Remembering rock bassist Chris Squire | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

R.I.P. Chris Squire of Yes

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Chris Squire, the co-founder of progressive-rock giants Yes, an innovative virtuoso on the bass guitar, a key songwriter for the group, and the one constant member throughout its nearly half-century history, has died of leukemia. He was 67 years old.

Yes has never have gotten much respect from rock critics, and it still isn’t in that wretched and phony Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. But to those of us who loved the group in its prime on record—and I’d put that from the start in 1969 through Tormato in 1978 (with 1971’s Fragile, 1972’s Close to the Edge, and 1977’s Going for the One standing as my choices for unqualified masterpieces)—and into the present onstage, the loss is tremendous. And Yes wasn’t even Squire’s first important band.

Like many of the best British progressive-rockers, Squire first made his mark in the psychedelic-rock scene of 1966 and 1967. His bass was every bit as distinctive in the Syn as it would be in Yes, and he co-wrote that group’s 1967 hit “Grounded,” which skillfully cribbed from the Beatles’ “Rain” while adding lyrics about a truly awful trip (“I’m high and I’m dry and I’m grounded”). For Squire, psychedelic drugs and psychedelic rock were inextricably linked: “There was a lot of LSD around,” he said of those years. “Of course, the Beatles were leading the charge in the recording studio from Sgt. Pepper, really—everyone wanted to be part of that experience. But I think the drugs were just as much a part of it; I doubt there were very many people who didn’t take drugs who were involved in that movement.”

I also interviewed Squire in 2002 for The Chicago Sun-Times on the occasion of a new Yes box set. As might be expected, he was a sharp intellect; as many who knew him attest (but surprising those who did not), he also was wonderfully warm and witty. I’ll tack that chat on below, along with these videos of the Syn and Squire leading the charge on one of Yes’ greatest songs, “Starship Trooper.”

Yes Man

Chicago Sun-Times, July 26, 2002

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

To hear the ultra-faithful tell it, the enduring charm of progressive-rock pioneers Yes is that they envision a world better than the one we inhabit.

"Thirty-five years into the journey, [Yes] still takes its fundamental impulse from utopia," DePaul University philosophy professor and Yesographer Bill Martin writes in an essay included with the new box set, "In A Word: Yes" (Rhino).

For the Yes fan, the five-disc set will indeed be paradise--though more skeptical listeners may be tempted to discard the last disc of more recent recordings. The band never fails to deliver onstage, however, and this summer, it's touring with one of its most celebrated lineups: vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. (The band plays a sold-out show at the Chicago Theatre tonight.)

I spoke with Squire by phone from Seattle the day the five reunited Yes men gathered there for their first rehearsal.

Q. As evidenced by this new box set, Yes has an incredible catalog of material to choose from. When you get together to rehearse, where do you even start?

A. Well, we've already had preliminary phone calls about a possible set list, which will probably change. But we're quite fortunate that there's a fair amount of agreement about which songs we should try. There's some disagreement, but that's what we'll work out, I guess.

Q. The fan sites on the Web are constantly discussing what you should play. Does any of that register?

A. To take the temperature of the fanatics is not always the best thing to do, because these are people who want to hear some track that most people have never heard in their lives.

Q. Like, "How come you don't play all of 'Tales from Topographic Oceans'?"

A. I don't know, you might want to bring a pillow! [Laughs] Last time, we were out with an orchestra, and that was kind of different in its own right. We felt that we had more liberty to do some of the longer, more musically complex pieces because of the fact that we were working in that orchestral environment. This year, I would prefer the set to be a little bit lighter and bouncier.

Q. Rick Wakeman is back in the fold on keyboards. What is it like when someone returns to the group after a long absence?

A. Well, we'll find out. Let's face it, Rick has been--he sort of split in '79, and he wasn't around for the '80s, but then we did do that Union tour in '91 that had all eight people onstage. Then we did do the two shows in 1996 and recorded "The Keys to Ascension" live album. But it's six years later, so today should be interesting. [Laughs]

Q. It seems to me that many rock critics missed the point of progressive rock by focusing on the technical prowess while overlooking the fact that the music was attempting to create these elaborate movies of the mind.

