This isn’t what you think.
I just thought I’d get that out of the way. It’s not, really. This is a story from my life about when I bought an album, what I thought of it at the time, what was happening with me, and what role the album plays in my life today.
You know, the usual.
I’m quite sure that it was early Fall in Vermont; leaf turning season. It drew the leaf peepers and they brought their money. We didn’t turn in those circles, or any circles for that matter. We spent time at home or at school or with the baby or at various jobs. She worked at the Vermont State Department of Corrections for a time. I worked at the nearby IBM plant for a spell. I attempted another go at college. I’d like to think we failed each other.
The radio station that had to be on in the car at the time was The Point FM, de rigueur for any self-respecting AAA aficionado. Where else was one to catch up with the latest singles from Big Head Todd & The Monsters, R.E.M. or Dave Matthews Band, note the dates for a coming Phish show, or score a tip on hemp floor mats or locally roasted coffee (yes, that Green Mountain Coffee.)
I honestly don’t recall the track from this album I heard on the radio that caused me to suddenly know I had to own it, but it could have been any of them. Normally, I have at the very least, a sense of which track, but not this one. All I know is I got in the car, drove down to the Sam Goody (I think, might have been a Wherehouse) off the 189 at Shelburne, and bought the cassette. I slapped it into the tape deck and listened to it all the way home.
Thank you, Auto Reverse.
Little did I know at the time, but Francis Dunnery was to become a very important figure in my one-person chapter of Tyler’s Music Appreciation Society. In 1998, however, I didn’t place as much importance on music as I would later in life, specifically in regard to my progressive self-education. Hell, at the time I hadn’t yet come to grips with The Blues and still had a stunted understanding of Jazz.
I knew at the time, however, that Dunnery spoke to me with his lyrical content, compositional style, sound, and his distinctive vocal quality. I’ve come to understand this as Storyteller Syndrome; my principle thesis on progressive rock. In a nutshell, that one thing that sets progressive apart from its core genre is story telling. Most people think that “Prog Rock” is epic long tracks with soaring guitars, complex beats, and tales of space ships and wizards. I propose that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rocks songs are about love and loss.
Prog rock songs are about stories.Tyler Regas, 2020
Even the most epic prog rock band of all time forever and ever, known to mortals as Rush, moved away from 15 minute long tracks and tales about hobbits and dragons to more socially conscious fare packaged into tighter, radio-friendly formats. In 1973, Yes released Tales from Topographic Oceans, four songs stretched over two albums, and completely radio-hostile. Just a decade later, and Yes would have a huge radio hit with Owner of a Lonely Heart. I don’t think anyone would argue that Yes should be disavowed. That would be absurd.
Now, I won’t try to suggest that any song that tells a story is progressive. No. It’s more than that. It has to be something new but retain principle elements of rock music, to take that music in a new direction, and evoke a reaction in the listener, one that provokes new avenues of thought or introspection, through storytelling or other narrative structures. This can even be done instrumentally. Just take a listen to any of Simon Phillips’ Protocol albums, Plini, or Arch Echo.
In a way, we get to witness Dunnery’s trajectory through the late stages of the Golden Age of Progressive through his stint as frontman for influential UK band It Bites and into his solo albums. Not well known outside of the UK, It Bites is what I personally recognize as the last of the original progressive rocks bands of the golden era of prog. Most notable of his solo efforts is 2016’s Vampires release on Band Camp where he makes what he had originally intended for certain It Bites tracks quite clear, if you know what I mean. They have since come to terms.
The late 90’s, however, were different for me. Not having the benefit of hindsight, we carried on with whatever priorities we had at the time, and that was taking care of Leah and making sure we could pay the bills. The writing work had started to take off and the local clients we consulted for were stable. We only had the issues facing us at the time and had no idea that, in just a few years the Twin Towers would fall and seven years after that America would experience the biggest financial collapse since The Great Depression.
It seems that time really doesn’t have an impact. We’re still facing disaster, only it’s different and worse and our fault since we let that buffoon Trump get elected in the first place, but that’s beside the point. These days there’s plenty to be concerned about and for. We don’t know what’s going to be coming around the next corner, and it seems like we come to a new one several times a day. Even as we turn into 2021, we’re still exhausted by the chaos of it all, everything a question mark.
Back then, however, I just enjoyed listening to the music. Not that I knew at the time, but I had that luxury. We all did. I think we all can again, at least for a few moments.
Just start up the album. It’s at the top of the page in case you forgot. Sit back in a comfortable chair and just listen.
Think about the chord progression.
Think about the beat.
Think about the lyrics, the story being told. Don’t worry about understanding it all just yet. Instead, let yourself sink into the music and just enjoy it, and nothing else, for a track or two. Do this once a day for two weeks.
* I am not a doctor.