Van der Graaf Generator: Godbluff (pt. 1)


Dear Matt:

So, here we are. The first stop on our Matts-ical Mystery Tour of Mattvillainy. I’ve chosen your inaugural assignment as a sort of mission statement for my half of this project. As you know, when I’m not living in the 19th century, my tastes tend strongly towards the more ambitious and grandiloquent music from the years of about… oh, let’s say 1965–1979. So, you’re probably going to be getting a lot of art rock, ropey old psychedelia, and classic prog — with frequent dalliances into more unexpected territory.

With that in mind, this week you’ll be listening to Van der Graaf Generator’s Godbluff.

This is not an orthodox prog recommendation. I could have given you Yes; I could have given you Rush. These are bands who are seemingly more central to most prog fans’ musical experience than Van der Graaf Generator is. But, because of that, they are also the bands who most closely adhere to some of prog’s more ludicrous tropes – the extended solos; the circuitous, fantastical lyrics… After all, Yes and Rush are among the bands most responsible for those tropes.

So, it’s all too easy to hear popular opinion bubbling away beneath the surface when you listen to these bands. (Even for me, and I adore them both – along with Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, etc.) I’m hoping that by assigning you something a small ways off the beaten path, I might be giving you a chance to see past the tropes and hear the music on its own terms.

Van der Graaf Generator, especially in this period of their development, was the rawest and most energetic of the major classic prog bands. Their singer, Peter Hammill, shrieks and grunts as much as he sings. He’s accompanied by a jazz drummer, a guy who built his own organ (though that’s not the one he plays here), and a man who cannot play the saxophone but does anyway. Godbluff is loud, shouty, and lean (at only 37:29). But, it’s also bombastic, dramatic, and more than a little bit camp. So, it has the potential to alienate prog fans and prog non-fans alike. Needless to say, I love it unambiguously.

I almost hope you hate it. I almost hope that, because it could make for more interesting reading – but also because the thing that attracted me to this idea in the first place was the opportunity for my rapidly calcifying musical tastes to be expanded and called into question. And that doesn’t just mean hearing a bunch of new, unfamiliar music. That means having my deeply-held musical value system come crashing into your entirely different deeply-held musical value system.

So, be truthful. Be forthright. And, Matt, don’t disappoint me.

— Matthew


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