And Now for Something Completely Different: Prog Spring

Slate requires its staff writers and editors to take a month each year, walk away from their usual beats, and write long-form pieces about topics they’d never otherwise cover. We call it the Fresca, because that’s a delicious soda, and our Editor-in-Chief David Plotz likes it. I Fresca’d in June and researched the most benighted, misunderstood genre of popular music – 1960s-1970s British “progressive rock.” My research sent me to the Library of Congress, to a few digital archives of old rock mags, to the managers and musicians who produced this music, and to the final-ever NEARfest, a prog rock revivalist festival in Pennsylvania.

The brillian Dan Kois edited all of this – 17,500-odd words, before he click-clicked his red pen. Andrew Morgan, Bill Smee, and Vivian Selbo led a small team that put together videos and sidebars. The results are being published over four days, starting today, with the story of the first real prog rock “suite” that lasted as long as one side of an album – the flawed but fascinating “Ars Longa Vita Brevis,” by The Nice. The surviving members of the band all talked to me about the song, and I thank Keith Emerson, Lee Jackson, and especially guitarist Davy O’List, for the time. The photo above is from his personal collection.

It’s a five-part series, with some bonus sidebars; it’ll run all week.