Tag Archive: The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man


“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.”

Peter Gabriel as Magog

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.

“dragons coming out of the sea”

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.

“Lord of Lords, King of Kings, has returned to lead His children home, to take them to the New Jerusalem”

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’…

Music can’t be completely pinned down to an objective perspective, much as we may try. Songs hit people in different ways because no one is in exactly the same place as anybody else. But as subjective a pursuit as music is, there are some things that remain as true as 2+2=4. One of them is this: Genesis’ best song is “Supper’s Ready.”

Longplayer being played

That’s kind of an ironic statement when you consider that “Supper’s Ready” is actually more like seven different songs all strung together. As such, it totals out at almost 23 minutes. It’s cited among the world’s longest pop songs, along with songs by Dream Theater, Jethro Tull and Valient Thorr. But if it’s pure length you want, and don’t care about the song having a shred of musicality, look to Longplayer. Not strictly a song by any particular music group, it’s more of a compositional project started by composter Jem Finer. It started playing at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 1999, and will continue uninterrupted until the final moment of the year 2999. Bet you can’t dance to it, though…

Starting with the tour after their previous album, Nursery Cryme, Peter Gabriel would intro some of their more epic songs with a story: a prose composition of his own creation, sometimes having nothing to do with the song itself. The story was bizarre, funny or off-putting, often all three, and would end with a segue into the song. The story for “Supper’s Ready” was among Gabriel’s weirder; it involved earthworms coming up from underground because they think it’s raining (it’s actually just a naked man drumming on the ground), and getting eaten by birds, for whom “the supper is ready!”

Just listening to “Supper’s Ready” is a mammoth undertaking; it’s best if you don’t have a lot of distractions. It’s meant to be listened to all at once, so a small time commitment is necessary, and it’s definitely not ideal for background music. Listening to it in the car is fine, but not with passengers. It also will require more than one listen to really understand, but you shouldn’t just put it on repeat – for one thing, that will eat up at least close to an hour.

I know, I know – I’m not selling this very well. The truth is, I can’t. “Supper’s Ready” isn’t easily digestible like other pop songs. It requires patience and resolution. But if you don’t mind, I’ll hold out hope that the modern music listener still knows what those are.

Given its length, I was expecting it to have a long build-up like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” but it jumps right into the action with the first section, “Lover’s Leap.” While Steve, Mike and Tony all play an eerie/folksy arpeggio part of 12-string acoustic guitars, Peter sings with double-tracked vocals about an actual experience he had one night with his then wife Jill, and Genesis producer John Anthony. The three of them were having a conversation when Jill had some sort of possession experience – she started talking in a different, otherworldly voice. Peter thought he saw another face superimposed on Jill’s and held up a makeshift cross (a candlestick and something else), and Jill reacted violently, scaring the crap out of the other two. They eventually calmed her down and put her to bed, but neither Peter nor John slept a wink.

Another part of the lyrics come from an experience Peter had while at his wife’s parents’ house, where he looked out on the lawn late at night and thought he saw seven robed and hooded figures marching across it. Amazingly, he had this experience with no drugs or alcohol in his system. That time where Jill got possessed, the three of them were staying up late, but no drugs or drinking was involved there, either.

That rather straightforward story ends with a chorus that indicates the song’s name with “hey babe, your supper’s waiting for you.” The 12-string guitars continue in a hypnotic, cloud-like reverie, and Tony goes to his organ and plays a solo. That progression segues seamlessly into the second section, “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man.” Five and a half minutes into the song, this is where it really starts to pick up. It turns from an ethereal dreamscape to a grandiose anthem with a sing-along chorus, despite its rather awkward title and tagline.

The main character of this section is a “fireman who looks after the fire.” He’s a sort of anti-Christ figure, a charismatic Messiah who makes wild promises of salvation and commands the attention of many kinds of people. He’s the leader of a high-brow scientific religion that demands complete devotion, basically the definition of a cult. Scientology, anyone? The lyrical imagery is astounding, cramming a great amount into just a few minutes.

Steve Hackett doin’ his thang

After that comes a sudden stop, a flute solo from Peter, and the third section, “Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men.” The music picks up even more, becoming a full-fledged rock song. It even has a bitchin’ guitar solo that features Steve Hackett doing tapping, a full six years before Eddie Van Halen ripped it off. The lyrics talk of a great battle, presumably from the point of view of the army of this Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man. This starting to sound like the book of Revelation, a concept we get even surer of as the song goes on. Meanwhile, our lovers watch as this battle progresses, ending in victory for this Band of Merry Men.

There’s a brief pause with the next section, “How Dare I Be So Beautiful?,” which is no more than a delayed guitar effect and Peter’s soft vocals. The title is a reference to Narcissus, a figure from Greek myth that fell in love with his reflection and didn’t want to stop staring at it; he died of starvation. The battle of the previous section has left only chaotic and smoking ruins and a mountain of dead bodies, but a lone figure remains, staring into a pool at his own reflection. His existence begs the question: who is to take responsibility for a defeated army after they’re defeated? If no one takes responsibility, what will they become? …A flower?

More on “Supper’s Ready” and what happened to Narcissus after he became a flower… tomorrow!