Sunday, July 26, 2015

Yes, Tempus Fugit, Squire

So, it seems altogether appropriate to do a post on a song called "Tempus Fugit" here of Blog Time Passing. And while time does indeed fly, and it seems to do so whether we are in fact having fun or not, this song seems especially timely right now, as it is generally acknowledged as one of the many songs recorded by the progressive rock band Yes that best showcases the extraordinary bass guitar work of the late Chris Squire.

So let's get right to it, with the video portion again a product of vzqk50HD Productions:

And let's get those lyrics in here as well:

Born in the night
She would run like a leopard
That freaks at the sight
Of a mind close beside herself
And the nearer I came
How the country would change
She was using the landscape
To hide herself.

More in the mind
Than the body this feeling
A sense at the end
Of a circular line
That is drawn at an angle
I see when I'm with you
To navigate waters and finally answer to-yes.

If you were there you would want to be near me
Innocence, you could hold all the materials
And though nothing would really be living
It would shock Your fall into landing light
In the north sky time flies fast to the morning
The cold of the dawn it meant nothing to us
You were keeping your best situation
An answer to-yes

(Yes, Yes) And the moment I see you
(Yes, Yes) It's so good to be near you
(Yes, Yes) And the feeling you give me
(Yes, Yes) Makes me want to be with you
(Yes, Yes) From the moment you tell me—yes

If you could see all the roads I have travelled
Towards some unusable last equilibrium
Run like an athlete and die like a dead beaten speed-freak
An answer to all of your answers to-yes

In the north sky time flies faster than morning
The cold of the dawn it meant nothing to us
You were keeping your best situation
An answer to Yes

(Yes, Yes) And the moment I see you
(Yes, Yes) It's so good to be near you
(Yes, Yes) And the feeling you give me
(Yes, Yes) Makes me want to be with you
(Yes, Yes) If we wait for an answer
(Yes, Yes) Will the silence be broken
(Yes, Yes) Should we wait for an answer
(Yes, Yes) Do we leave it unspoken

(Yes Yes Yes Yes . . .)

Squire's bass in "Tempus Fugit" dominates most of the song. And while this is another example of his attempt to turn the bass into a lead instrument, there is no question that it is also the driving force behind the song's rhythm. The song appears on the group's 10th studio album, Drama, released in 1980.

Drama stands, in many ways, as an aberration in the band's history. Following the mixed reception that their previous album, Tormato, received in 1978, two fifths of the band left due to creative differences. The departure of keyboard player Rick Wakeman was seen as unfortunate, having been regarded as the best to have filled that role. But a Yes album without Wakeman was entirely conceivable, and the record made prior to his joining the band, none other than The Yes Album, is generally considered one of their 3 best. After all, Wakeman didn't join the group until their 4th album, Fragile, played on the next two, left the group and was replaced on their 7th album, Relayer, and returned to the group for the next two.  

But singer Jon Anderson had also left the group, and Anderson was a founding member of Yes, and the lead vocalist on all of their previous albums. As the voice of the band, he more than anyone else represented the band's identity, and fans had a great deal of difficulty accepting his absence. 

Perhaps an analogy can be made between a band's lead singer and the sound of our own voices. For individuals, losing their voice temporarily can be highly frustrating, and losing it permanently can be traumatic. Truly so, I mean this without hyperbole or exaggeration. We take the sound of our own voices for granted, but they are much more a part of our identity than the way we look. We may look in the mirror a couple of times each day, maybe less, maybe a bit more depending on how much your looks matter in your profession, or to you personally. But our looks are not with us to the same degree as the sound of our own voices can be. Even when we're not talking, we can still hear our voices as we think, and what is thinking but talking to ourselves silently? If it's too noisy, we say, I can't hear myself think. We never refer to being unable to see ourselves think, and we don't imagine our faces, or bodies, when we're caught up in the act of thinking.

So there is a severe psychological trauma that individuals experience if they lose their ability to speak forever, say due to a laryngectomy (surgical removal of the larynx), often necessitated by cancer of the larynx brought on by smoking or drinking. It may follow, then, in a more modest way, for a band like Yes who had recorded and performed for many years with only one singer taking the lead, that that singer became intrinsic to the group's identity, and his loss difficult to accept, at least for the fans, because fans in some way derive their identity from the object of their enthusiasm.

