When They Carry You Out, You’re Gonna Have to Go

Jonathan Bellman

It’s hard to know how to feel at the news of the recent lawsuit between Matthew Fisher (formerly of Procol Harum; think of the organ obbligato to “Whiter Shade of Pale”) and Gary Brooker (composer, singer, pianist of Procol Harum, including on “Whiter Shade”). PH was one of my all-time favorite bands; I saw them three times, including a stellar college gig at Southampton University in late 1975. Fisher was long gone. Now, after 38 years, he was trying to claim composer’s co-credit for “Whiter Shade,” which would of course have amounted to a zillion dollars. The judge said that he’d discredited his case against Brooker by waiting 38 years to levy it. So it goes.

I liked almost all their stuff better than “Whiter Shade,” and it always irked me (probably almost as much as the band themselves) that the critical conventional wisdom was that every song of theirs was a remake of that one. I used to wonder if anyone had actually listened to anything after that first hit. The band did have a distinctive sound, but it also had several different personalities (the Robin Trower/Broken Barricades period was a departure, and also a high point), and I always thought that they were what classical/art rock should have been: heavy on the melody, harmony, and counterpoint, much lighter than everyone else on the tedious stoner-music synthobabble and ponderous jams. That I adored their music and that they never became huge is probably one more indication that I’ve always been out of step.

So Matthew Fisher has been a computer programmer since 1969, and Brooker became an OBE in 2003. And now they’re going to be arguing about who pays the legal bills, with everyone feeling wronged, bitter, and as if the past has been betrayed. Maybe we listeners are the lucky ones—we put the songs on and forget about it. They continue to slug it out. That kind of money makes people do odd, destructive things.

Not a risk we run in higher education—but that observation is only partially ironic. The poison that runs through the veins of the music business is truly a caution to those with stars in their eyes—that’s the water you’ll be swimming in. This is not to warn people off and tell them to remain in the higher ed womb; far from it. Just be aware, and be prepared to care for separate parts of your being—the artist part, and the business part. They can be complementary, but if they start affecting each other, watch it. So it goes.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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One Response to When They Carry You Out, You’re Gonna Have to Go

  1. Mark says:

    Maybe Pachabel or Bach should be suing from beyond the grave for the chord progression? I never knew Robin Trower played in PH. Interesting post.

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