Graded on a Curve: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery

Jesus Christ, life is an awful thing. And as if it weren’t awful enough, Donald Trump is officially slated to become Fuhrer of that Fourth Reich known as the United States of America, and I for one can’t think of any music, besides that of Richard Wagner of course, that so celebrates the grandiosity and pomposity of our new fascist state than that of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The works of the troika of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer were oversized explorations into the gigantism that characterized Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, from the mammoth scale of his Nuremberg Rallies to the monolithic architectural projects the Fuhrer spent so much time planning with Albert Speer.

And what I’m wondering is, will Donald Trump replace “Hail to the Chief” with the fanfare that opens “Toccata” from 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery, or the pomp and circumstance that signals the beginning of the insufferable “Jerusalem,” which does a great disservice to the mystical English poet William Blake and which I once had to sit through live, and what’s more not completely stoned into a blissful state of virtual obnubilation, an experience that so unnerved me that I refused to leave my apartment for a month?

I can’t tell you what our new President will do, because he’s crazier than a shit-house rat, but I can tell you this: ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery isn’t even the worst of their albums (that honor goes to 1971’s Pictures at an Exhibition), and that is a horrifying thought indeed. Don’t get me wrong; Brain Salad Surgery is an abomination and a crime against all sentient beings. Hell, it’s a crime against dumb stones even. But despite its myriad shortcomings, it at least boasts two short and actually listenable tracks in “Still… You Turn Me On” and the amusing “Benny the Bouncer,” to say nothing of a cool album cover by H.R. Giger, which you could stare at while on acid while losing yourself in the shadowy intricacies of the three monstrous movements of “Karn Evil 9,” which go on for thirty minutes or so but seem to natter on forever.

And, while I’m loathe to admit it, I’m also a sucker for the carnival atmosphere of the pompously titled “Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Pt. 2,” in which Lake delivers those immortal lines, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends/We’re so glad you could attend/Come inside/Come inside.” It may not be “rock’n’roll,” as Lake claims during the song, but I often find myself singing it while chuckling, and it’s as close as the trio ever came to actually rocking out, which is something.

But make no mistake. This is the same band that inspired the music critic Robert Christgau to write, in regard to 1972’s Trilogy, “these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans.” And he said worse. The very premise of progressive rock, namely that low-brow rock can only be improved by injecting it with the complexities of classical music, is a pretentious and racist shuck, and ELP took this idea more seriously than such counterparts as Yes ever did. And I say racist because it’s not too far of a leap to suggest that ELP’s retreat to the Western Classical tradition was a deliberate snub of the Aryan nose at the kinds of mongrel music that Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels once so poetically described as “the impudent swampflowers of negroid pandemonium,” and a knowing movement towards a music that echoed notions of white racial hegemony. Down with the Untermensch! And up with the type of music that Adolf Hitler would have enjoyed!

Do I go too far? Probably. But that’s the sort of delirium that infects me the moment I turn on “Toccata,” which Emerson swiped from the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and where was Hitler always alleged to have escaped to? Right, Argentina! I’m growing paranoid! And I blame Emerson’s blaring and swooping synthesizer! And Palmer’s pompous and very martial drumming! The kind of drumming to be heard as the Nazi’s blasted their way into Poland in 1939! Why, the man even owns a gong, for Christ’s sake, and bangs it during the marching, charging “Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Pt. 1”! Just listen to it! And the intricate complexities thereof! Why, Chuck Berry could never play this music! Which is the point! These guys, these three very white guys, are too good for such inchoate and mongoloid primitivism! Why, they may lower themselves to playing a kind of ersatz jazz, as they do in the “2nd Impression” of “Karn Evil 9,” but that’s only because it also demands a level of musicianship that no poor untutored rocker could ever aspire to!

As for the “3rd Impression” of “Karn Evil 9,” it’s a regular Cecil B. DeMille production, with lots of fake trumpet fanfare and regal organ and here he comes, down the 300-hundred yard corridor to the Oval Office of the new supersized White House, our Fuhrer Donald Trump! Raise your arm in a stiff-armed salute, then commence goose-stepping! Because this here is the kind of music suited only for a King, or a Fuhrer why not! Just listen to those war drums! To the Wall, everyone, in lockstep, to push back the Mexican hordes! Why, I can hear this music coming out of helicopters as they swoop down with guns blazing on those poor ignorant immigrants foolish enough to believe all that crap about America being a nation that opens its welcoming arms to the world’s huddled and hungry masses! “Rejoice!” sings Lake, a new and more glorious age has been ushered in! “Rejoice!” “Rejoice!” Because it’s mourning in America and you’re going to love your snazzy all-black uniform with the death’s head insignia on it! So eyes forward! That’s right, you in the Ramones t-shirt! March!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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  • Michael Little

    Who does this guy think he is? Hey Mr. Author, who the hell do you think you are? Because there’s no place for the likes of you in the new Amerikkka! And Donald Trump, our new Fuhrer, will soon settle your hash! Signed, The Author

    • dan_oz

      Ha ha – that’s nervous laughter. Political Science by Randy Newman is on the radio now ( which is kind of reassuring for us here in Australia)
      Love Benny The Bouncer.
      On the original vinyl there was a run out groove track a la Sergeant Pepper, Is it included?
      Dan_Oz_Direct

      • Michael Little

        Nervous laughter indeed! Thanks for replying. I don’t know about the original vinyl, as I don’t own it. Sorry. And Randy does spare Australia doesn’t he? Loves those kangaroos!

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