Wednesday, October 17, 2007


The Glass Prism's 1969 LP Poe Through The Glass Prism is one of those records that has followed me around most of my life. It’s an odd one, even by 60s standards: an entire album of pop songs constructed around the unabridged poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Later, both The Alan Parsons Project (in 1976) and Lou Reed (in 2003) would offer their musical interpretations of Poe’s work to far greater acclaim and attention, but it was The Glass Prism who got there first, their pioneering effort passed over.

Probably you’ve never heard the record; the LP did not make as big a splash as the group had hoped. But growing up just outside Philadelphia with a Dad who had more vinyl than the average record shop, Poe Through The Glass Prism – specifically “The Raven” - was something I could count on making its annual appearance every fall.

Years later, when I moved to Hollywood, I found my own copy of Poe at the venerable Cosmopolitan Bookshop on Melrose. It turned out to be a promotional copy, complete with an 8x10 of the band and a press release from RCA tucked inside. I hadn’t realized the Prism was also from Pennsylvania, and I later learned they remained a working band in the area (first as The Glass Prism, then later as Shenandoah) through 1976.

"The Raven" had been a minor hit for the group at the time of the album's release, and once you've heard it a few times, it's hard to shake it from your consciousness. The familiar cadence of the lyrics helps brand the tune into your brain, but the intelligence of the musicianship shouldn’t go unacknowledged. There is a drive and momentum to the track that mirrors the determination of the poem’s protagonist to tell his tale, just as the swirling organ reflects the madness he is surely slipping into.

Listening to the record now, I hear clearer echoes of their contemporaries Procol Harum than I might have picked up on at age 10, and recognize a kinship with other proto-prog groups of the era. It’s even not too far a leap to suggest its chilly vocal presages the classic Goth sound of a later decade.

Poe purists may well have been outraged at the notion of the Master’s words pressed into service as rock lyrics, but then there’s rarely any pleasing the purists. I choose to think the pop license taken on Poe Through The Glass Prism would have made it an ideal soundtrack to a chilly drive home after one of the much-beloved Roger Corman / Vincent Price Poe films of the era - adaptations that took far greater liberties with their source material than the Prism could be accused of.

Trolling the web to see if anyone else shared my affection and rekindled interest in The Glass Prism this Halloween season, I stumbled across some surprising news: the group is reuniting Saturday, October 27th to play a benefit show for The Edgar Allan Poe Historical Site in Philadelphia – coincidentally (if not surprisingly) one of my favorite places to visit (and soak up inspiration) from my youth in PA.

So should you happen to find yourself in the Philadelphia area near the end of the month, I urge you to not miss a rare opportunity to hear The Glass Prism perform the Poe album live.

I only wish I could be there to make the scene along with you!

For more information on The Glass Prism (and to hear their music), check out their website and their MySpace profile .