Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keith Reid and Cid Corman

Perhaps the single most neglected writer of rock lyrics is Keith Reid, the non-playing sixth member of Procol Harum. Among other non-playing lyricists, there is Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead and Peter Brown of, among others, Cream. In a post from last year at the old Beneath Cherry Blossoms blog, I placed the Reid penned "Conquistador" side by side with Shelley's "Ozymandias" for comparison and resonance.

Currently, I have the first four Procol albums on my mp3 player and have for the last month or so. It might seem odd to call them timeless; perhaps the more apt description would be out of time. Here are the lyrics from "Pilgrim's Progress," the cut that closes their masterwork, A Salty Dog:

Pilgrim’s Progress

I sat me down to write a simple story
which maybe in the end became a song
In trying to find the words that might begin it
I found these were the thoughts I brought along

At first I took my weight to be an anchor
and gathered up my fears to guide me round
but then I clearly saw my own delusion
and found my struggles further bogged me down

In starting out I thought to go exploring
and set my foot upon the nearest road
In vain I looked to find the promised turning
but only saw how far I was from home

In searching I forsook the paths of learning
and sought instead to find some pirate’s gold
In fighting I did hurt those dearest to me
and still no hidden truths could I unfold

I sat me down to write a simple story
which maybe in the end became a song
The words have all been writ by one before me
We’re taking turns in trying to pass them on
Oh, we’re taking turns in trying to pass them on

In the history of rock, there has been many a concept album; most of them have been noble, if pretentious, failures. The reason A Salty Dog is, in my opinion, the very best is simple; the concept is metaphoric, not literal. To sustain an entire story over a whole album strains believability, mostly because the medium cannot bear the weight (if truth be told, herein lies where many an opera fails, but, of course, that's not the point: so, too, rock fans might argue with, perhaps, less credulity). But the subtle art of suggestion, one of the writer's most powerful tools, within a loose conceptual framework is what gives this album its incredible power, a staying power that only grows over the passing years. Because A Salty Dog, magnificently executed by a fine band at the top of its game, is quite simply one man's story: the story of one particular writer.

Keith Reid.

The enigmatic quality of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," with its allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, has often stumped the casual listener of popular music. The allusion in "Pilgrim's Progress" is even more overt. The words "anchor" and "pirate's gold" tie the song to the overall concept, but no one would mistake this for a song about anything other than a metaphoric salty dog. This album smokes; if you can listen to "Crucifiction Lane" without a wince of recognition, you're a better person than I.

I was very happy to see this week that Garrison Keillor is doing his bit to keep the memory of Cid Corman alive. Check out his rendition of "Someone I cared for" by Cid from Monday's The Writer's Almanac.

Long live Cid.

Cover art by Keddy Ann Outlaw

The ongoing tour of past issues of Lilliput Review brings us to #145. For those following along, #144 is a broadside by Christien Gholson entitled Spiral, that does not lend itself to excerpting so has been skipped.


The Arrival
We have arrived without luggage
in a country we don’t recognize
among people who distrust us
where the walls have no windows
and the doors open only
for the chosen. We are home at last.

David Chorlton

moist petals open,
the tumor blooms

Karen R. Porter

cutting glass
the guy in the neat suit
picked his way into a part
of the mirror & began
to see everything backwards.

Guy R. Beining

The short space
between the joints
growing along the Naniwa shore
- may the time before
your next visit be as brief

Princess Ise
translated by Dennis Maloney & Hide Oshiro

Till next week,



Anonymous said...

You're right to praise Keith Reid but (a) he has explicity disavowed any deliberate concept on the 'Salty Dog' album and (b) there is no track on that album called 'Crucifiction Land'.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks very much for the note. Sorry about the typo. The cut is "Crucifiction Lane."

I was a little blurry when I posted this early this morning. I'll correct it in the posting. Best, Don.

Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

Back to January 31st and Richard Brautigan, if I may. Thank you for the two suggestions of memoirs. "Downstream From Trout Fishing In America" by Keith Abbott was a bit expensive at $20.00 plus freight for a thirteen page chapbook, but it was an British edition of only l00 copies and collectible; very well worth it to me however and most interesting. Ianthe Brautigan's "You Can't Catch Death" is an incredibly stunning achievement against what must have been nearly insurmountable odds. I can't imagine how she did it. A marvelous effort and resulting book . . . I am enriched by reading it. Thanks again & Best Regards.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


You are welcome ... Don

Anonymous said...

Keith Reid definitely deserves far more recognition that he has gotten, and it was great to read your comments. 'Pilgrims Progress' was always one of my favorites from the album as well, especially with Reid's words complimented so perfectly by Matthew Fisher's simple yet moving melody, and his plaintive vocal expressing so much, so simply, and so well. You are absolutely correct about 'Crucifiction Lane'. And 'Too Much Between Us' is another favorite on that album. I really do think that the "A Salty Dog' album represents Procol Harum's and Keith Reid's finest.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Professor, spot-on assessment of the delivery of "Pilgrim's Progress" as well as it's power. Has to be one of the top 5 albums of all time ...