homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Heather Havrilesky teaches us many lessons via the music of Yes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 24, 2018

I think we can all agree that Heather Havrilesky is brilliant as Ask Polly, but I’d like to point your attention to her analysis of a prog rock masterpiece.

Today, as an exercise, we’re going to watch this ancient reel of Yes in concert from 1975. Because this is something as far outside of you surrounded by you as it could possibly be. I don’t expect you to enjoy this. Listening will feel like work. That’s the point!

(Whatever you do, do NOT skip to 4:40. Heed the wisdom of Polly.)

She digs in:

Where do we even begin, right? Who starts a song with a four-minute long guitar solo, first of all? And look at that stage design. Is this a local dinner-theater production of Shrek: The Musical! or a major rock tour attended by a massive crowd? Take in the shiny satin prom-dress shirt on guitarist Steve Howe. Take in the notable absence of quality hair-product use. (We didn’t have quality hair products back then. You just poured something like Palmolive on your head and hoped for the best.) Take in the commitment to Peter Pan blouses and flared sleeves. Lead singer Jon Anderson was sort of a timeless hottie, though. He looks like he could be hanging out in a coffee joint in Prospect Heights, smoking weed and reading A Little Life.

I think Anderson always felt like the novice in this group. I mean, what a voice! But look at these other guys with all of their fucking instruments and alternate tunings. How much standing around like an asshole do you think Anderson had to do with these guys around? He had time to visit local gift shops and browse for new super-tight chokers and Robin Hood blouses in between his brief bouts of singing.

She continues:

Now, lyrically, we’ve got journeys and voids and seasons passing you by. There’s a real hobbit energy to Yes. If Zeppelin is like Sauron, Yes is the original hobbit, Bilbo Baggins: humble and connected to the rhythms of the seasons, attached to the comforts of daily life. Hobbits farm the land and sweat and toil, and then they drink a giant pint of beer after a long day’s work. It’s not that they can’t be a little neurotic or a little greedy. They are highly suggestible creatures. But as long as they are, you know, sticking their gross, hairy feet in the mud of the Shire …

And further:

Okay, now let’s skip to 11:44. “Two million people barely satisfied.” This feels like a tribute to the slog. There is suffering in the day-to-day. What do you do? You get up, you get down. Sure, most Yes lyrics are refrigerator-magnet mumbo jumbo of the highest order. But there are loose themes here: We’re connected to nature, to the seasons, and to each other. You can’t resist the bad weather; you can’t turn your back on how connected you are to everything and everyone else, because it’ll make you crazy. We all feel the shame of being regular, flawed humans. We are all BARELY satisfied, dig?

It gets SO much better, so I’ll leave you here to go on the journey of experiencing this classic Ask Polly column in its entirety at your own pace. YMMV, but I find it works just as well read by yourself, late at night in a dark kitchen as it does read aloud to a full car on a family holiday road trip. Oh, and Havrilesky has a new book out, in case it spoke to you: What If This Were Enough? Good read with or without a prog rock soundtrack.