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Simon Godfrey's Letter From America

Words simply cannot describe the city of New York. Smells on the other hand are much more evocative.

It is a source of many interesting aromas waiting at assault your nose the moment you foolishly relax your olfactory center. Ah, I love the smell of hot dogs, sweat and urine in the morning.

If you have never been to Manhattan, I guarantee you will spend the first few days thinking that you have inadvertently walked onto a film set. Once you stop shouting ‘Bloody hell, that’s…’ followed by the name of a famous landmark and get over the initial shock of the fact that it is exactly how you imagined it would be, the second thing that hits you is that it is actually nothing how you imagined it would be.

The skyscrapers are there but the view is all wrong because you are bumbling about at street level, not looking at it from some film helicopter. You will not die on the subways unless you are an idiot and travel in the small hours, wearing sandals, while holding a map of the city and checking your credit cards. Nobody is rude to you because no one particularly cares you exist in the first place. This is entirely fine by me because I am an ex-Londoner and we know what it means to ignore huge numbers of people as we go about our business.

During my first visit as a fresh faced musician in 1996, I made my way directly to Music Row on the fabled West 48th Street where all the instrument shops were and it was heaven. On each side of the street there were shops galore. Anything you wanted from the cheapest of cheap harmonicas, up to Neil Peart sized drum kits which could shelter a family of four, were available if you had the cash. Sadly Music Row is no longer there, a casualty of the generation but I digress.

That first 90s trip, I bought an Ovation acoustic guitar at Mannys Music which is still regarded as one of the most famous music shops ever to have existed. It was a store with confidence and attitude. Hell, then owner Henry Goldrich once refused to sell the infamous Yellow Guitar used by endless customers to try out guitar effects to ex Beatle George Harrison simply because it was ‘the store guitar’. That man must have had balls the size of Belize but hey, it was New York.

So what does all this have to do with prog you may ask? Good question and I’m moderately irritated that you asked before I was ready to spill the beans.

New York City is where prog truly learned to be urban. It’s the city that gave us The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, the first Fripp solo albums (not to mention the endless sessions he did there with all the big players, including Bowie) and least we forget, it is the city which gave the world Dream Theater.

Now I’m not suggesting that all prog up to that point was an exercise in English rural bliss, but few cities in the world can hold a candle to New York’s unmistakable hard edged, progressive pedigree.

After my recent re-location, I’m also an East coast musician just down the road from the Prog Apple. Unbelievably, I’m not the only one or else I would be immensely rich and my collection of satin flares and stacked heels would be the envy of the world. NYC and the surrounding areas is still a fecund breeding ground for a new generation of progressive acts such as Jolly, Naam and Thank You Scientist, all of whom are making waves in the progressive scene here in the States.

Thank you New York City. You might smell like the inside of Kermit The Frog after a nine hour film shoot but like that awesome creature, its pure magic when the rest of the world sees you strut your stuff.

Jerry Ewing
Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.