“How Dare I Be So Beautiful?,” the fourth section of “Supper’s Ready,” is quiet and sibilant, almost rhythm-less due to the absence of any percussion. It ends without resolution, and then the fifth section jarringly crashes in like the Kool-Aid man barreling through the wall. “Willow Farm” is conspicuously opposite of the section before it – loud, bizarre and madness-driven. Peter Gabriel sings with just a hint of insanity. When “Willow Farm” is performed live, Peter’s showmanship is cranked to 11; he struts around the stage wearing his famous flower mask, his head made to look like the stigma. The music reminds me of a demented carnival, and the lyrics have a Lewis Carroll-like childishness to them, sort of like a Cockney rhyming scheme. “There’s Winston Churchill dressed in drag! He used to be a British flag! Plastic bag! What a drag!”
As to what the song is about, its twisted logic makes it difficult to discern. As far as I can tell, it’s about a sort of camp or retreat center like a fat farm, where people pay to go and be morphed into something else – fat to skinny, man to woman, animal to plant, living to dead and back again. Willow Farm is like a psychotic Jenny Craig’s. It’s Peter Gabriel’s first exploration of the transmutation of things (changing from one form to another), which will be a centerpiece of Genesis’ 1974 concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
“Supper’s Ready,” being Genesis’ greatest musical achievement, has as its subject the biggest topic they’ve tackled yet – the end of the world and the salvation of mankind, a parallel to the book of Revelation with a Genesis flare. While we’ve had hints of it previously, this motif gets its grandest and most high-stakes treatment with the next section, “Apocalypse In 9/8.”
It starts on an eerie tone with a flute solo from Peter, the second on this track. In the live performances, however, the solo is played on a synthesizer while Peter goes backstage to don another of his most famous costumes, Magog. “Apocalypse In 9/8” is filled with tension that’s simply electric, briught on by it being played in not one but two time signatures. Most of the band is playing in 9/8, like the title indicates, but Tony Banks is playing the keyboards in 4/4. The entire band is playing at the same tempo, but thanks to mathematics, Phil, Steve and Mike get more and more out of step with Tony. For the first 8 beats, it’s all cool, but by the 9th beat, Tony is already moving on to the beginning of the third measure while the rest of the band is just finishing up their first. But thankfully, math works like a circle, so eventually they come to a place where they’re all finishing their current measure at the same time.
I can sense your eyes glazing over, so I’ll move on – no need to thank me.
Anyway, this section features imagery pulled (for the most part) directly from the book of Revelation. Magog, seven trumpets, dragons from the sea, and 666 are all references to that book of the Bible. Now, the lovers from the first part have come to where all the secrets are revealed, which is what the word apocalypse means.
“Apocalypse In 9/8” has the subtitle “Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet.” Much has been made of this over the years (who is this Gabble Ratchet, and what makes his talents so delicious?), allow me to put it to rest. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Gabble Ratchet is not a person at all but another name for Gabriel’s Hounds, which is really just another name for wild geese. You heard right. Legend says that the sound wild geese make is actually the souls of unbaptised children. Genesis uses a Mellatron sound effect of wild geese at the end of instrumental piece right before the second verse of “Apocalypse In 9/8.” Gabriel’s Hounds sharing a name with Peter Gabriel doesn’t hurt, too.
Finally, there’s chimes and a drum roll, and a refrain of the chorus from “Lover’s Leap,” heralding the seventh and final section, “AS Sure As Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet).” This is the completion of the cycle, and the final victory of good over evil. Evil has been having its day ever since “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man,” but the Lord of Lords and King of Kings has finally returned, with absolute certainty, as sure as eggs is eggs. “Aching Men’s Feet” is yet another Cockney rhyme, this one meaning “making ends meet.” The music uses the melody of “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man” in a more victorious and operatic motif. And thus, “Supper’s Ready” ends, 23 minutes after it started, with God taking his children to the New Jerusalem.
With a song as thick with imagery as this, me interpreting it for you would be (1) a mammoth task that would require its own blog, and (2) taking all the fun out of it for you. After all, this is one of the joys of music, and poetry, and paintings, and any kind of art: the ability of spectators to take part in the act of creation by creating their own interpretation. So now I’ve laid it out for you; have fun.
Next: You think 23 minutes is long? You ain’t seen nothin’…