A Different Kind of Progressive
Prog rock preserves Western traditions.

Peter Gabriel fronts Genesis in the band’s early years.


Aside from living on the same continent and all being male, what do these men have in common? Though Catholics and Jews predominate, there are also Protestants, atheists, and agnostics on this list. More important, there’s no radical left-winger on the list. Kirkians are at one end of the group, libertarians at the other, with a few moderates in between. Indeed, there’s probably not a single person on the above list who would identify himself first and foremost with a political tag.

Frankly, what decent person would?

Does this mean that prog rock itself is somehow conservative or libertarian? No, but the creators of prog and their listeners do tend to reject the inanity and commercialism of mere pop and rock as well as the wishes of mass man, the mediocre, and the merely democratic. The music (in form and spirit) itself, often inspired by dystopian literature, rejects Leviathan, Mars, and Demos.

It’s hard to imagine that my generation has not been significantly influenced by the libertarian lyrics of Neil Peart of Rush. I write this with absolute certainty regarding myself , and with only a little trepidation do I speak for many when making this huge claim. “From a better, vanished time . . . ” Peart understood.

As I watched Rush play “Tom Sawyer” on The Colbert Report a few years ago, none of the song’s power or intensity seemed diminished to me. In ridiculous public-school detention in 1981, as a lonely and confused 13-year-old, I could relate to Peart’s “his mind is not for rent to any god or government.” While I’ve certainly and happily rented my mind (for what it’s worth) to JPII and B16, I’ve never given a moment — even in charity — to the government. A year later, when Peart wrote, “Some will sell their dreams for small desires,” I assured myself I would fight for integrity and human dignity. Do I give the NRO reader the mind of a 14-year-old raised in a dysfunctional family in otherwise idyllic Kansas? Yes, I do.

But, good Lord. What would I give to know that all 44-year-olds had once taken such words to heart while in junior high?

Prog is not only not dead, it is thriving in a way it hasn’t since the early 1970s. The Internet has democratized — in the best sense — the way we encounter music. A group destined by the gods of profit to corporate irrelevance but intense beauty can now reach a willing and gracious audience.

If you’ve made it this far, I give you these recommendations. In the current revival of progressive rock, you won’t go wrong with anything produced and written by guitarist Matt Stevens (his band, The Fierce and the Dead, is brilliant as well), the Tin Spirits (led by the Anglo-Saxon demigod of strings and guitar, Dave Gregory), Frost* (serious but Monty Pythonesque in all that it does; and, yes, the asterisk comes with the name), Marillion (fragile music and lyrics, the kind that stir the soul to its very depths), and Gazpacho (the Norwegian band with the name of a Spanish soup; mythic to its core in every way).

Though Neil Peart joined Rush in 1974, the band continues at full force as the members approach age 60. Without question, some of the band’s best work has been produced over the last decade — after Peart tragically lost his wife and daughter — and the upcoming album, Clockwork Angels, though very hard rock, looks as if it will be another excellent endeavor.