All posts by bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author, a biographer, and a prog rocker. Interests: Rush, progressive rock, cultural criticisms, the Rocky Mountains, individual liberty, history, hiking, and science fiction.

Another Miracle: The Flower Kings at 25

Interior art, Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES (Sony/Inside Out, 2019).

Looking death straight in the eye

You will never feel that much alive

—Roine Stolt

For anyone in the prog world, Roine Stolt is a grand and solid name, a trusted master of the craft and a man as honest about his opinions as anyone ever has been in the rock world. From The Flower Kings to Transatlantic to Anderson-Stolt to Steve Hackett’s band, Stolt is anywhere and everywhere excellence is. 

Simply put, when I think of Stolt, I imagine that other master of amazing things, Tom Bombadil. And, yes, that means Goldberry is nearby. “He is.”

The new Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a thing of beauty, delicate yet everlasting.  Sounding a bit like FLOWER POWER and SPACE REVOLVER, the new album has everything a fan loves: mystery, lingering, soaring, contemplating, undulation.

This is glorious and mighty prog.

The album opens with the fragile and compelling “House of Cards,” moving immediately into the Tennyson-esque rage against fate, “Black Flag.” Followed by ten-minute “Miracles for America,” a plea for the future of the free world, and then another ten-minute track, “Vertigo,” disk one is nothing if not dizzying.  If there’s a rock anthem on the album, it’s track no. five, “The Bridge,” which might very well have topped the rock charts in 1983, with its reminder of the theme of the album, “waiting for miracles.” “Ascending to the Stars,” track six of disk one, gives us a mysterious and dark Flower King, an instrumental and orchestra joy somewhat reminiscent of Kansas in its heyday. Despite its name, “Wicked Old Symphony” is the poppiest of the tracks on disk one, a track that hints at the Beatles as well as early 1970’s America. “The Rebel Circus,” track eight, is another wildly wacky and infectious instrumental, followed by the intense and aptly-named, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The final track of disk one, “The Crowning of Greed,” is a poem, at once reflective in theme, and progressive in tone.

Disk two is much shorter than disk one, and I have no idea if it’s meant to be a “bonus disk” or a continuation of the album. That track one of disk two is a reprise of track one of disk one does nothing to answer my confusion about all of this. Track two, “Spirals,” is a feast of electronica and reminds us once again of the theme of the album: “Call on miracles—For America.” “Steampunk,” the third track of disk two, seems to take us back into the world of adventures. If “Black Flag” followed the voyages of Ulysses, “Steampunk” has us follow Aeneas. The final full track of the album, “We Were Always Here,” is a rather beautiful rock song, reminding us of life and its unending beauties. “It’s so simple in its purities/All that genius—life energies/like forgotten springs of melody.” Disk two ends with the 52-second long bluesy circus piece, “Busking at Brobank.”

Overall, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a joy.  It’s not just a joy as a Flower Kings album, it’s a joy as a rock album. Anyone serious about his or her rock music should add this to the collection. One final note—while I’m not wild about the cover art (too political for my tastes), I absolutely love the interior art, making a physical purchase of WAITING a must.

P.S. I proudly bought my copy from my favorite store, Burning Shed.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” ~ The Imaginative Conservative

One very late night or early morning in 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien awoke, a full story ready to burst from his already imaginatively feverish brain. Contrary to his normal hesitation and typical obsessive writing and rewriting, Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf by Niggle” emerged “virtually complete in my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out.”[1] If Tolkien had ever toyed with the ideas found in the novel—in terms of setting, character, or plot—he had no recollection of them or of any of it. Like Athena emerging whole out of the head of Zeus, “Leaf by Niggle” simply appeared on paper that very late evening or early morning in 1939, just prior to the beginning of the Second World War. Sometime in 1940, he read the story—presumably to an approving audience—to the Inklings. Again, the story just emerged, and Tolkien never even edited it after his initial copying it down. It was, he remembered fondly, “the only thing I have ever done which cost me absolutely no pains at all.”[2]
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/11/leaf-by-niggle-jrr-tolkien-bradley-birzer.html

When Giants Roamed the Earth: Elbow

GIANTS OF ALL SIZES. Musical perfection.

When Elbow writes a pop song, they do it right. And, not merely right, but “just right.” Every note, every lyric, every silence, every beat matters.

