Does anybody remember prog rock – largely a Brit invention of the early seventies defined by the Hammond Organ, Minimoog, and a certain sense of pomposity.
It was killed stone dead, by punk, new wave and synth-pop. Most of the proggers kept a hard core of fans, but the audiences weren’t as big as they used to be.
Except for Genesis. In one dramatic burst they reinvented themselves as pop stars, transforming their music from dribbly 20-minute Mellotron solos to catchy little numbers like ‘Land Of Confusion’, satirising the Cold War, or ‘Invisible Touch’. And during the ’90s these ex-proggers pumped out hit after hit.
It was a case of ‘hey, did they do THAT?’ And, ‘hey – they’re CAPABLE of that!’ I mean, who’d have thought?
But of course they were capable of playing pop – they’re musicians. Other proggers adapted too. Check out Rick Wakeman’s 1982 synth-pop parody, skewering The Buggles:
Genesis’ transformation highlights something true of all the arts – including writing. Reinvention is the key to longevity. And we shouldn’t necessarily classify the capabilities of a writer by what they are usually known for. You know – so-and-so is a ‘military historian’ and therefore incapable of writing anything else. That, of course, is the underlying assumption – reviewers, critics, even editors, like to pigeon-hole writers, often as being a certain ‘type’ of author, or for whatever they last did.
Writers who have the chops – who know what they’re doing, and who have made words their servants, can usually adapt themselves to anything. Look at Isaac Asimov, who was equally at home writing novels, non-fiction across a wide range of fields, and rude limericks.
I think it’s all the more vital, today, for authors to have that versatility – to be able to reinvent themselves, to be able to adapt to new markets and new genres. The publishing paradigm has changed dramatically in the past five years. It’s going to keep on changing. And it’s important for authors, if they want to stay in the game, to change with it.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015