Tag Archive: Rael


Treasures

Peter Gabriel - Melt - 5/23/1980

Peter Gabriel – Melt – 5/23/1980

I have no idea what I would do if someone broke into my house. The closest it ever got to that was when a woman knocked on our sliding glass door at about 2am. My wife heard it first. Scared out of her wits, she tried to look up the police – we didn’t have smartphones yet, and the idea of calling 911 apparently didn’t penetrate either of our 2am hazes. I had to deal with the potential intruder. It was a short black woman with wide eyes and no shoes, definitely drunk. Clearly not a robber, she was saying something to me that took me a few tries to figure out. She thought I was a friend of hers, Bernie or something, and she wanted to sleep there for the night. I told her in no uncertain terms to go away. I don’t think my wife or I slept much after that.

As traumatic as that was, it’s not even a thousandth of what it must be like to have an actual intruder in your house, one with evil intent to your possessions. It’s something no one ever wants to think about.

Unless you’re Peter Gabriel, that is. And if you’re Peter Gabriel, not only do you like thinking about it, but you like forcing your listeners to think about it, too. “Intruder” leads off PG’s third eponymous album commonly called Melt, with plodding and doom-filled drumming, then what sounds like glass being delicately cracked, like a window that’s being broken as quietly as possible.

Peter sings this song like a sociopathic lunatic, provoking a reaction of tension-filled dread from the listener. Like Hannibal Lecter’s icy, smiling stare, it’s the quietness of Peter’s voice punctuated by moments of frothing madness that make for the most terror. “Intruder” is one of the most terrifying songs I’ve ever heard, bested in that department only by Bach and his “Toccata & Fugue.”

When I visited my family a few Christmases ago, the men had a discussion about intruders (which is to say they had the discussion and I listened silently), which led into gun control. My brother-in-law, who was going through a gun-crazy phase at the time, wanted to acquire a classic, noisy shotgun. He had a theory that if anyone ever broke into his house, all they would have to hear was the loud CLICK-CLACK of a cocking shotgun and they would high-tail it out of there, but not before making a mess on your floor. He said the gun wouldn’t even have to be loaded, because all you need is the sound to get the intruder shaking in his probably stolen boots.

I think there’s something to that, but like I always do, I’m looking for the root. If you want a shotgun to ward off intruders, you obviously think it’s a real possibility that you will at some point have an intruder. Delusion and paranoia are extremely likely, but let’s assume that attitude has a basis in reality. What is that basis? Do you have a lot of valuable stuff that would attract an intruder? A fancy car, an opulent house, an unnecessarily loud stereo system? Why do you have those? Greed? Inadequacy? A need to feel successful?

Religion would classify those things as “treasures,” and my religion teaches me that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In a sort of pre-emptive strike, Jesus said to “store up your treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and thieves do no break in and steal.” In short, don’t have too much stuff. Why? ‘Cause having too much stuff chains you to this world, and that’s not where you wanna be forever. (Matthew 6:19-21)

But enough of that.

Peter Gabriel adherents had never really heard anything like “Intruder” from him. It was a revelation of one of Peter’s abilities, one that had only been touched briefly upon with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It’s the ability to show you extremely strange and horrifying images and make you want to keep staring at them. Previously, he had done this with fantasy and fiction, but with Melt, he was making you look at the real world. “Intruder,” “Family Snapshot,” and “Biko” deal with fully real moments of violent horror and what they mean to your actual life. No more hiding behind constructs like Blackstone Enterprises or Magog or even Rael, as transparent as he was. Now, it’s just Peter.

Next: portrait of a killer.

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…

Their American fans may forget this at times, but Genesis is British. The fact that they came from across the Atlantic didn’t matter to me when I was 11. I guess I knew it, but that they were English didn’t really mean anything. But that fact became more present as I became more aware of the world around me. “American” was just the default position when I was younger, but Genesis is distinctly not American.

