Rick Moody on finding the pleasures in prog rock


First aired on Day 6 (19/5/12)

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. Maybe it's a mindless television show you watch to unwind. Maybe it's a so-bad-it's-good movie that you've watched so many times you wore the DVD out. Or maybe it's a cheesy musical act that you blast at full volume whenever it comes on the radio. But what makes these pleasures guilty is that we are, for better or worse, ashamed of them. We keep them private, only letting a few close friends in on the private joke. Rick Moody used to do that. Then he wrote On Celestial Music and discovered that you don't need to feel guilty about your guilty pleasures.

Moody, author of acclaimed novels like The Ice Storm and Garden State, loved the progressive rock (a.k.a. prog rock) of the 1970s. As an awkward teen, he listened to bands like Jethro Tull and Yes constantly. But when the age of progressive rock ended, Moody had grown up. He put the albums in his basement and didn't bring them out again for almost 20 years.

Then, in 2000, Moody and his friends created the Brooklyn Record Club. Four times a year, they would get together to share music. Each person was responsible for bringing two songs. However, there was a catch. "We had this general agreement that we would all bring music that we were ashamed about," Moody explained to Day 6 host Brent Bambury. So Moody went into his basement, dug out his prog rock albums and started to relive his musical past, a process he found revealing and intimate. "There was something about it that was very difficult."

Why was he so ashamed of enjoying prog rock? Moody thinks it's a self-indulgent form of musical expression. "Playing really fast just to be able to play really fast does not constitute to me insightful musical thinking," he commented. Also, some elements of the music, like the lyrics, Moody found to be simply bad. But he embraced this challenge and brought the best of the worst in his collection to the Brooklyn Record Club.

However, as the Brooklyn Record Club evolved, Moody learned something. Not everyone is ashamed of their musical tastes. Not everyone felt guilt when indulging in what was supposed to be a guilty pleasure. "The interesting friction of the evening was there are many members of the record club who feel absolutely no guilt about anything they've ever liked." Moody was not one of those people, admitting he's "a person who cleaves close to the shameful parts of the past," but thanks to the openness of his friends, he began to revisit his beloved bands and see the value in the music they made.

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Moody found worth in the accomplishment of prog rock. After all, it was called "progressive" for a reason. The musicians accomplished technically difficult things and weren't afraid to do something different with their arrangements. For Moody, it's a refreshing alternative to today's Top 40. "There are all these tricky metrical changes," he said. "Oftentimes, there are really unusual instrumental timbres, like Skating Away on Thin Ice by Jethro Tull has a mandolin and a string section."

Revisiting the music of his youth showed Moody how far he's come, both as a music fan and as a person. He's no longer that "clod" holed up in his basement. He's an accomplished writer who has the confidence to tell the world that, yes, he likes Jethro Tull and, no, he's not ashamed to admit it. He wrote a book proclaiming as much. The Brooklyn Record Club taught Moody a valuable lesson, and now, through On Celestial Music, he wants to share that lesson with others.

"It's okay to listen to music that recalls the past," he said. "It's okay to love the music you loved in the past, however ungainly or ungraceful it might be."