree that Yes were an affirmative musical force and when they began really hitting the big time in America during the Close to the Edge tour, Jon Anderson would introduce And You And I as a ‘protest song’ and encourage the audience to think about the importance of the message. Did any of that generation go on and vote Trump or were they the ones who have taught their children and grandchildren to value the environment and peaceful coexistence? Analysis of the demographic of the electorate in the UK plebiscite and the US Presidential election may be complex but I think whichever way Britons and Americans cast their ballot, it was influenced by voices which spoke to self-interest rather than an appeal for what was best for everyone.
You can call me naive or call me a Marxist but I still believe that music can influence people and prog in particular is an affirmative force. To combat this increasingly polarised world, I call for all those who attended Yes gigs in the 1970s to spread the message of protest.
I’ve just read that the far-right Norbert Hofer has conceded defeat in the Austrian Presidential election. There’s still hope for humanity!