Over a decade ago, one of my brightest students introduced me to The Flower Kings. He lent me his copy of the two-cd “Flower Power: A Journey to the Hidden Corners of Your Mind” over a Thanksgiving break. I was rather blown away from the first listen. And, not just because of the truly psychedelic cover or the name of the band (those hippie Swedes!). I fell in love with the whole concept and packaging of the album. Since then, I’ve been a rather faithful fan of the band, searching out every track ever recorded by them and by the various members in each of their associated bands.
This post, though, is not meant to be a retrospective or analysis of The Flower Kings. Just a small appreciation. Despite the fact that I have a field day listening to disk one of “Flower Power” (the concept part of the concept album), I’m quite taken with a track that seems to have gotten lost in memory, even among fellow Flower King fans. That track, the first song of disk two, is one penned by Roine Stolt, “Deaf, Numb, and Blind.”
For several years after I first heard it, I considered it the finest and most perfect prog song ever written. Yes, I’m comparing it–as a song–to any single prog song written up to roughly 2000. So much has happened in the prog world since then, that I wouldn’t place it quite this high. But, still, it’s a nearly perfect song. If any non-progger ever asked me what progressive rock is, I wouldn’t hesitate to introduce them to “Deaf, Numb, and Blind” first.
The song builds for the first three minutes, with symphonic guitars, driving drums, keys, and bass swirling. I’m especially taken with the bass playing, though all of it is good. Stolt’s voice fits perfectly with the urgency of the song when he first comes in at 3:30. The song lyrics appear to be a plea to put away delusions and embrace the highest things in life. The consequences for maintaining the delusions seem apocalyptic–with the dogs of war and nuclear weaponry being loosed upon the world.
At 5:45, the song pauses. We breath. It slowly comes back in, with Stolt proclaiming the things lost, offering a tone of immense regret but perhaps resignation as well. “There’s so much we could’ve learned. . . .” But, we failed.
By 8:20, we’re in the demented, twisted world of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.
Learn how to rebuild Babylon
Where the whores will drain our blood
Where the giant mushrooms grow
Where the truth is left untold
Where the ravens rip your soul
Where the poison rivers run
where the deadly game is gold
We find ourselves in no paradise, but in the realm where “the dead don’t dance.” We are in Hell, having earned it through our delusions and our pride.
The song ends with more soaring guitar, but the tempo has slowed down considerably, and the urgency of 11 minutes ago is gone.
As an aside, I recently saw The Flower Kings labeled somewhere on the web as “Retro-prog.” Admittedly, I laughed. I have no idea what this means. They use guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. They tend to focus on rather positive topics (sometimes poetically religious and mythic), despite the lyrics just quoted. And, they make beautiful music. I tried to use common English in this post, inheriting a gorgeous medium from the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the British Isles. Does this make my language retro-English?
Back on topic: here’s a youtube link to “Deaf, Numb, and Blind.” Enjoy.
My student who first loaned me his copy of “Flower Power,” by the way, is now one of my colleagues in the philosophy department. I owe you a lot, Lee. Thank you.