The Isness Of Bands

by stephenpalmersf

Are some band line-ups inviolate?

I started to get interested in music in my mid-teens. A friend at school recorded four Tangerine Dream albums onto cassette tapes for me; I was mesmerised. Then I heard music by ELP and Yes, and my sonic world expanded… then it was The Stranglers, punk, and beyond…

In recent years we’ve lost some remarkable musicians. The ones which have affected me most have been Edgar Froese (2015) and Dave Greenfield (2020), but the loss of Chris Squire, Neil Peart, Daevid Allen and Greg Lake really got to me too. As a consequence, and especially after the loss of Edgar Froese – Tangerine Dream were, and remain a massive part of my musical foundation – I’ve been wondering about a feeling I have that certain band line-up are inviolate. I’m going to call this feeling the isness of bands.

Currently, “Tangerine Dream” (quotation marks to indicate my stance) exist with no original members. One of the present members, Thorsten Quaeschning, worked for a while with Edgar Froese in the band, but Tangerine Dream was Edgar’s creation, and to me it seems absurd that his musical vehicle should continue after his death with exactly the same name. When Peter Baumann and even Chris Franke departed, fair enough – but the demise of Edgar should have indicated the end of Tangerine Dream. He represented the isness of that band.

I think this idea of inviolate line-ups also taps in to my attitude to death. The end is the end: no afterlife. In my opinion, commercial considerations should always defer to artistic ones. That’s idealistic, I know, but I deeply feel it. There is no Tangerine Dream after Edgar Froese.

A more difficult consideration for me is the case of Gong. Before founder Daevid Allen died, he indicated to the current line-up that they should continue as Gong after his death. To me, it seems ludicrous that a band so determined by the character of its founder – like Tangerine Dream – should continue after that founder’s death, but what am I to make of Daevid’s insistence that Gong continue? Clearly he saw Gong as something more than himself. He had spiritual beliefs, of course, and those informed his attitude to all sorts of aspects of life. Probably he imagined the musical manifestation, Gong the band, to be only one part of his overall vision. Perhaps he imagined the isness of Gong rather like a spirit. But a spirit is an imaginary human construction with no basis in reality. If you argue that a band is a human construction, well, yes it is. But a band, for all that it emerges from imagination, has a basis in reality.

I’m taking a profoundly materialistic view here, yet I also profoundly feel the wonder, the uniqueness, and the emotional power of music. I’m a musician myself. Music is a central part of my life. Tangerine Dream were unique, extraordinary, ground-breaking and progressive – their run of albums up to and including 1985s Le Parc remain a testament to their cultural importance. For me, it’s disappointing that musical entities don’t end when the founding member or original “classic” line-up ceases to be.

Neither spirit nor soul exist. I think we should recognise that all things – life itself and the creations of life – have finite duration. Tangerine Dream was born in 1967, and it should have been allowed to die in 2015.

I realise that this attitude is highly idealistic, and even unrealistic. Why shouldn’t Dave Greenfield, Jet Black and Jean-Jacques Burnel have carried on as The Stranglers if they so chose? Well, my attitude is of course particular to me; in my view the only incarnation of The Stranglers with that name is the 1975-1990 one. What came after should perhaps have had a different, but similar name. My attitude says more about me and my feelings for music than about anything else. However, I think it also says something about how we experience music as we age, which is a more generally interesting point. The experiences we have – the bands we discover, the bands we follow, the bands we love – as young people are central to our later experiences. You can tell how roughly old somebody is by which music decade they first mention or are particularly drawn to: ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s… For me, the magic of the ’70s – Tangerine Dream, Yes, Mike Oldfield, Steve Reich, The Stranglers – is a unique, irreplaceable glamour, one linked irrevocably to particular band line-ups. The isness of The Stranglers was represented by Dave Greenfield, Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell.

I would argue that, after 1990, The Stranglers were merely the sum of their parts. The sum of the parts of “Tangerine Dream” is precisely zero.

Perhaps then my attitude to certain line-ups is a manifestation of something that we all feel, albeit that it’s an unusual attitude. The bands we grew up with as young adults are special. They and their names help define us. They are part of our identity.

Isness is a form of identity. It does not last forever.