Oh, you didn't read that part. Go ahead. I'll wait...
Cool. That should make everything clear a little later. Onward.
I just got back from my first ever cruising experience, a pleasant*, enjoyable* experience* on a four-day cruise around the Bahamas.
...on a boat full of progressive rock musicians, some professional, some pro-am, and some who don't play professionally at all but can still play (this is the category into which I fall). Mind you, I'm a better parrot than I am a creator right now. This may change. It may not.
During the emergency drill (mandatory for EVERYONE on the ship), an older, distinguished gentleman with a wave of white hair came to ask, "Is anyone sitting here?". I said, "No, please, feel free." I noticed his "ARTIST" tag and asked who he was with. "I'm not with anyone."
"But you have an artist tag; who are you playing with?"
"Oh, blast, the card gave it away. Hi. I'm Roger Dean."
I did a poor job of concealing my excitement at meeting him. His artistry, Yes' music, and the accessibility to science fiction and fantasy I had growing up had very richly fertilized my imagination in terms of everything non-musical. They gave me a power that evidently has lain dormant since then.
Among these fine musicians were such as Yes, Marillion, Allan Holdsworth, Martin Barre, Mike Portnoy, Spock's Beard, Neal Morse, Lifesigns, and several others; while these are all fine draws for a cruise, I must state that they were the icing on the cake. My reason for attending was to meet people and make some music myself.
I had the experience of meeting Yes in person -- all of them (except for Steve Howe, which, from what I inferred, is understandable). Didn't get to talk to Alan or Geoff much; they rather seem to keep to themselves, but I did get a photo with them, and I did get signatures. As I walked off, I told Alan, "Thank you for everything you have given me." Which is quite a lot, considering Yessongs was the second Yes album I had heard. He stuck out his hand to shake mine. Alan, I hope you remember this; it means a lot to me. I wanted to tell you that you'd met my mom about 30 years ago, and she had you sign a business card from a shop she co-owned, "Tempo di Marcia", and you'd addressed it to me in absentia. I still have this card.
I ran into Billy Sherwood (their bassist) and Jon Davison (their singer) as well, at various parts of the cruise. Jon more than Billy, but they were equally approachable. Billy recognised me from Facebook (before I got bounced), and I actually took the time to introduce myself to Jon when he was sitting behind me in the audience for the after-hours jam. Normally I wouldn't do this, but I had some reasons for doing so, most of which involved owning up to some rather uncomplimentary statements I had made, as well as an apology for them. It seemed to me to be the right thing to do. I think I owe one to Steve, too, but I couldn't find him to tell him in person.
When I saw them play in Saratoga in September, I was disappointed, but convinced it was not their fault. The audience at the winery sucked the energy right out of them. It was SO harsh. Half the people didn't want to be there, and it was obvious. The ones who were even mildly interested were saying things like, "play some older stuff!" after they played "Roundabout" and "Time and a Word". How much older do you want, people? I mean, come on!
When I saw them play their final show for this leg of the tour in the US, on Monday Night, I must say that you can say what you will about Jon Davison, or anyone else in the band, but they are Yes. They are legion. They will continue to move forward. And they were spot fucking on. The slowdowns were minimal, the energy was high, they vaulted a musical double somersault with a full twist and a half at the end and they stuck the landing. I have NO doubts about them right now -- when they're playing to an audience that is welcoming to them and appreciates them, they are golden.
As I didn't make the auditions to be on stage for the After Hours Electric Prog Jam, I took comfort in the piano in the dining room at the aft of the ship**.
Apparently, so do some other fine musicians. Once I found the piano, others were drawn to it as iron filings to a magnet. There were singers, players, and aprecionados, some from other bands, some from other countries, some from other bands from other countries, and I think a few from other worlds. I am wondering if I must be one of them, because I sure felt at home.
They played (older) Genesis, for the most part, so I thought I'd fill the gaps nicely by playing some Yes songs. Not just the keyboard parts, mind you -- the whole songs, from start to finish, with two hands on a piano.
