Gabriel’s Swan Song
‘Early morning Manhattan,
Ocean winds blow on the land…’
Out of all the albums I have bought over the years, the one album that has had the most profound influence was Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Its surreal nature and potent use of imagery, embedded within its high use of concept, marked a significant turning step for me – enhancing dreams and lending further vibrancy in those waking moments that began to feel more and more like a return…or perhaps a reminder of the rabbit hole Lewis carol had left behind.
Up until fifteen years of age I was too busy climbing trees and sword fighting in the cornfields to sit still for one second and appreciate music. Even in those quiet moments alone I’d draw but it was mainly informed by the films and comics I read. My father is not a musical person and what my mother subjected me to was mainly pop music of the time, which of course is the easier option.
I’d finished my GCSES (a landmark in any teenager’s life) and having collected my grades, of which were distinctly average, I went to a friend’s house for tea where he introduced me to the albums, Wind & Wuthering and Dark Side of the Moon. I was blown away by the progressive sound, the concepts and the complexity in the arrangements. I was quite literally ‘transported’. They were stories and stories were all that mattered to me. I hadn’t realised till that point that music could be so much more than pop, which (dare I say) I’d had a brief flirtation with Miss Dennis and Minogue.
From Wind & Wuthering I was astonished to find out that the man from the oddly entertaining song, Sledgehammer was none other than Peter Gabriel – the original frontman before Phil Collins directed the band towards the more uplifting love songs he has become synonymous with. Gabriel was the storyteller – the conceptualist whose aforementioned single during the 1980s was more than an evolution of his days with Genesis – the outlandish Brothers Quay only emphasising Gabriel’s kaleidoscopic mind. To me, he was concept personified and it was here that I became obsessed with the visuals of his lyrics and the stunning sounds Foxtrot’s ‘Supper’s Ready’ (a 23 minute masterpiece) and eventually the classic album, Selling England by the Pound. I bought the original records and religiously listened to every Genesis album where I proceeded to focus entirely on the Gabriel era.
With The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway the concept album had kicked in to full gear. In retrospect there were traces of David Bowie’s definitive Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, The Who’s Tommy and Alan Parsons, but Genesis clearly had their own sound. Their own approach to the depths of the conceptual album had reached full complexity through the eyes of a split personality manifesting itself as the central character Rael (Real) – a graffiti artist on the streets, pulled into a parallel universe of mirror images and haunted by carpet crawlers and supernatural anaesthetists.
It was a magical ride in which I witnessed in full animated detail. I imagined William Friedkin’s interpretation after I had read of his talks to adapt the album in to a film, but unfortunately this fell through once Gabriel split from the band shortly after the release and tour in 1975.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is one of those rare albums that constantly evolves – you never tire of revisiting the strange world and sounds that inhabit every cave a dark, wet dream. This, in my opinion, is the greatest concept album of the 70s. As much as I adore The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, 2112 and Tommy – it was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that found me first. Read in to this album as much as you like – there is much to learn from it about ourselves.
*One tip: Avoid being seduced by beautiful women, it leads to bursting out in an unpleasant skin disease, losing your ‘number’ and a super sized black bird flying off with your prized possession contained in a glass tube.
In order to rescue others, do we not often rescue ourselves…?
In the Rapids
He dives down into the cold water. At first he is thrown onto the rocks, and pulled under the water by a fast moving channel, which takes him right past John, down river.
Moving down the water
John is drifting out of sight,
Its only at the turning point
That you find out how you fight.
In the cold, feel the cold
And the rush of crashing water
Surrounds me with its sound.
Rael manages to grab a rock, pull himself to the surface and catch his breath. As John is carried past, Rael throws himself in again and catches hold of his arm. He knocks John unconscious and then locking themselves together, he rides the rapids into the slow running water, where he can swim to safety.
Striking out to reach you
I can’t get through to the other side,
When you’re racing in the rapids
There’s only one way, thats to ride.
Taken down, taken down
by the undertow
I’m spiralled down the river bed,
My fire is burning low.
Catching hold of a rock that’s firm,
I’m waiting for John to be carried past.
We hold together, hold together and shoot the rapids fast.
But as he hauls his brother’s limp body onto the bank he lies him out and looks hopefully into his eyes for a sign of life. He staggers back in recoil, for staring at him with eyes wide open is not John’s face – but his own.
And when the waters slow down
The dark and the deep
have no-one, no-one, no-one, no-one
no-one left to keep.
Hang on John! We’re out of this at last.
Somethings changed, that’s not your face.
It’s mine – it’s mine!
Rael cannot look away from those eyes, mesmerized by his own image. In a quick movement, his consciousness darts from one face to the other, then back again, until his presence is no longer solidly contained in one or the other. In this fluid state he observes both bodies outlined in yellow and the surrounding scenery melting into a purple haze. With a sudden rush of energy up both spinal columns, their bodies, as well, finally dissolve into the haze.
All this takes place without a single sunset, without a single bell ringing and without a single blossom falling from the sky. Yet it fills everything with its mysterious intoxicating presence. It’s over to you.
When its cold, it come slow
it is warm, just watch it grow
– all around me
it is here. it is now.
Just a little bit of it can bring you up or down.
Like the supper it is cooking in your hometown.
it is chicken, it is eggs,
it is in between your legs.
it is walking on the moon,
leaving your cocoon.
it is the jigsaw. it is purple haze.
it never stays in one place, but it’s not a passing phase,
it is in the singles bar, in the distance of the face
it is in between the cages, it is always in a space
it is here. it is now.
Any rock can be made to roll
If you’ve enough of it to pay the toll
it has no home in words or goal
Not even in your favourite hole
it is the hope for the dope
Who rides the horse without a hoof
it is shaken not stirred;
Cocktails on the roof.
When you eat right through it you see everything alive
it is inside spirit, with enough grit to survive
If you think that its pretentious, you’ve been taken for a ride.
Look across the mirror sonny, before you choose decide
it is here. it is now
it is Real. it is Rael
‘cos it’s only knock and knowall, but I like it…