An Apology to Mr. Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson
Steven Wilson, The LONDON GUARDIAN.

I will admit, I find it hard to believe that Steven Wilson’s HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. is now fourteen months old.  It arrived on my doorstep—courtesy of—on the day it was released, and I played it immediately, of course.  At the time, however, I had become truly skeptical of anything Wilson was doing at that moment.  My dislike and distrust had not come on me suddenly, but, rather over a relatively long period of time.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t come across his work until a random turning on of album rock radio in Fort Wayne played an incredible song—“Trains” if I remember correctly—just as Porcupine Tree had released IN ABSENTIA.  I not only purchased that album that day at a Fort Wayne Bestbuy, but I also searched out an independent CD/record store, and purchased much of PT’s back catalogue.  To say that a decade of obsession (in the healthy, fan sense; not in the psychotic sense) with Wilson and all of his art set in.  I was certainly a completest.  If it had Wilson’s name on it, I owned it.

My dislike (or least, something approaching dislike) of Wilson began around the time that THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING came out.  Not only did I think that Wilson had simply ripped off The Tangent, unjustly claiming Andy Tillison’s uniqueness and genius as his own, but I also started seeing Wilson claim in interviews that he cared nothing for his audience or his critics.  He doth protest too much, I thought.  Though he said nothing different than what Neil Peart had said a million times, I found Wilson’s statements offensive whereas I found Peart’s merely eccentrically charming.

Granted, my own judgment was less than objective.

I wrote a long and strenuously researched article claiming Wilson to be an angry, bitter artist who despises his fans.  One major outlet accepted the article, only to pull it moments before it was to appear.  So, in spite of better judgement, I published it on progarchy.  Honestly, I’m pretty thick skinned (I’ve spent my entire professional life as an outsider regarding my understanding of my discipline and in being open about my faith) when it comes to my views of art, culture, life, politics, religion, etc., but I’ve never received such pushback and anger from anything I’d written.  After a while, I simply pulled the article.  It seemed to reflect poorly on progarchy as a website, and I wasn’t willing to let what we’d built be harmed by some rantings—no matter how well reasoned or researched they might have been.  I’m sure that article is still somewhere available in the gaseous ether of the internet, but not with my consent.  Every once in a while, I still get people saying or writing to me, “I know you hate Steven Wilson, but . . .”

All of this is a way of stating that I expected very little of HAND.CANNOT.ERASE.  And, when I first listened to it, my immediate thought (definitely NOT just or justified, but still clouded by reasons of ego) was that now Wilson was merely ripping off Rush.  Much of what I heard sounded like FAREWELL TO KINGS and HEMISPHERES, just employing better recording technology and a few Wilsonian trademarks.

And, yet, I couldn’t stop listening to HAND.CANNOT.ERASE.  I listened to it.  Liked it.  I listened to it again.  Liked it more.  Listened to it yet again.  Liked it yet more.  Other great albums were arriving for review at progarchy, and still others I was buying simply because I love rock and prog.  Yet, even with every new submission or purchase throughout 2015, I kept listening to HAND.CANNOT.ERASE.  As second semester began in earnest in middle January of this year, I had to cut back my listening.  Too many classes to teach and papers to grade to spend too much time listening to too much music.  Yet, despite the somewhat harrowing loss of time to enjoy prog, HAND.CANNOT. ERASE. remained steadily in my listening rotation.

And, then, it happened.  My great friend (and hero), Tom Woods, published his own thoughts on the album on his ever popular podcast and website.

Whatever love I had for the album (and, it was obviously there all along—the number of times I’d played it are well noted on iTunes stats) simply exploded after reading Tom’s thoughts on the album.  Yes, I realized, I, too, loved this album.  Though my time has been limited (I gave my first final of the semester just this morning), I have devoted a considerable amount of time not just listening to the album, but actually analyzing every aspect of it.

For what it’s worth, here’s my conclusion.  HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. can never be considered yet merely another Wilson release, the fourth of the good Lord knows how many to come.  No, it is a glorious achievement of art, whatever the genre.  Everything is perfect about it: the theme and story; the lyrics; the playing; the recording; the packaging; the conviction; and the flow of the album.

Taken as a whole, HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. is one of the greatest and most humane works of art in our post-modern era.

I’ll have more to write about it soon, as I splurged and ordered the 4-disk Deluxe Boxset edition, complete with hardback book and further explorations of the tragic protagonist of the story.  It hasn’t arrived yet, but it was sent from a bookstore in Connecticut just days ago and should arrive at progarchy HQ in Michigan any day.

For now, let me just state: EGO.SHOULD.NOT.OVERWHELM.  My apologies to Mr. Wilson for the article I so hastily and angrily published a few years back.  The outfit that accepted it but then ultimately refused to publish was correct.  Whatever scholarly veneer I had given the piece, it was my own ego that really came out, not a careful analysis of Steven Wilson.  I was mad that so much attention was being given to Wilson rather than to Andy Tillison or Greg Spawton.  How foolish of me.  Art is not a game of either/or.  It’s a both/and.  There’s room for Andy, Greg, and Steve in our endeavors and loves.

So, Mr. Wilson, thank you for the true beauty you’ve given to the world.

