Hearing these lyrics sung by Peter Hammill, of Van Der Graaf Generator, is for me, the perfect example of words and music being able to evoke a sensation of time & place as perfectly as Star Treks ‘Holo-Deck’.
I see the giddy excitement of a 16 year old discovering Hermann Hesse, idealism and long, impossible conversations by the side of canals with plastic bottles of bitter and cold toast in tin foil. The visceral desire to go well beyond the bounds of your local post code, to write awful poetry and to fall in love with the girl in front of you at your confirmation service. The smell of two-stroke oil, afghan coats and dry roasted peanuts.
The song, of course, is completely barking – but brilliant. ‘Childlike faith in childhoods end’. Complex, overwrought, probably not enormously cheerful, but worth at least 20,000 listens. When PH, sings “…distance breaks my heart” you just know his heart is breaking. Then there is a sense of cathartic euphoria as the song ends with a blast of Wagnerian pomp and…optimism. We can carry on. A simple enough and obvious refrain perhaps, and a message that as individuals we can hear in a thousand different ways. But it’s the message YOU hear and remember that is important. It’s like carrying your own folklore about you.
This and ‘Video killed the radio star’ are poles apart, but exactly the same.
OK. Time for toast.