I regularly quote a lyric from an Emerson, Lake and Palmer song when greeting people at work: "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends," I tell them. I don't think about it much, since it's become something of a habit. Or I didn't until I heard that Keith Emerson was dead. For Keith, the show was now over,and now it occurred to me that I might consider coming up with a different way to show those around me how hooked into pop culture I am. The pop culture of the 1970's, anyway.
Like so many of the cool musical introductions that were made for me back in those days, it was my older brother who sat me down to listen to my first ELP album, their eponymous first. This was no collection of pop hits. It was a seminal piece of the progressive rock canon. Songs that would never be played on AM radio. Songs without lyrics, for heaven's sake. But how could that matter when there was all that stuff going on? These virtuosi were generating ornate soundscapes that were, as I was instructed by my older brother, best appreciated through a pair of headphones.
That's where I lived, for most of my junior high years, between those roaring cans. Eyes closed and imagining the sweeping vistas and detailed backdrops to that music that would eventually be labeled "prog-rock." Short for "progressive." In some ways, I never felt completely comfortable with that label, since much of their work recalled previous compositions, especially on their synthesized revision of Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition." This provided me with the perfect link between my classical music education and the world of electronic sounds that were swirling around me every day.
It was my senior year in high school when our band director selected ELP's "Canario" as our concert piece for marching band show. Based on Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's concerto for guitar and orchestra, we used the opportunity to showcase all our high school marching band prog-rock chops. We all took pride in the way we blew our guts out and beat those drums. For those four minutes, we were one with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We left it all out there on the field. Or at least that's the way we liked to talk about it.
By this time, ELP had disbanded, having fulfilled what they declared was their contractual obligation with the album from whence "Canario" came: Love Beach. The title and the cover photo with the artists posing as furry-chested pop stars didn't jive with the music inside. But it was the 1980's, and the time was no longer right for twenty minute organ solos or entire sides of a record devoted to the tale of a World War Two soldier. Genesis was now being run by Phil Collins. Pink Floyd was crumbling beneath their own psychic weight. The indulgences were now those of the listeners, not the artists.
When I heard that Keith Emerson was gone, I went back and took the time to listen to that music once again. It was fascinating and unique. It was complex and it was fun. It made me want to play air guitar, keyboards and drums all at once. This was the music that came from the mind of Keith Emerson. Thank you Keith, for stomping on the musical Terra. Aloha from Love Beach.