As a kid, I had a pretty active imagination. I used to spend summers in our backyard and the forest beyond imagining scenarios in a fantasy world. My main sources of influence were sci-fi movies and the Final Fantasy video game franchise. I used LEGOs to construct my own Final Fantasy game when I was 9 or 10, with a host of main characters and villains, and an entire plotline and arc, all of my own creation… with some blatant ripping-off of things I’d seen in movies.

One scenario involved some felled trees in the forest beyond my house, all piled on each other right beyond a ridge. I could walk to the ridge and then climb down onto the trees, descending into what looked like a pit. In reality, it was only about 4 feet deep, the pit that was created by the trees, but I imagined it to be bottomless, or a portal into some other dimension, à la Narnia. What sorts of hellish things awaited me there?

Kids should be allowed to pursue their imaginations wherever they lead them, because those imaginations invariably dry up as they get older.

Perhaps I got into Genesis because they fostered and stimulated my imagination. Or perhaps my imagination is the size and shape it is now because of Genesis and their influence. Perhaps both. One of the things Genesis’ music does, and indeed that all progressive rock artists do, is present a richer and more robust narrative than other forms of music. Sometimes music lulls you into an inactivity of the mind, and that has its place, but prog stimulates you; it makes your mind move.

My mind really moved when I first heard “Get ‘Em Out By Friday.” I was about 14 at the time, and starting to consciously develop my writer’s mind. “Get ‘Em Out By Friday,” totaling at over 8 minutes, is a play of sorts, the lead singer using multiple voices to represent different characters much like the reader of an audiobook. It was the first one I had heard, as my musical pursuits were previously more tame.

“Get ‘Em Out By Friday” was difficult musically, since it really took every cliché about progressive rock and amplified it. It put me off at first, but the lyrics drew me back in; they were fascinating. You have the first character named John Pebble, a high-ranking businessman with Styx Enterprises, who wants the tenants of the town of Harlow (which I imagined to be a fictional place) to leave. He sends his underling Mark Hall, known as “The Winkler,” to coax them out of their homes.

In Greek myth, Charon the Ferryman would escort souls across the River Styx to the Underworld

What insidious purpose does Styx Enterprises have for displacing the residents of Harlow? Of course, I was familiar with Styx – yes, as a 70s rock band, but first as a river bordering the Underworld that if you touched the water you would die a horrible death. Because Pebble and the Winkler’s company was called Styx, its purposes couldn’t be good. Mrs. Barrow, a tenant of Harlow, even offered to pay double the rent, which the Winkler only laughed at. Obviously, they have some strange goal in mind other than money. In my mind, strangeness and nefariousness usually go hand in hand when you’re talking about corporations.

But the song itself doesn’t say why they want them out… until a little later. There’s a passage of time until 2012 (which in 1972 must have seemed a long way off). Peter comes back with an “Announcement from Genetic Control.” They are now imposing a four foot restriction on humanoid height.

Kinda hard to take seriously, right? My mind first rejected it as silly and a little embarrassing, especially with Gabriel’s exaggerated vocal histrionics. But then almost instantly, the scene changes to “Joe Everybody” in an anonymous pub talking about the directors of Genetic Control getting into the property and housing business, limiting the physical height of people to fit more of them into a single building site.

Then, a return to the original musical motif, with the return of John Pebble, now knighted and in charge of a new, bigger corporation. In a repeat of the cycle, he sends the Winkler to muscle out more tenants. The song ends with a memo from someone even higher up, a “Satin Peter,” about Earth, Heaven and the church. Could this be a plot that the planet Earth is only tangentially involved in? Could this be a bigger conspiracy than we, the audience, even imagined?

A block of flats with central heating…

My writer’s mind went down numerous avenues, taking the somewhat incomplete elements of “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” and running with them. But to Peter Gabriel, the writer and originator, “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” is a lot simpler. It’s merely about the British public housing situation in the 60s and 70s. “Winkler” is a British term for someone who did the very thing Mark Hall did in the song, who convinces tenants to move through charm, cash and sometimes intimidation. Genetic Control, the “Satin Peter” thing (Satin = Satan), and even the closing lyric of “invest in the church for your heaven” were all meant as insinuations of government housing officials’ greed knowing no end.

Well, I didn’t know about that kind of stuff when I was 14, and still find it pretty confusing. Honestly, I like my outlandish Atlas Shrugged meets X-Files explanation for “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” better.

Next: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

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