Tag Archive: Lilywhite Lilith


The Slipperman

The Slipperman

I’ve already noted Peter Gabriel’s tendency toward the dramatic and propensity for wearing costumes during Genesis performances. There’s the bat hat he wore for “Watcher of the Skies,” and the flower head and Magog, both for “Supper’s Ready.” There was also a character named Britannia he created for “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” and of course the famous fox head that started it all. But for the live performances of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” arguably Genesis’ most theatrical work, Peter only  donned two costumes for the entire 90+ minutes, and one of them was fairly nondescript.

The Rael costume involved little more than black jeans, a plain white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. Peter used some make-up , mostly some black around the eyes to make him look more gaunt, but nothing else. As Rael, though, Peter didn’t look like Peter, which is of course the point of wearing a costume.

Rael

Rael

Even though The Lamb involved only two costumes, Peter’s showmanship wasn’t waning. While Rael wasn’t all that difficult, the other Lamb costume was his flashiest, his trickiest, and arguably his most famous. It was also something the entire band hated from the first time Peter wore it, especially Peter himself. The Slipperman was a bunch of green foams balls piled on top of each other, with holes for the arms and tights for the legs. It looked like a wretched, cancerous mass, barely distinguishable as a person. It worked very well in a story sense, since it matched the lyrics of “The Colony of Slippermen.”

His skin’s all covered in slimy lumps / With lips that slide across each chin / His twisted limbs like rubber stumps / Are waved in welcome, say “Please join in”

However, it was a nightmare in the practical sense. Peter needed a significant pause during the performance to get the costume on, which was the reason for “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats,” a 3 minute instrumental that didn’t involve Peter. This was 1974, before the days of wireless mics or headsets. The only way for Peter’s voice to be amplified was for him to hold a mic like normal. The problem was the Slipperman costume didn’t really have a head. Not only was Peter blind, but he had to guess on where he was holding the mic. It’s amazing he could actually sing with that monstrosity on. Then after the song, the costume was a pain to get off and he needed the instrumental “Ravine” to go backstage and remove it. It was a lot of work for 8 minutes, but he did it every night.

Back to the story. After waking to find himself among people crawling on their hands and knees (who might be drug addicts) in “The Carpet Crawlers,” Rael finds himself in a room with 32 doors (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”). He gets out with the help of an old blind woman (“Lilywhite Lilith”) who was just leading him into the hands of Death himself (Anyway” and “Here Comes the Supernatural Anesthetist”). He survives his encounter with Death, and then comes across “three vermillion snakes of female face” (“The Lamia”). In a grand/weird/disturbing metaphor for sex, Rael gets into the lamias’ pool, shedding his shredded clothes, and the three lamia sensuously glide along his body. They then start to devour him, literally, taste-testing with their tongues and then nibbling his flesh. Rael is in ecstasy with this devouring, but the lamia convulse in pain and die. Then, in a final act of barbarism, Rael decides to eat the flesh of the dead lamia.

142 showmanship 03Clearly, this is the most disturbing thing on the record so far. Up until now it went from straightforward to surreal and slightly bizarre. With “The Lamia,” it takes a turn for the grotesque, and you don’t really see it coming. It reminds me of the first time I read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. The first few chapters are about a dude on a train and a street vendor selling a potato peeler gadget, and then suddenly Enoch is showing Hazel this mummified dwarf on display in a museum. My initial reaction was, “did that just happen??!?”

Next: jeez, what kind of sex are you having, Peter Gabriel? Never mind, don’t answer that…

Two figures mentioned on the second disc of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway are the Lilywhite Lilith and the Lamia, both having their own songs. These are two figures that come from Jewish mythology, but my first experience with them doesn’t come from either Genesis or Judaism. It comes from Final Fantasy II.

Lilith and Lamia were two random enemies you could fight in that game. They’re snake-like enemies with the power to charm your party members, making them attack your other party members without your control. The two enemies use the same graphic but different color palettes. They apparently have other permutations in other games from the series, but I know them from II.

Lilith (L) and Lamia (R)

Lilith (L) and Lamia (R)

Aside – Final Fantasy II is really Final Fantasy IV, but since the actual II, III and V were originally only released in Japan, American markets used to call it Final Fantasy II even though it was really IV, and the same is true for VI (they called it III). Okay, nerd moment over.

It would have been much more erudite and scholarly for me to first tell you about how Lilith and the Lamia are figures from mythology. I guess that’s one more opportunity missed. Nevertheless, the idea of Lilith comes from Jewish mysticism, and she was the original mate created for Adam. Unlike Eve, who was created from one of Adam’s ribs, Lilith was created at the same time and from the same earth as Adam. According to the legend, which first appeared in Jewish texts during the Middle Ages, she left Adam before the creation of Eve because she refused to submit to his authority. She left the Garden of Eden for good, and mated with the archangel Samael, who is known in Jewish traditions as the Angel of Death. Samael is where the iconic image of the Grim Reaper comes from. Lilith really traded up, lemme tell ya…

If you’re my age but didn’t have a love of Final Fantasy II when you were a kid, you might still know Lilith from the Lilith Fair, Sarah McLachlan’s estrogen-fueled festival from the late ’90s. The summer music festival featured a roster of all female performers or female-fronted bands. McLachlan founded the Lilith Fair in 1997 (with a bunch of men) to give woman fans an opportunity to spend all that disposable income. The male business executives McLachlan approached were all too eager to tap that market, drooling and slathering as they were.

The festival had an undercurrent of “Men suck! Lesbians rule!” to it, but it had a very impressive array of female artists on the bill. It had three stages going at the same time, and nearly every female artist or female-fronted band of note from the past 20 years was featured. Most of the stars were of the girl-strumming-an-acoustic-guitar variety, singing about their journey of self-discovery and the men who’ve impeded it. But it stuck to its mission statement, which was to give female artists a voice. All that was required to play the festival was a vagina, musical style notwithstanding.

The lamia is a creature from Greek myth, originally the beautiful queen of Libya in northern Africa. She became a child-devouring demon, at which point she mutated into a snake-like hybrid. The lamia is classically described as having the upper body of a beautiful human woman who becomes a serpent from the waist down. The word “lamia” comes from the Greek word from “gullet,” referring to her propensity for eating children. Lamia is sometimes identified as the daughter of Poseidon.

The Lamia

The lamia

Over the years, the legend of the lamia became something European mothers used to frighten their children into obedience. “If you’re bad, the lamia will get ya.” In the original Greek myth, Lamia is a mother driven mad by the deaths of her children. Zeus tries to placate her by giving her the gift of prophecy, but she becomes a monster, taking revenge on mothers who still have their children by devouring them. It’s pretty awful.

Interestingly enough, they share something in common. In the Bible, the book of Isaiah features 39 chapters all about how nation-states who oppose or disobey God are in for a real bad time, right before 27 chapters of how God’s kingdom will one day be restored and everything will be cool. In Isaiah 34, there is talk of the land of Edom and how screwed it is. In it, Isaiah lists a bunch of animals that are unclean, most likely with demonic associations. “Lilith” is among them, but in the Latin Vulgate, the word “lilith” is translated as “lamia.” Quite obviously, neither Lilith nor the lamia originate from the Hebrew Bible, but come from ancient mythology. Lilith even goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, composed in 600 BC, long before Isaiah was written.

Do you care? I thought not. Back to Genesis!

Next at AO: costumes are awesome…ly horrible.