The biggest evidence of that is the album Selling England By the Pound, which not only has its country of origin in the title, but contain themes and subject matter that pertain particularly to Great Britain. By that time, Genesis had carved out a place for themselves in the British musical landscape. And then, at the end of 1974, they busted out of the box by centering their newest album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, on New York City, the epitome of American-ness. Furthermore, the main character of this rock opera-ish is not a knight or a minstrel or a member of the Royal Guard, but a greasy Puerto Rican kid with a spray gun and a hairy heart.

Rael

Rael

Let me explain that last part. Rael’s heart, in the metaphorical sense only, is very hairy at the start of the story. From the best I can understand, this means he’s ruled by emotion rather than reason. The “hair” on his heart represents id-based urges and desires, unconnected to societal norms or restrictions. As a punk greaser with a rebellious attitude and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Chrysler building, Rael wants what he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts…

Until the song “Back In N.Y.C.” In this part of the journey, we get some of Rael’s backstory and start to understand this nightmarish world he’s stumbled into by accident. He’s nothing more than a juvenile delinquent, sent to Pontiac (a juvenile detention center in NY that, as far as my web search could find, doesn’t exist) and released when he was 17. “Back In N.Y.C.” is the moment where Rael shaves his hairy heart, shedding the flailing chaos of being controlled by his desires and moving forward with a measured and reasoned attitude. It’s not unlike Pink in the movie version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Pink shaves off all the hair on his entire body, and after that becomes a totalitarian dictator. Didn’t work out too well for Pink, and Rael’s result is… I’m not really sure.

It begs the question: is it better to rule over our desires or to have our desires rule us? Here’s the same question with a different spin: is it better to do what we want or to do what we’re told? Let me put it a third way, one that uses the language of The Lamb: do we shave our hairy hearts and eliminate all desires and live like robots, or do we let the hair grow and be slaves to our own whims and momentary wants?

My answer to all those questions is “neither.” The desires of your heart are called “desires” for a reason, and they should be at least listened to. But your heart isn’t the end-all-be-all of who you are, much as it tries to be sometimes. The pat phrase “follow your heart” ticks me off, simply because it’s so flagrantly unwise. You should listen to your heart, but you shouldn’t do everything it says. It’s a very good resource on a lot of things, but it’ll lead you astray from time to time. After all, your heart can lie to you. Rael learns this a little later in the album, but we’ll get to that.

Kind of in reverse order, we learn why Rael shaved his heart in “Counting Out Time.” Herein lies the tale of Rael’s first sexual conquest, and the song reveals that Rael was living with his selfish desires out of control. He was operating only on getting what he wants, not caring who he does wrong.

Peter Gabriel broke pattern with the rest of the album in writing the lyrics and music for this song, which was really his first taste of being in complete charge of the musical direction of a song. It shows, too, because “Counting Out Time” doesn’t fit into any category Genesis has used before. While the rest of The Lamb is brooding and a little dour, “Counting Out Time” is downright goofy. The guitar sound during the solo is particularly off-the-wall. It bears resemblance to “Moribund the Burgermeister” and “Excuse Me,” two tracks on Peter Gabriel’s first solo album from 1977. The pinnacle of the silliness comes with the lyric “Honey, get hip! It’s time to unzip! Zip-a-zip-a-zip, whoopee!!!”

“Counting Out Time” is among the more straightforward numbers on The Lamb. It details Rael’s exploration of the sexual realm, and his acquisition of a book called Erogenous Zones and Difficulties in Overcoming Finding Them. This might be an actual book, but there’s no hard evidence to prove it. Rael follows it to the letter, but forgets that there’s an actual person he’s practicing on. What strikes me most about it is the supreme selfishness with which he goes about learning about sex. Sex is a two-person act, and you can’t learn about it in a sterile, consequence-less environment. You have to learn by doing, and it’s all on the record.

Next: if The Lamb is about any single thing (which it’s not), it’s about sex.

There a several different arguments for what The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is ultimately about, which really means isn’t not about any one particular thing. That element makes for good art, but also makes my job much harder. The best I can do is provide insight, and you’ll have to figure the rest out on your own. You’re supposed to, though; when someone tells what a piece of art is about and you don’t come to it on your own, it’s not art.

