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Van der Graaf Generator - The Sleepwalkers | Adam's AnalysisAdam's Analysis is a series where I take a song/album from the great world of prog, break down its lyrics and instrumentals, and determine its greater meaning. Today I will be looking at the lyrics of a particular song I've been obsessed with recently: The Sleepwalkers. This song was released on Van der Graaf Generator's album Godbluff, and is my personal favorite from said album. So let's dive into this incredible song.
To put it simply, this song is about...well, sleepwalking. It's a song that elaborates deeply on the mysteries of people that suffer from somnambulism (sleepwalking disorder) through its interesting word choices, and tells tales of their mysterious nature. Peter Hammil, the frontman of VDGG, tells not only tales of the mysterious sleepwalkers, but his (supposedly fictional) perspective of the sleepwalkers' nature.
Section 1 (0:00-1:27)
"At night, this mindless army, ranks unbroken by dissent"
The mindless army (sleepwalkers) cannot be broken from their state due to their dissent from the average human.
"Is moved into action and their pace does not relent"
The sleepwalkers are in action at nighttime, and cannot be stopped.
"In step, with great precision, these dancers of the night"
The lyrics admire the precision of the sleepwalkers' walking. "Dancers of the night," is yet another metaphor for sleepwalkers.
"Advance against the darkness - how implacable their might!"
The sleepwalkers are in action despite the darkness of the night. Once again, they're unstoppable.
"Eyes undulled by moon, their arms and legs akimbo"
Considering they're asleep, they wouldn't be able to "see" anything. The bright moon helps their vision. "Their arms akimbo" means their hands are at their hips, and elbows outward.
"They walk and live, hoping soon to surface from this limbo"
The sleepwalkers are in action, hoping to wake up eventually.
"Their minds, anticipating the dawn of the day"
Again, they want to wake up at dawn.
"Shall never know what's waiting mere insight away"
Their minds aren't able to see what's coming up because the sleepwalkers are...asleep.
"- too far, too soon"
The nighttime lasts hours long, yet feels short due to being in the state of deep sleep for most of it.
Section 2 (1:27-3:03)
"Senses dimmed in semi-sentience, only wheeling through this plane"
All of the sleepwalkers' senses are dimmer due to their state. They are now only moving through their level of thought.
"Only seeing fragmented images, prematurely curtailed by the brain"
They can only see things that their mind imagines.
"But breathing, living, knowing in some measure at least"
The bodily functions continue on in the state of sleep, to a minimal level.
"The soul which roots the matter of both Beauty and the Beast"
The human soul is that of a yin-yang. Partly good, partly bad, but both balance each other out.
"From what tooth or claw does murder spring; From what flesh and blood does passion?"
Here we're introduced to questions regarding the previous line. What good is in a killer? What bad is in a lover?
"Both cut through the air with the pendulum's swing; In deadly but delicate fashion"
Both ideas of good and bad are cut thin delicately. "The pendulum's swing" is a metaphor for the constantly moving minds.
"And every range of feeling is there in the dream"
In the dream state, all the senses are supposedly still in action.
"And every logic's reeling in the force of the scream;"
"The force of the scream" is the side of the brain trying to get the sleepwalker to awaken. True logic and realism is "reeled" in this force.
"The senses sting"
The human senses sting at the dream state.
"And though I may be dreaming and reality stalls; I only know the meaning of sight and that's all"
Despite being in a dream state where anything can happen, all you're really doing is seeing.
"And that's nothing"
Because of this, the dream state is really nothing compared to reality.
"The columns of the night advance"
The sleepwalkers are moving.
"Infectiously, their cryptic dance"
The mysteries of their state are likely to be passed on to others.
"Gathers converts to the fold -"
They are gathering to a hill.
"In time the whole raw world will pace these same steps"
Soon the rest of the people will follow the sleepwalkers.
"On into the same bitter end"
Following the sleepwalkers will be the end for the people. This is because wherever the sleepwalkers are going is, in fact, not real.
