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Is it plagiarism if I steal from myself?

Maybe “Joe Biden” would be the one to ask about that; he is, after all, an expert in the field, a past-master of the craft.

Anyways, yesterday’s Eyrie post, in addition to bringing about a most gratifying e-mail exchange with GoV’s Baron Bodissey, also featured a classic video by 70s prog-rock mainstays, Yes.

One of my best friends in my misspent youth as a long-haired, gaudy-polyester-shirt clad (BEWARE: mystery click, not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart), Whalebones-platform-heel shod ne’er do well teen circa 75-76 was a YUUUGE Yes fan. We whiled away many an hour ensconced in his bedroom at his folks’ place endlessly spinning The Yes Album, Fragile, Tales From Topgraphic Oceans, and of course Yessongs on his top ‘o the line Technics turntable, blasting ’em loud and proud through an audiophile-level Marantz system.

It was great fun, although he never did convert me to being as big a Genesis fan as he was. Nor King Crimson neither; as a dyed in the wool hard rocker myself, that stuff was just way too flaccid and lame for my sharper-edged, rowdier taste.

But I did dig Yes, and through the years I’ve remained quite fond of ‘em, for whatever reason. Go figger, eh?

Like ‘em though I did, and do, somehow the backstory of “Yours Is No Disgrace” as an antiwar but pro-soldier anthem had gotten by me completely, until I stumbled across this at-length explainer on YewToob yesterday. In my own defense, Yes’s lyrics were always obscure to the point of being completely opaque, even after multitudinous listenings. As a teen I had long since stopped even trying to make sense of them, but here we have it in their own words.

Yessongs depicts a Yes concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London during the band’s Close to the Edge Tour on 15 December 1972. “Close to the Edge” and “Würm” are the same performances as heard on the Yessongs album.

“Yours is no Disgrace” is the opening track from the band’s 3rd studio album titled “The Yes Album” recorded at Advision Studios, London with audio engineer Eddy Offord as their co-producer in autumn months of 1970 & released Feb 19, 1971. It was the band’s first album to feature guitarist Steve Howe, who replaced Peter Banks in 1970, as well as their last to feature keyboardist Tony Kaye until 1983’s 90125. The album was the first by the band not to feature any cover versions of songs & was a critical success and a major commercial breakthrough for Yes, who had been at risk of being dropped by Atlantic due to the commercial failures of their first two albums.

“Yours Is No Disgrace” originated from some lyrics written by Anderson with his friend David Foster. This was combined with other short segments of music written by the band in rehearsals. Howe worked out the opening guitar riff on his own while the rest of the band took a day’s holiday. The backing track was recorded by the group in sections, then edited together to make up the final piece.

According to Edward Macan, “Yours Is No Disgrace” “is generally recognized as Yes’ first antiwar song.” Anderson has stated that the theme of the song was recognition that the kids fighting the (Vietnam) war had no choice but to fight and that the war wasn’t their fault.

Governments fight wars, not men and women – therefore yours is no disgrace. The message is that war has no winners & no real meaning – as Jon Anderson has explained, the young people going off to fight the war had no say in the matter, and the war itself was certainly not their fault.

“Death defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth, Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear” – killing is brutal & cruel, but the disgrace falls not on the soldiers, but on those who orchestrated the war.”

The lyric in this song, “Caesar’s Palace, morning glory, silly human race,” helps explain the story behind it. Caesar’s Palace is a casino in Las Vegas, and an interesting reference for a British band to make. Anderson: “Well, I’d just been to Vegas and it was amazing how crazy the place was and how silly we are. Silly human race. It was something to do with how crazy we can be as a human race to be out there flittering money around and gambling, trying to earn that big payout, when actually that’s not what life is truly about. Our life is truly about finding our divine connection with God, if you like. You know, that’s why we live.

“And whenever I sing that song, it always comes back to me that I’m singing about that kind of Caesar’s Palace, morning glory, sweet human race – it’s on a sailing ship to nowhere, planet earth. The planet earth is not going anywhere. It’s going around the sun, of course, but we’re on this sailing ship to nowhere, leaving anyplace. It’s like Earth Mother. So don’t worry about stuff, it’s not our fault if things go wrong.”

The entire band is credited with writing this song. Steve Howe has said that his guitar part is one of his favorite contributions to Yes. With modern equipment, they were able to do overdubs, which was new to Howe. “It was a ‘studioized’ solo because it was made up in different sections,” he said. “I became three guitarists.”

I’d say he did at that, yeah. What really struck me about this particular video is the playful rockabilly jam at the beginning, showcasing Howe’s easygoing facility for a style I would’ve assumed he barely even knew existed at all until I saw this. As you can see, Chris Squire and Rick Wakeman jump right in with Howe joyously and entirely competently—a real musical revelation that’s as unexpected (to me, at least) as it is delightful.

Funny, innit, that I had to wait all these years for Jon Anderson to finally make sense of those damned lyrics for me. Now do “Roundabout,” willya Jon?

1 thought on “Is it plagiarism if I steal from myself?

  1. Ah, the memories: my buds and I toking up and listening to a Yes LP in someone’s basement, or on a cassette tape somewhere in the middle of wilderness nowhere during a canoe trip on some Northern Ontario river.

    As an aside, I’ve always liked the group Renaissance. Any thoughts. I’ve always considered Annie Haslam to be one of the best female vocalists I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

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