Van der Graaf Generator: Godbluff (pt. 2)


Dear Matthew:

Oh dear. What have I gotten myself into?

I’ll start by saying that your hodgepodge of adjectives was spot on — this album is certainly bombastic, dramatic, and more than a little bit camp. But I think you and I might be operating on different definitions of the word ‘lean.’

Here’s a not-very-surprising confession: I don’t like prog. But it’s not the seething punk-rock hate I had for it in high school, more as a knee-jerk contrarian reaction to my peers discovering and loving it than anything. Instead, it’s now more that I just don’t really rate it.

I think there’s a sort of window in which you have to first be exposed to certain genres of art and culture, and if you miss that window, some things won’t ever really grab you. Take high fantasy, for example. If you don’t get really into swords and dragons and all that stuff before you graduate high school, you probably never will. (HBO’s shameless attempts to titillate notwithstanding.) I think it’s probably the same with prog, and as I mulled this album over thinking about what to write, I think I have a theory as to why.

It’s because these genres are all, at their core, very silly.

But it’s more than just silliness. It’s a sense of epicness and grandiosity — underpinned with an often endearingly naive worldview — operating on a sense of scale that’s just so different from the modern Western rat-race nine-to-five wage-slave life we see around us that we find compelling at that age. Rush’s 2112. The Star Wars films. Iron Maiden. Japanese role-playing games. Anything Tolkein. Fight Club. Are you kidding me? Pissed off teenagers eat this shit up.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not trying to devalue prog or sci-fi or fantasy by calling them childish or anything like that. These things are widely loved and bring a lot of joy to a lot of people, and there is a pretty clear societal value in their existence. I’m just saying that I think I missed this particular boat.

What’s confusing me, though, is what I alluded to earlier: I didn’t really dislike Godbluff, either. I almost wish I had, because that might’ve made for more entertaining reading. Instead, I was just kind of nonplussed. And the more I try to articulate why, the more it stresses me out that I can’t.

Which is ludicrous, when you think about it. Here’s this guy wailing about epic battles and this music rising and falling and all of this virtuosity and energy all but jumping out of my speakers and smacking me upside the head — and yet it just doesn’t do anything for me.

Maybe I’m still not doing a good job of approaching the music on its own terms. Maybe I’m desensitized by hearing bands like the Mars Volta take things even further off the sonic deep end. Maybe pop music has ruined my attention span. But whatever the case, I’m determined to get to the bottom of this. If this project doesn’t end up opening my mind to new music, maybe it can at least help me figure out why.

And you’re right. That man really can’t play the saxophone.

— Matt


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