When Elbow produces an album, the band gets everything not merely perfect, but “just perfect.”

While I have enjoyed every album and EP the band has released, the new album, GIANTS OF ALL SIZES is the band’s best since 2011’s BUILD A ROCKET BOYS.

Indeed, anything and everything you want from an Elbow album is here: the achingly clever lyrics; the smooth and relentless hooks; and the never compromised and earnest vocals. Yet, there’s more with GIANTS OF ALL SIZES: female choruses; weird proggy keyboards; and an Abbey Road-style flow.

At this point, I love every song, but I especially love “Empires”–with it Thomas Dolby-esque (think, “One of Our Submarines”) thought-provoking lyrics–and “On Deronda Road”–with its Steve Howe guitar opening and “Fragile”-esque vocals.

Though I would never label GIANTS OF ALL SIZES a prog album, I’d be utterly foolish not to categorize it as “art rock” at its finest and best. Whatever genre one wants to assign it, we can and should be able to agree on at least one absolute: GIANTS OF ALL SIZES is a thing of sheer excellence.

Perelandra: Preventing the Fall ~ The Imaginative Conservative

It would be no exaggeration to claim that C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra”—arguably the least read and least remembered part of his “Space Trilogy”—is nothing short of a masterpiece. In it, the author ably blends science fiction and theology, giving us a gripping thriller, steeped in thought, adventure, and myth… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/11/perelandra-preventing-fall-bradley-birzer.html

Approaching Weathertop: Anatomy of a Scene ~ The Imaginative Conservative

In his personal recollections of his mentor, hero, and friend, George Sayer remembered that J.R.R. Tolkien possessed the uncanny ability to match his facial expressions and speech patterns to and with the prevailing mood of any given conversation. “As I sat with him and the Lewis brothers in the pub, I remember being fascinated by the expressions on his face, the way they changed to suit what he was saying,” Sayer recollected. “Often he was smiling, genial, or wore a pixy look. A few seconds later he might burst into savage scathing criticism, looking fierce and menacing. Then he might soon again become genial.”[1] It was not affectation, but sincere intensity. The very same might (and should) be claimed of his writing ability. When the mood calls for levity, Tolkien writes with levity. When the mood calls for depth, Tolkien writes with depth. When the mood calls for contemplation, Tolkien writes contemplatively. As a twentieth-century author, he was an absolute master at this.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/10/approaching-feathertop-anatomy-scene-bradley-birzer.html

Guardini on God as Creator

“But the Christian God needs no world in order that He might be; subsisting alone He is sufficient until Himself.  The doctrine of creation most decisively reveals the power of God, the Infinite Sovereign.  The world was created out of nothing by the freedom of the Almighty Whose commanding Word gives to all things being and nature; of itself that world lacks any trace of internal necessity or external possibility.  This created universe is found only in the Bible.  Elsewhere the origin of the universe was always thought to have been mythical; either some formless chaos had evolved into the world or some divine power had fashioned it from an equally formless chaos.  The Revelation of Scripture contradicted all such myth: the world is created by a God Who does not have to create in order that He might be, nor does He need the elements of the world in order that He might create.” 

–Romano Guardini, THE END OF THE MODERN WORLD

organic metaphors and the west

“The reason for this is simple and statement, massive and theoretical implication. The future does not lie in the present. Nor did the present, as we know it, ever lie in the past. What is at issue here is a whole, wide-ranging, encompassing habit of mind, one that has been deep in Western thought ever since the pre-Socratic Greeks made the momentous analogy between the biological organism and social structure, declaring that his growth isn’t in alienable attribute of organismic structure, so change — that is a ‘natural’ pattern of change needing only to be described by the sociologists as the lifecycle of growth is described by the biologist — is an inalienable part of the structure of whatever social system we may have in view at any given moment. We have all around us, today has in the days of the organism intoxicated Greeks, is the spell of the metaphor of growth. Closely associated is another metaphor: the metaphor of genealogy. This is of more interest to historians, and has been since the time of Thucydides, that it usually is to the growth fascinated sociologists and economists and political scientists. Here we are dealing with the imagined genealogical linkage of events, acts and personages in history.”

–Robert Nisbet, The Making of Modern Society, pp. 84-85.