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The Sad State of Musical Criticism in 2017

Remember how last week I alerted you to Kalefa Sanneh’s New Yorker article on progressive rock? Now Forbes is getting in on the action. The key difference between the two pieces, though, is that Sanneh’s is worth reading—and it’s not just because the author of the Forbes piece, Rob Salkowitz, admits to being a “prog-hating Clash fan” (apparently you can’t, like me, be a fan of both prog and the Clash).

No, it’s because Salkowitz feels compelled to call into question the humanity of prog fans. No, for reals.

First, he asserts that prog bands (“aging, fat white guys living a rich lifestyle”) are “lightly regarded outside of a hard core of mostly male fans who self-identify as the nerds of the music world.” Then he wonders about “the appeal of this particular brand of indulgent, over-intellectualized music to male listeners of a certain bent.”

A certain bent? What could he possibly mean? Oh…of course. We’re racists!

Prog is “the whitest of white-boy music,” he writes, that “played in the segregation of album rock radio in the 1970s.”

Whereas Top 40 was inherently colorblind, playing James Brown, the Beatles, Motown and Bob Dylan as long as it was popular, the FM stations that championed prog rock, hard rock and heavy metal in the 1970s started systematically excluding black artists. [Note: How many black prog rock, hard rock, and heavy metal bands were there in the 1970s? Exactly.] That led to a massive division between R&B, soul and other “urban” (African-American) styles and what’s become known as “classic rock” for white kids in the suburbs – a casually racist state of affairs that persisted until the crossover of hip hop in the late 80s and lingers on to this day.

Huh. Who knew? And here I thought I liked King Crimson on accounta it’s musically interesting. Didn’t know I hated “African-American” styles. Guess I’d better get rid of all those CDs by Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Freddie Hubbard, Wadada Leo Smith, Isaac Hayes, McCoy Tyner…



06.19.2017, 9:46pm
by Susanna


National Review had a (kinda weird) article on prog rock a few days ago, too. Something about it being a noble but failed experiment. Whatever. I only just found out that John Wetton died in January. I was going to marry him, you know. RIP.


06.20.2017, 7:56am
by Aaron Bragg
Aaron Bragg

Seems to me like a more obvious case could be made for the “failed experiment” of punk. I’m with you: whatever.

I followed Wetton on Twitter for a the last coupla years. He was pretty open about his cancer treatments. Felt like I kinda knew the guy.


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