A. Yes, that's it really--cinematic rock is a good title for it in a way. It wasn't just the ability to play a lot of notes in a given time period. There was a lot of that, and even for my tastes, not to put him down, but John McLaughlin and some of those things--I think some of the spirit got lost and it just became a technicians' world for a while. Some of the music became a little bit uninteresting because of the search for technical excellence. But you know, everyone was going through a lot of changes then, which I suspect we probably still are, and it was definitely the birth of that movement.

Q. At its best, Yes rocked, where some of the other prog bands did not.

A. Yeah! A lot of people became very infected by the punk-rock movement and believed that that was their generation speaking for them, even though I don't think it really spoke for as many people as you think. Obviously, our true fans know that. I think generally the peripheral press and the peripheral audience have tagged us a long time ago for being a little too altruistic for their taste. Yes never went too far that we aren't still able to rock convincingly. I do feel a little sorry for the Billy Idols of this world who are standing there with the raised fist. How can you do that when you're approaching 50?

Q. Yes was never about celebrating youth and rebellion. You were never onstage saying, "We're 22, we're young and we're sexy!"

A. [Laughs] We created a sort of fantasy image concept of our shows, which we were part of in dressing in fairly flamboyant fashions and that, but we weren't selling sex. And hopefully men age better, so ... [Laughs]

Q. Do you think it's embarrassing for the Rolling Stones to be onstage singing "Honky Tonk Woman" and pretending that they're 22?

A. Their music has a certain voice. Personally, I saw them in Madison Square Garden I guess three or four years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was a great show. I didn't get that feeling, even though Mick lies about his age. They're much older than they always say in their press announcements; he's well into his 60s by now. He's been 59 for god knows how long! But you know, on the other hand, I give him credit for being out there in those years and still being able to run around like that.

Q. But when the Stones write new material, they lack ambition. Yes doesn't; you're still trying things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they fall flat. But at least you're taking chances.

A. [Laughs] The Stones never had any pretense to do anything really complicated, but I mean, a lot of their music has stood the test of time, and I guess really when they go out on the road it's pretty much just to peddle what people know and go out and have a rockin' Saturday night. Let's face it, it's difficult for Yes to be noticed that much outside of our fan base because of the current status of radio. Thankfully, we've just been kind of relieved with the birth of XM [satellite radio], which is a good thing to promote our music, but it was getting a little thin in the airplay area. Our classic stuff is still played a lot, because people like that, but you try coming out with a new Yes product and try and find a way of getting it played, apart from XM, and there isn't really anything. It's tricky to even get an outlet for any new music, whether it be good, average or indifferent.

The competition is obviously greater and the current condition of the major labels, apart from the fact that they're totally worried about the whole Internet thing affecting their businesses, is that they're grasping at straws and promoting the hell out of five good-looking guys for two years and then finding five more. It's a sad reflection, really, and not enough people are coming out of the grass roots kind of thing, but it still exists. I hear bands that have built themselves up playing on the rock 'n' roll circuit and have big followings. Phish is a good example.

Q. Do you hear any other groups that share the spirit of early Yes?

A. There's a band on DreamWorks called the K.G.B. that I really like. I think there's a lot of the Yes spirit in what they do. It's not lyrically really that close to Yes, but I hear a lot of the attention taken in the care of the recording of the music that I like a lot. So, it isn't dead. We all know that trends do go in cycles, and there may be a return to a bit more of a grass-roots movement soon. How many 'N Syncs can you listen to after a while? You hit the saturation point, even though they make great-sounding records and the voices sound beautiful and every note's corrected, every syllable.

Q. But it's distressing to see them or Britney Spears allegedly "singing" when they're not even moving their lips!

A. I don't think the point is to listen to Britney! [Laughs] These are multipurpose acts where the dancing's as much a part of it as whatever is coming out of their mouths. Now maybe if we can get Rick to dance a bit on this tour...

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