Let me explain that last part.
When I was younger, I wanted to play this stuff in a band, but I couldn't find people talented enough, interested enough, or with enough time on their hands to call up and say, "Hey, you wanna jam some Yes today?" That just didn't happen. Additionally, my lack of equipment prevented me from getting out there as a "serious" keyboard player. In order to keep up my sanity, I need to recreate it in some form. I had two hands and a piano at my disposal; this became that form.
After four nights of all this, even after the EXTENDED AHEPJ (which ran from 11:00 PM to 4:00 AM instead of the usual 2:30 AM) (and still, people went there), I appear to have become part of the prog family.
Most people don't believe me when I tell them I can play things like "Turn of the Century", "Yours Is No Disgrace", or "Starship Trooper" on the piano, never mind the epic tunes such as "Close to the Edge", "Awaken", or "The Gates Of Delirium". I do this. I did this. And because I have spent the last 35 years not really getting out and playing it for other people, I had a lot of doubt that it would make much of an impression, especially when the keyboard player for Spock's Beard jumped on one night.
Let me talk about Rio (aforementioned keyboard player). This guy is fantastic. He's sharp, he's precise, and he's really fucking creative. What I heard him play is definitely concert-worthy material, and he's an awesomely nice person to boot. It was really nice to meet him (and a whole bunch of others!) on this cruise.
It was thus something of a surprise to run into him right before the Tribute to Chris Squire***. I complimented him on his playing exactly as described above, and he says to me:
"No, you are awesome. I've never seen anyone play like that."
I: But what you played, out of your own head, that was crazy good!
he: ...I can't remember stuff like you do, though. Man...who the fuck are you!??
The only thing I could do at that last question was double over with laughter. How do you respond to that??
Rio, if you're out there reading this, the Lord of the Uncharted Universe**** salutes you. It was truly an honour to meet you, and I hope to run into you again sometime.
On the fourth night, before we disembarked the next morning, I ripped out The Gates Of Delirium, Perpetual Change, and Starship Trooper, then played (gasp!) an actual original tune (which would have fit the working definition of progressive rock, I am certain).
The reaction I received blew me away. It was nothing I had ever felt before in my life. The energy, the good will, was astounding to me, and totally unexpected at that level. I mean, yes, I know I can play, and I know people will enjoy it, but this was something completely off the chart.
I touched people. I dropped jaws. I drew tears. I got asked "...where did you come from?"
...and it's all amazing, and overwhelming, and beautiful to me. I never expected this reaction. I never expected to be told in so few words that I'm actually worthy, because I went through a lot of my life never believing that I was.
You know how when you go to a show and the performers all say "thank you", and you think it must be protocol or something, or that it's pretentious bullshit?
It isn't. It's genuine. How can you NOT be genuine about receiving energy like that from an audience? You get it and you want to give it all back in some sort of amazing positive feedback loop. It's a wonder the arenas don't explode from all the energy being exchanged in there.
Even from a group of maybe twenty, possibly thirty people all hanging around the piano, it was intense. I can't even begin to know how it would be to play in front of a crowd at the Oakland Arena, or Wembley Stadium. Dave Grohl and crew were justifiably overwhelmed when they played there. You can just see his amazement and his gratitude and you could watch his mind explode from that experience, and he is like that EVERY SINGLE TIME.
My mind is blown so hard that I am certain it will never be the same.
I am grateful.
I am joyful.
I am blessed.
I am humbled beyond words before the universe.
And I have got to do this again.
By the way, why is my house still rolling...?
**Apparently there is a friendly contest as to who finds the piano on the ship first. I think I won this year.
***Chris Squire was Yes' bassist from their inception in 1968 until he died this year, and the torch was dropped in Billy Sherwood's lap. Watch the ashes, Billy!
****I wore a small name tag that reads "LORD OF THE UNCHARTED UNIVERSE" on my lanyard or on my shirt most of the time I was walking around. People may not remember my name, but they will not forget the tag.