Water has no memory–“Perfect Life”

12 thoughts on “An Apology to Mr. Steven Wilson

  1. I completely agree with your assessment of Hand.Cannot.Erase. I am a confessed Steven Wilson fan – I think he is an amazing musician, writer, and songsmith. When I first heard the songs, I heard many Rush references (which makes this card-carrying member of the Rushinati happy). However, on a trip to Fort Worth, I played it. Knowing the back story behind it, I was captivated by what Wilson did. “Routine” is a very hard song to listen to, and the video is equally disturbing. I concluded that it is a masterpiece.


    Liked by 1 person

      1. I dunno – Fort Worth was ok. I got to listen to a 50ish year old lady pontificate on the propriety of having a tattoo affixed to one’s derriere so that there is proof that said lady hasn’t been messing where she shouldn’t be messin’. She can say, “oh, so we were fooling around, eh? What kind of tattoo do I have and where is it?” If the purported rumorizer can’t answer those two questions, well that is proof positive that lady’s virtue remains intact against the onslaught of such heinous falsehoods.

        Shiner Bock does, in fact, rule, though, so I’ll give you that.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Michał

    HAND.CANNOT.ERASE is brilliant. As time passes, my appreciation for the album only grows.

    RAVEN is just… meh. I don’t despise it but I’ve never had the feeling of “I’d kill for a few minutes of [song/album] NOW!” (if it pops up out of nowhere in the middle of a busy day it’s the sign of true love for the [song/album]) either. I’m uninterested. My and RAVEN’s trajectories never cross.

    Articles like this one make Progarchy unique. They show that there’s passion and humanity in and behind music, both on the listener’s and the mucisian’s part.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for these meaningful words, Michal! They mean a great deal to me. I posted this piece on Facebook, and I was rather taken aback by the angry, quasi-violent responses I received. After about 30 minutes of meaningless debate, I deleted my post. Glad you approve!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Michał

        I’m glad you find my comment meaningful, Brad. I think that your openness of views, the fact that you decide to post an apology when you think one is due, and the approach that allows others to meaningfully exchange opinions in a polite manner (Dream Theater and politics in music are the most recent examples of ‘ongoing debates’) are things to cherish and appreciate. This makes the blog what a true ‘forum’ should be like.

        The e-culture as a whole sorely lacks these characteristics. I am stunned that people feel the need to react angrily to articles such as this one. I understand the lure of anonymity, or rather the lack of face-to-face contact in the case of FB, but I adhere to the principle that anything you write online you should be able to say just as easily in real life. Why provoke anger, even if you disagree with someone? I remember what we said when Keith Emerson passed away, “why the hate?”

        I discovered Wilson back in 1996 when I heard “Sever” on the radio. SIGNIFY blew me away and SKY MOVES was even more devastatingly beautiful. I love all other PT albums/EPs/etc., it’s the only band whose rare releases I collect, and I thought SW could do no wrong. (I even like most Bass Communion.) SW disappointed me totally with Storm Corrosion, then with RAVEN, then HAND blew me away much as SIGNIFY did. I am still not sure what I think of the extensive remastering/remixing campaigns he is involved in, my main fear being that their side-effects is too much nostalgia (and RAVEN is a byproduct of precisely that). As for the man himself, I’ve heard various opinions, but do I really care? No, with a single exception – he is surely a personality and probably THE man in prog (whatever ‘prog’ is). Which is why I understand that people DO care what kind of person he is, but with a history of achievements this rich – is it not natural that no two views on him can be the same?

        This is precisely why ‘forums’ for expression are so important, to share ideas, and maybe some new thoughts will be provoked, some new concepts born? In contrast, word-battles on social media are not ‘forum-type discussions’, they are bar brawls.

        Apologies for the long post!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bryan Morey

    I’ve experienced the exact same sentiments over the past year, Brad. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is the album that made me a Steven Wilson fan. Before that, I couldn’t stand him – I thought he was arrogant, and I hated the hype around him. After finding out more about him, I realized he was just doing his thing, and others were making a big obnoxious deal out of him. When I stripped that away and just focused on the music, I grew to love it.

    Now, I can’t get enough of Hand. Cannot. Erase. It is absolutely perfect, and the more I listen to it, the more I love it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. carleolson

    Brilliant album, wonderful post. Decided to listen to the album again after reading your post, Brad, and it is indeed most beautiful and humane. There is a warmth and humanity to it that is not as evident in Wilson’s previous work. That said, I really do like “The Raven…”, which is a jazz-prog lover’s dream come true in terms of cross-pollination.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. frkevingregory

    What sold me permanently on the Hand. Cannot. Erase was when I saw him live in Greensburg (Pittsburgh) PA. It was an amazing, cathartic evening, the music taking you one place, the lyrics another. But I was sold. Like you, I am not where he is in terms of his outlook: he says miserable songs make him happy and happy songs make him [expletive]ing miserable. OK, that’s his thing. Much like Kevin Gilbert’s Shaming of the True, I need to be in a rather steeled mood to listen to him (Yes, BBT, the Tangent, Rush and the like suffice for those other times…), but he is undoubtably one of the greatest musical minds of this era — along with the aforementioned musicians and geniuses behind the Tangent and Big Big Train. Thanks for your article.



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