Section 3 (3:03-5:02)
The first half of this section is an instrumental break. Certainly it's one of the more odd parts of the song, with its percussion and sax adding decent layers to it. This break signifies the adventures of the sleepwalkers as they advance through the night.
"Somnolent muster - now the dancing dead"
"Somnolent muster" refers to the supposedly formal gathering of sleepwalkers
"Forsake the shelter of their secure beds"
They abandon their beds—meaning they've woken up.
"Awaken to a slumber whose depths they dread"
They awaken to the sight of dreadful reality.
"As if the ground they tread would give way"
They wish the group would give way to them.
"Beneath the solemn weight of their conception"
What this line is referring to is the way these people perceive things in the real world as opposed to their dreams.
"I'd search the hidden corners of all this world"
This person wants to adventure the world that is their dreams.
"Make reason of the sensory whorl"
They think they can find a reason for their spiraling senses.
"If I only had time; But soon the dream is ended"
They are unable to perform these tasks through their dreams because the dreams are so short.
Section 4 (5:02-8:20)
We start off this section with an instrumental break, supposedly representing the long day the sleepwalkers endure before going back to slumber.
"Tonight before you lay down to the sweetness of your sleep"
The singer now addresses the listener. They say what the listener should do before going to sleep. This leads into the next line.
"Do you question your surrender to the drop from Lover's Leap"
A Lover's Leap is an isolated area with the hazard of fatal fall. Legends of romantic tragedy are commonly associated with a Lover's Leap. What this line is suggesting is that the listener should question why they fell in love.
"Or does the anaesthetic darkness take hold of its own?"
Some people take sleep-inducing drugs to help them sleep better. The singer asks if these drugs affect your ability to sleep well.
"Does your body rise in service with not one dissenting groan?"
Essentially saying, "Are you a sleepwalker?"
"These waking dreams of life and death; In the mirror are twisted and buckled,"
This is an analogy of the dreams sleepwalkers have that induce their sleepwalking. The reflection of the mirror is all the people in the world with somnambulism. This line is saying the dreams sleepwalkers have are completely crazy.
"Lashes flicker, a catch of breath,; Skin whitening at the knuckles."
The body is heading into deep sleep, and bodily systems are going to rest.
"The army of sleepwalkers shake their limbs and are loose"
The sleepwalkers arise and begin their move.
"And though I am a talker, I can phrase no excuse"
The singer has no reasoning to why the sleepwalkers continue on as they do.
"Not to rise again."
The questioning of the sleepwalkers' condition is supposedly not to be brought up by outsiders any further.
Section 5 (8:20-10:41)
As we near the end to this song, as the singer continues on with the sleepwalkers alongside trying to find out the mysteries of their condition.
"In the chorus of the night-time I belong"
The singer is better suited with the nighttime.
"And I, like you, must dance to the moonlight song"
He is tempted to join the "dancing" sleepwalkers.
"And in the end I too must pay the cost of this life."
Just like the other sleepwalkers, the singer must now pay the price of his choice to go with this path (as with the others that had gone into the "same bitter end")
"If all is lost none is known"
Referring again to the mysteries of the sleepwalkers yet to be solved. Nothing is really known to the outsiders.
"And how could we lose what we've never owned?"
In the dream state, the sleepwalkers embark on many different adventures within their mind. They supposedly gain and lose throughout their nightly journeys. The singer is saying that the sleepwalkers are gaining and losing absolutely nothing.
"Oh, I'd search out every knowledge I could find?; Unravel all the mysteries of the mind,"
The singer wants to learn more about the human mind.
"If I only had time, (2x)"
The singer has no available time to study the mysteries of the sleepwalkers, as established previously.
"But soon my time is ended…"
Once again, all this mystery and studying is merely part of his dream. Of course, he can't discover much in the dream, because the mind is constantly drifting in the dream state.
And that concludes my analysis. I know it's not the best, but it'll eventually get better. If you have any feedback for me, let me know. And with that, the dream is ended...