Tag Archive: Broadway


2013. Twenty thirteen. Just like the past thirteen years, the name of the year hasn’t been uttered a lot, not nearly as much as it will be in the year to come. It’s a new beginning, or it at least seems that way to the millions making earnest but unrealistic resolutions they’ll break in 8 days. Then it’ll be back to the same, back to comfort, back to complacency, back to normality. Normality sounds like it has a negative spin, but does it? After all, I think after the inevitable zombie apocalypse, we would thirst for a little normality.

I can imagine Genesis’ benchmark rock opera The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway taking place on New Year’s Day, 1974. It’s New York City, and much revelry and carousing (not to mention millions of incidents of synchronized smooching) have occurred a mere 7 hours earlier. Even after a bad hangover, life still goes on, and indeed never stopped in the City That Doesn’t Sleep. The “all-night watchmen” (the police) haven’t batted an eyelash; this happens every year in Times Square, and isn’t all that different from what happens every day in Times Square – it’s just bigger.

The first track, titled “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” begins with a fade-in piano trill. Our main character, Rael, is introduced by the hiss and acidic smell of a can of spray paint. The 42nd St. N station has a new marking, but it’s not really noticeable among the thousands of others except that it’s on top, being freshly created. This was long before Guiliani came through with his broom and swept away all the drug dealers, strip clubs and graffiti. Rael’s own graffiti says simply that – R-A-E-L.

As Rael exits the subway, the strangeness is set in motion, and the album is off and running. It starts with what the album draws its name from, literally a lamb lying down in the middle of Broadway. While this action doesn’t actually have anything to do with the plot, it’s filled with possible metaphorical and allegorical meanings. The image of the lamb translated very simply is “the lamb dies in New York,” which could be expanded to “God sacrifices himself for the sin of the world.” This interpretation will bear out in the rest of the album, but I don’t want to give anything away.

Peter Gabriel as Rael

Peter Gabriel as Rael

Okay, I’ll give a little away. Rael is a Christ figure. He sacrifices himself (in a number of ways) to save the life, sanity and body of his brother John, a character we meet a little later. Despite his brother Rael’s selfless acts, John is ungrateful and undeserving. Kinda looks similar to our relationship with God, don’t ya think?

Anyway, back to New York. We have a lot of the trappings of Manhattan life, in particular porno theaters, strippers working the night shift, and cabs zipping around like they own the place. The steam through the grates lends a shadowy haze to the streets, an indication of the dreamy world Rael is about to enter. Rael seeing the lamb is strange enough, but it only gets stranger.

“Fly On a Windshield” segues gently from the title track, but there’s a shift in musical modes. “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” was solidly paced and excited, but “Fly” is troublesome, like a storm that hasn’t hit yet. What Rael sees is more than just a lamb now. A black cloud descends on Times Square, forming tightly into a vertical surface that extends to the sky, a “wall of death.” It moves forward, becoming like a movie screen, projecting in 2 dimensions what is behind it. It’s moving towards Rael.

Suddenly it hits, the music indicating it. At the beginning of “Broadway Melody of 1974,” parts of New York culture and American culture in general weave, twist and morph around in a cyclonic maelstrom. References are drawn to everything from Lenny Bruce to Winston cigarettes. All the disparate elements gyre and gimble till they’re almost unrecognizable, at which point Rael is completely in the other world, where he spends most of the remainder of the album.

The division between “Fly On a Windshield” and “Broadway Melody of 1974” is a contentious issue. The remastered CD version, for some unfathomable reason, has the third track starting over a minute after “Melody” actually begins, and after all the lyrics are already sung. According to all the CD versions, “Melody” is only 30 seconds of soft, beatless guitar that segues into the fourth track, “Cuckoo Cocoon.” Let the record forever show that “Fly On a Windshield” is NOT 4 minutes and 12 seconds, and “Broadway Melody of 1974” starts on the measure when Peter Gabriel sings “echoes of the Broadway Everglades…” Thank you.

Ziggy Played Guitar

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie – 6/6/1972

By now we know that David Bowie was one weird cat. If songs about space travel, superhumans, and sex with the devil weren’t enough to tip you off, there’s the outlandish dress and wild makeup. My God, the cover of Hunky Dory is a photo of him inspired by a WWII-era German actress. And if by 1972 you’re still not convinced, he takes on a full-blown persona and presents a combination of music, theater and pageantry, complete with a storyline about an alien come to save a dying planet Earth. Just try to ignore him now.

Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s first real “character,” a fully realized other person he could be in his stage show. All his public appearances were in the guise of Ziggy, and he had a complete profile of how Ziggy would act, talk and behave. Never before had an artist appeared to lose himself so completely. It was like a Broadway show every day with Bowie; it looked like he didn’t just want to play this character, but be this character.

His band got into it too, actually giving themselves a name for the first time, the Spiders From Mars. They dressed up in costume just like Bowie, and had alter-egos. The band and Ziggy himself could still be recognized as Bowie and company; that was the beauty of it. It wasn’t an identity crisis or a case of DID; it was all a show, like an actor playing a part in a movie. Indeed, Bowie began referring to himself as an actor instead of a musician.

As a lot of things in the musical sphere do, this whole Ziggy Stardust thing traces right back to Sgt. Pepper. The concept of that album, plain and simple, was a fictional band that the Beatles playacted. David Bowie is simply doing the same thing. I say “simply,” though it isn’t simple at all. The biggest difference is that the Beatles just wanted to escape the confines of the world’s expectations of them. Bowie’s interest is different; it’s a combination of transcending his humanity (or pretending to) and putting on a good show. And what better way to be a non-human that to be an alien?

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (its full name) is a concept album, not the first and certainly not the last. The storyline in the album itself is loose and rather hard to trace, though Bowie had a pretty specific progression in mind when he recorded it. But Ziggy Stardust the album is just one piece of how he was going to tell this tale. The concerts performed during the last half of 1972 were another piece, but still not the whole picture. What can be defined as “the whole picture” never really came to fruition. If it had, I’m guessing, it would have ended with the assassination of David Bowie at one of his concerts. His murder might have been staged, but it might not have been.

Though even with a plotline in mind, most of the songs on Ziggy Stardust can also be interpreted to be about real things. Ziggy himself, while a fictional character created by Bowie, is a criticism of the then-current music industry. And like a good novel, the fictitious Ziggy world bears out and reveals things about the real world.

Bowie & guitarist Mick Ronson – yes, that’s what it looks like

The story doesn’t even matter (I can’t believe I just said that; my mother would be so ashamed). It’s kinda hackneyed and doesn’t really have a point. The show and spectacle isn’t even the most compelling thing, at least not for me. It’s the music. I don’t really care if Bowie never wore a scrap if makeup, if he was a bespectacled accountant from Surrey with a passion for collecting Beanie Babies. With this album, he created some of the best music ever. Whatever else he did – and he did a lot – it shrinks in comparison. Ziggy Stardust isn’t great because of the grand showmanship it displays or the overarching scope it represents; it’s great because of the music.

Next: cheer up – the world’s gonna end in five years, anyway.