03 October 2008

Thoughts on Richard Wright and Yes

A few brief thoughts…

I’ve gotten e-mails and comments elsewhere asking why I haven’t written about two particular topics that have been fairly heavily discussed in progressive music circles recently.

The first of these topics is the recent death of Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. My honest answer here is this; while his passing is of course sudden, and tragic, and pretty much puts the final nail in the Pink Floyd coffin (and oh how difficult it is to use that analogy here and now), I simply have no real emotional response. I am sad that he is gone, and that his musical voice has been silenced. His recent work with David Gilmour touring On An Island showed him to be happy, motivated and re-energised in playing and singing. “Wearing the Inside Out” on The Division Bell showed his songwriting voice to be back…not as whimsical as he was as a young man, perhaps the flip side of the young man playing in the summer that we saw in “Remember a Day.”

So yes, I am sad he is gone. But I have no other pithy, philosophical statements to make. I never saw PF live (had my chances in 1988/1989 and 1994, and passed due to show size and cost), and while I have the videos and albums, that’s as far as my connection goes. I was probably more upset over the passing of Roger Keith Barrett…not to belittle Richard Wright’s contributions to PF or his importance, but…it’s my position, and I am sticking to it.

The second subject is the “In The Present” tour with Steve Howe, Chris Squire, and Alan White of Yes, with Oliver Wakeman (son of Rick) and Benoit David replacing Jon Anderson. Jon has been very clear in expressing his opinion on the situation:

“And I feel very disrespected, having spent most of this year creating songs and constant ideas for the band, spending time with Roger Dean creating a stage design, also working with VH1 and Sirius and XM Radio to help promote the welfare of YES.”

There’s been thousands…perhaps tens of thousands…of words spent debating this subject on various mailing lists, forums, et cetera. And I am not sure what I can say or add to the discussion that in any way makes a difference…save for the fact that several people have, again, asked me why I haven’t written about it or expressed my viewpoint.

So here it is.

Yes has existed without Jon Anderson before (Drama). Yes has gone through more line-up changes than some major league baseball teams over their history…casting aside musicians without a thought when someone better or more appropriate (or more available) came along. Yes was incredibly active from 1996 through 2004, releasing 3 standalone studio albums (Open Your Eyes, The Ladder, Magnification), two mixed live/studio albums (Keys to Ascension I and II), 1 standalone live album (Live at the House of Blues), and several live DVDs. They toured heavily, every year almost, from 1997 through 2004, with the 2002-2004 tours not being in support of any new material. And none of the guys is getting any younger: Alan is the youngest of the White/Squire/Anderson/Howe quartet at 59…Jon is oldest at 63.

I understand the other three’s motivations for wanting to play out…this is the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation, and that is cause for celebration. For many people, Jon Anderson IS Yes…his voice is the one thing most people immediately recognise as being Yes. Touring without that voice, and his long, winding, easy to get lost in talks between songs, his dedications to Janeeee his wife, his pixie-ish persona, is like touring without a big part of what many people identify as Yes.

Personally, I almost prefer that Howe/Squire/White toured under a different name, similar to how Iommi/Butler/Appice/Dio tour as Heaven and Hell, not Black Sabbath (despite the fact that they are really Black Sabbath…or at least a line-up of Sabbath that had historical precedence). While some tour dates are being listed as Howe/Squire/White of Yes: In the Present, many dates are being advertised as simply Yes. Touring as Drama, or The Affirmatives, or anything else, might not have had the economic strength of touring as Yes, but would perhaps be more clear to casual fans that expect Jon Anderson, “Roundabout,” “I’ve Seen All Good People,” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” that this is not necessarily Yes…even though it’s 3/5 of Yes, and playing Yes music. It would be fairer to Benoit David, who is being touted as not Jon Anderson’s replacement by Chris Squire (“This isn't an attempt to replace Jon Anderson, because as we all know, that would be impossible.”), and yet in the press has been called the new lead singer of Yes. And it may have gone a long way toward mollifying Jon Anderson, who currently feels disrespected as quoted above.

But this is Yes. And Yes has never been anything but a band filled with dissension, difficulty, occasional hostility, and various/sundry fractures and break-ups. It will be interesting to see how ticket sales go, how the tour goes, and what this means for future Yes activity.


Partha said...

tickets are "only" 35 bucks? (as opposed to the monstrous figures I was seeing elsewhere?) Steve Howe and Chris Squire are still there?

I'm in. reminds me, I gotta hit up the milwaukee venue's pre-sale site. And for 2 tickets, Delana went with me to see Asia last year and is smitten with Howe...his guitar playing, anyway :)

firefly said...

Yeah, I think just seeing and hearing Howe, Squire and White jam will be lots of Yes in their own rite. And word is that Oliver plays just like Rick, so it should be a good show.
And if they do 'Drama' material, Benoit will be mimicing Trevor Horn who sang most of that album, not to mention the awesome vocals of Chris and Steve, too.
As far a Pink Floyd, yeah, with Richard gone their only hope is to join up with Yes now, LOL.
One can't really say either band has "sold out!"