The next section (“Cuckoo Cocoon” and the intro to “In the Cage”) have one interesting interpretation: heroin. In the plotline, this is Rael’s entrance to this other world, a world that’s bizarre, hellish and nightmare-filled, but populated by his innermost fears, desires and drives. But alternatively, “Cuckoo Cocoon” could be about Rael’s first taste of heroin. The description of a soft feeling all around him (“wrapped up in some powdered wool”) and the awareness that it’s too good to be true (“I feel so secure that I know this can’t be real, but I feel good”) are similar to the sensations of a heroin high. I wonder what Lou Reed would think of this, being a sort of PhD on this subject.

Rael then drifts to sleep and wakes up with “sunshine in [his] stomach,” which is an arty way of saying he’s gonna puke. Again, this is consistent with heroin. I’ve never been on the drug myself, but I imagine everything is worse when you come down from a high. Nowhere else on the entire album can a case be made for the songs being about heroin (with the possible exception of “Carpet Crawlers”), but it’s interesting, anyway.

Then we get into the real meat of “In the Cage,” and come to the place where the themes of The Lamb really take shape. Now that the “high” of “Cuckoo Cocoon” has worn off, Rael discovers his situation to be startlingly and distressingly changed, the powdered wool turning to cold stone. Stalactites and stalagmites close in on him to form a sort of cage, and Rael is trapped.

It’s is here that Brother John makes his first appearance. As Rael’s despair is growing, he sees his brother outside the cage and calls to him for help. But like the callous, selfish child he is (and as we all are), he turns away. The name “John,” which is one of the most common male given names in history, suggests John’s anonymous nature and his ability to be any one of us, someone we’re meant to use as a stand-in for ourselves. Even some religious imagery is employed with John’s tear of blood; in some Catholic traditions, Jesus is said to have cried blood at his crucifixion.

“In the Cage” is one of the big showpieces on The Lamb, which is mostly made up of shorter songs (or at least “shorter” by Genesis standards). It clocks in at over 8 minutes and features the first of several spectacular synth solos courtesy of Tony Banks. For that little piece of keyboard awesomeness, we have only Tony to thank. Peter Gabriel penned almost all of the lyrics for The Lamb, leaving the rest of the band to come up with the music. It was a very different way of composing for them. Genesis was used to writing songs using a more organic, natural method – all of them sitting with their instruments and creating ex nihilo, contributions coming from all members. Here, Peter went off into his own space in a singular fashion, and the music was composed as a four-piece.

Peter must have liked that I’m-the-boss mode of songwriting, because The Lamb was his last album with Genesis. He soon embarked on a very successful solo career spanning another 30+ years, and most people know him more for his ‘80s solo singles than anything he did with Genesis. In fact, he’s mostly just known as the dude with the train tracks around his head.

When I first heard “In the Cage,” it was on the Phil-era live album Three Sides Live. “In the Cage” was the first part of a medley that included segments of “The Cinema Show” and “The Colony of Slippermen.” Before I bought that 2-tape copy of Three Sides Live, I didn’t know any of these songs existed. Now, I appreciate it (as well as the late ‘70s live Seconds Out) as Phil’s interesting take on Peter songs. Some Genesis fans think it a sickening travesty that Phil would even touch Peter’s songs, and it does seem strange considering the wildly different direction Phil steered Genesis into during the ‘80s. A few of the more vocal (read as “stupid”) Genesis fans would have rathered that Genesis just dissolved after Peter left.

But not me. It can’t be denied that Phil Collins is a consummate performer, an expert showman and a dynamic frontman. He’s the Dave Grohl of the ’70s – the drummer behind a shiny star of a lead singer that becomes an even shinier star once the first star makes its exit. And as such, Phil does Peter in a way that Peter never could (and wouldn’t really want to); the result is fascinating. He’s added colors of interpretation to each pre-Phil song he’s chosen that simply weren’t there before, and that’s worth something. He doesn’t subtract anything from Peter’s base – just makes it different.

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.