16 July 2022

Subject to revision in the Future

It’s funny, in August of ‘69, I was doing two weeks of summer camp in the United States Army, up in Fort Cronkite in Sausalito, California. I went in my uniform down into Berkeley. It was unusual to be in uniform down in Berkeley, but I had to because I had to be in uniform at this point, to get to a record store to get the record. I walked in and I said, “Do you have The Firesign Theatre?” These guys looked at me as if I was going to blow the store up. They said, “Yeah, a new album.” They said, “Let me ask you, how come you’re interested?” I said, “Hey, look, that’s me.” “It blew their minds. I love to stretch ’em around.

— Peter Bergman, as relsted to Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr

Of the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a virtual acquaintance wrote:

... an album I've always really struggled to make sense of, both musically and narratively.  What's the secret - apart from to go back 40 years and get immersed in it?

To which I replied:

The “narrative” of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, whether Peter Gabriel’s lyrics or his prose blurb, which originally appeared inside the gatefold (irreconcilable as they are), is simply a hot mess (at best) with the occasional embarrassingly weak “wordplay” which at times mars even the best efforts of early Genesis at worst. I treat the album kind of like a Wagner opera, in that I pretty much just focus on the music. Apparently (relations already being strained between PG and the rest of the band at that point—IIRC, Mrs PG was having a difficult pregnancy, and the band could have been more emotionally supportive than they were) the band basically communally composed the album song by song, and PG devised/applied lyrics with the music more or less a fait accompli) which anyway supports the notion of receiving the music as the core experience. All that said, it’s kind of surreal to find the audience in the DVD of a live performance. singing along to “Carpet Crawlers.” I love all the rhythmic ingenuity of the album, and of course, Steve Hackett’s colors, especially. For me, the outstanding tracks are “Fly on a Windshield,” “In the Cage,” “Back in N.Y.C./Hairless Heart.” “The Waiting Room/Anyway/Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist” & “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats.”

On the theme of “a hot mess,” here are five outstandingly less-than-his-best lines from Peter Gabriel’s lyrics on that album:

5. Groucho, with his movies trailing, stands alone with his punch-line failing.

Something failed there, but it wasn't Groucho.

4. With no sign of life at all, I guess that I’m alone.

Well, I guess so!

3. Chances narrow that I’ll make it in the cushioned straight-jacket.

The strained rhyme only accentuates the strained imagery.

2. It’s a yellow plastic Shoobedoobe

Part of me applauds the made-up word, and yet it feels too much like I don’t know what to write, so let’s just go with, erm, something.

1. It’s only knock and know-all, but I like it.

Gabriel rarely strained more than right there.

Bonus: the reader is invited to consider which of the following two songs, in their entirety, is worse: “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging,” or “Counting Out Time.”

For the sake of some balance: five lines from the album which I especially like:

1. Silent sorrow in empty boats.

2. Youre sitting in your comfort, you don’t believe I’m real; you cannot buy protection from the way that I feel.

3. And I’m hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway.

4. They say she comes on a pale horse, but I’m sure I hear a train.

5. They are pulled up by the magnet, believing they’re free.

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