Thanks for your interesting comments on yesterday’s post. The results are… completely inconclusive. But that’s OK. A broad spectrum of responses probably better represents reality than everyone marching in mental lockstep.
Someone asked in response whether my affection for the music I hunted for years ago, when the hunt was difficult, was shaped in large part by the effort I poured into sourcing it. I’m going to have to go with, “No, not really.” No doubt the gems I found seem all the more precious for the experience surrounding them, but I don’t think I’ve ever deluded myself into buying something terrible and thinking, “Yeah, man, this is awesome. Ugh. Yeah, I (barf) love this.”
I wasted plenty of money on terrible albums by good bands, on experimental side projects that fell flat, on poorly recorded bootlegs of rare material whose scarcity didn’t make them any more listenable. For all that I enjoyed Emerson Lake and Palmer’s early albums, when I finally managed to come up with their hard-to-find contractual obligation album Love Beach, I listened to it once and sighed in disappointment. I listened to Roger Waters’ Amused to Death while I was stoned out of my main on dental drugs following my painful and difficult wisdom teeth extraction and liked it, but when I listened the next day in the cold light of sobriety I wanted to smash the disc against the wall for being so grindingly dull and self-important. And let’s not even begin to dwell on ventures like GTR and 3, prog rock side bands by talented musicians that failed to demonstrate any of their talents.
There is one exception, though: The band I continue banging my head against in a determined effort to like them. But this doesn’t come from a desire to make good on money wasted; I only bought a single album by them in high school, which cost me $10, and I happened to stumble into it before really beginning a search for their catalog. That one album fascinated me, but I also found it borderline unlistenable. So I circle back around it every now and again to see if I like it. Sometimes I do; sometimes, though, I just stare in disbelief at the cacophony.
The band in question was Peter Hammil’s Van Der Graaf Generator, which I’ve mentioned here before. And now, as then, my feelings toward them wax and wane. Sometimes they lay down a groove in my ears and I get what they’re about. Sometimes, I marvel that they weren’t kicked out of the studio.
I think the on-again, off-again nature of my interest in them has everything to do with the spartan nature of their sound. Like a lot of bands in that time and genre, VDGG eschewed standard rock arrangements for lengthy musical exercises that pushed electric guitars to the side, in this case preferring pipe organ and saxophone — not really the classic rock combo for lead instrumentation, you know? On top of that, the sax sound tended to be shrill and forceful while the organ often laid down wavering fields of low-frequency sound. Add to all of this Hammil’s rather unique approach to singing the lead melody (namely, it wasn’t usually very melodic) and you have a strange, unsettling combination of audio density and sparseness.
Yesterday I decided to give the band another go and listened to their two arrangements of Refugees a back-to-back go. Refugees represents one of their rare attempts to dabble in the mainstream, so there’s an “original”cut….
… and a radio cut….
Which only really differ in length and arrangement. The original edit includes a pop string arrangement, but the radio version pushes the orchestration to the front, and the results are practically two different songs. Buffered by a more tangible and traditional melody, Refugees sounds pretty accessible — cut from the post-psychedelic school of ’70s prog, to be sure, but lush and energetic (albeit crammed with inscrutable lyrics).
Take that away and you can still hear the underlying tune, but it’s harder to “feel” because the band otherwise provides so few pointers. And the original cut of Refugees sounds far fuller than pretty much anything else in the band’s catalog at that.
So I’m a little torn. The radio cut is a pretty nice song, but it kind of betrays the band’s underlying ethos and sound. On the other hand, that ethos totally alienates me half the time.
So I guess what I’m saying is, who wants to embark on a Van Der Graaf Generator/Chrono Trigger mash-up remix Kickstarter project with me???