Another problem was that the replacement of two key members took many fans by surprise, either when they purchased their copy of Drama, or when they saw the group in concert. Nowadays, such changes in personnel would be amply broadcast via the internet and social media, which would have provided the opportunity for feedforward, and perhaps a change in plans. At the very least, there would have been more of a chance to break the news gradually, rather than having the experience that many fans had of going to see Yes in concert, expecting to hear Anderson's voice, and getting someone else instead, along with a substitute on the keyboards.

So who replaced Wakeman and Anderson? It was Geoff Downes on keyboards, and Trevor Horn on lead vocals. Both had previously been members of a new wave band called The Buggles. It was considered at odd combination, insofar as new wave, as a more mainstream evolution of punk rock, was seen as a reaction against the excesses of progressive rock, and therefore almost almost diametrically opposed to all that progressive rock was about. Punk and new wave emphasized shorter songs, getting back to the older idea of the 3-4 minute single that fit into the 45 rpm format and was aimed at the Top 40 charts, and relied on more down to earth, often prosaic, sometimes ironic lyrics, less cosmic and preachy, more angry and rebellious, etc. But I hasten to add that at least some of new wave was similar to progressive in being alternative and experimental, intellectual, and reflecting an interest in technology, science, and science fiction. 

So the arrival of Downes and Horn was not at all absurd, and it certainly was not forced on their part, or on the part of remaining Yes members Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, and drummer Alan White. And just in case you're asking, who in the world are or were The Buggles, well, here's their best known song:

Some video, huh? A real tribute to mid-20th century media transitions. And as you may well know, when the cable channel MTV was launched in 1981, this was the first music video that they played (and for those who don't know, MTV originally was devoted almost entirely to playing music videos). The song itself had been included on the first album by The Buggles, The Age of Plastic, released in 1979. If you're not familiar with it, I'd recommend it, and here it is, as a matter of fact:

This video includes 3 bonus tracks not on the original album, which consisted of 8 songs divided evenly on the 2 sides of the record, "Living in the Plastic Age," Video Killed the Radio Star," "Kid Dynamo," and "I Love You (Miss Robot)" on side 1, and "Clean, Clean," "Elstree," "Astroboy (And the Proles on Parade)," and "Johnny on the Monorail" on side 2.

So, anyway, as you might imagine, I like what The Buggles did here especially for their use of media ecological and science fiction themes. I find the music enjoyable, and not entirely inconsistent with the progressive rock approach of Yes. But when it comes to singing, Horn's voice is significantly lower than Anderson's, and while he tried to raise it up higher when he joined Yes, he just wasn't able, and it no doubt caused quite a bit of strain on his vocal cords. Perhaps that had something to do with Horn switching roles from performer or producer, a career change that resulted in quite a bit of success, not the least working with the next version of Yes.

The point being that Drama was an aberration because the band broke up in 1981, so there were no subsequent Yes-Buggle albums made. At least not until 30 years later, in 2011, when Yes released another album without Jon Anderson, who was replaced by Benoît David, while Geoff Downes returned to play keyboards. This time, Anderson's absence was not by his own choice, but due to illness. And once again it was controversial, among the fans, as it was three decades before, but this time also because Anderson argued that he had recovered sufficiently. Downes has remained with Yes as they released their last album with Squire, appropriately titled Heaven and Earth, in 2014, with Jon Davidson as lead singer.

So, more than a little actual drama associated with the release of Drama. And returning to "Tempus Fugit" I'd say that it was not only Anderson's voice that was missed, but also his lyrics. Anderson had a certain way with lyrics that made them cryptic, a cool medium in the tradition of Symbolist poetry (as Marshall McLuhan would say), modernist in that sense as opposed to the postmodernist sensibility of The Age of Plastic. Postmodern self-reference and self-reflexivity can be seen in the repetition of yes and yes, yes in the lyrics of "Tempus Fugit," something Anderson would never do. And while that sort of thing became commonplace in rap and hip hop, it went against the loftier sentiments associated with progressive rock.

Simply put, "Tempus Fugit" is not one of my favorites, and in my view, not one of the best songs Yes recorded, which is to say that it is a good song, just not outstanding. It is certainly an interesting piece, a product of an interesting period in their history. And without a doubt, it is very good instrumentally, and on the power of the bass line alone, a memorable composition, one of the best examples of why Squire was in a league of his own as a bass guitarist. Oh, and by the way, the previous posts in this series are Yes, Squire, Yes Again, Squire, and Squire's (Not So) Silent Wings, in case you missed any of them and want to catch up. 

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