I’ve been threatening for some time to compare the band YES to a sandwich.
It turns out to be harder than I first thought, not because the comparison isn’t apt but because I seem to have rather a lot to say about YES (not as much about sandwiches, but that might change if I really get going).
This has made it tricky to get started. I’m not quite convinced that my yammerings about YES are anything the world has been waiting desperately to hear. However, I seem desperate to yammer, and I’m thinking I should finally get it out of my system so I can move on to other things. This is going to be too long; didn’t read for most of you, and that’s ok. You could go take a nap instead. I think you’ve earned it.
The rest of you intrepid villains may follow me under the fold.
YES is my favourite band.
I feel like I should qualify that, somehow, as if that might assuage my epic dorkiness, but there’s no way around it. I am peerless in my dorkitude, and while there is plenty of other music I like as much or more (or with fewer complications, at least) there is no other band that engages me quite like YES. Even when I hate them – and I sometimes hate them – I love them for giving me something to rail against. It’s a pugnacious kind of passion, as all my truest passions tend to be.
[A significant pause, wherein I realize how deeply I deserve my pugnacious child. Ye gods. OK, carry on.]
I was raised on classical music with a smattering of 80s pop and early Beatles, so rock music was a language I learned in adulthood. I am aware that I speak it with an accent. It was my husband who introduced me to so-called “progressive rock” (I hate that name; “prog” is barely better). This turned out to be a good starting point for someone of my background: prog has a lot in common with classical music. Kansas was one of the first bands that didn’t sound like undifferentiated noise to me; the violin helped, but also the fact that I recognized one of their songs as a fugue. That gave me a place to stand. Similarly, the flute and folksiness of Jethro Tull invited me in.
That was as far as I intended to venture into prog; two bands was surely plenty. I was a snob. Classical music was an identity (a shield?) that I wasn’t ready to let go of. I remember distinctly, however, that I was lying on the living room floor, reading the want-ads (as if they were literature), when Scott put on a new-to-me prog CD and it instantly made sense to me. It was as startling as if I’d suddenly understood French. I asked him in some alarm, “What IS this?” This turned out to be Talk, the last hurrah of Rabin-era YES.
I live for that moment of discovery, of recognition in art, of being propelled suddenly to my feet without knowing how, crying, “Yes, that’s it exactly, YES!” (You see how aptly this band is named, ha ha)
But why should Talk have spoken to me when prog rock that more obviously invoked classical music (lookin’ at you, ELP and symphonic rock) did not? This is something I really enjoy thinking about. My theory about art is that we recognize something in it — not ourselves, necessarily (unless we are narcissists, and everything looks like us), but our struggles. Our preoccupations. I like to think we see the human behind it, beckoning to us, saying, “People have passed this way before. Here’s how the problem looked to me, and how I approached it.”
It’s not so much that YES resembles classical music (although in some ways they do). It’s that they’re addressing some of the same questions classical music addresses – some of the same questions that interest me – and coming up with fascinating (to me, anyway) answers. I recognized the question, not the solution. The solution is always unique.
So what’s the question? With something as non-verbal as music (or any art: even writing employs words in service of the unutterable) it can be hard to articulate. For me, I think the question is about maintaining the integrity of the individual while serving the purpose of the whole. How can we be both vibrantly ourselves and cohesively part of the whole?
The answer, as evinced in the collected works of YES, seems to be: “With difficulty, but it’s worth the effort.” Sometimes the disparate parts are so finely balanced that the music seems as inevitable as a law of nature, and other times, by golly, they fail. I kind of love it when they fail, because that’s when you can see how and what they’re trying.
All right, I’ve swung off into the eccentric and esoteric here. I’ll give you some time to recover, and then I’ll get down to specifics: who’s playing, what they’re doing, delicious timbres, and the democracy of sound. After that: lunchtime at Chez Nous! I promise.