Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Supper's Ready" - Genesis

In September 1972, Yes released Close to the Edge. Hot on its heels was Genesis' Foxtrot. AM has extolled the triad virtues of Yes (The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge) and Jethro Tull (Aqualung, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play), but glossed over the trilogy that represents Genesis at its best (Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By the Pound). By this time, the classic line-up that included new drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, and recent recruit Steve Hackett on guitars, had already put together 1971's Nursery Cryme which defined the Genesis format longer, seamless pieces, capturing an English sensibility and humor, as well as a sense of the theatrical. That format carried on and was perfected on both Foxtrot and Selling England By the Pound (the longest song on the overreaching Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was a paltry 8 minutes).

"Supper’s Ready" would surpass all of the longer form pieces they'd done, in many ways becoming the culmination of all of the longer pieces from 1970's pastoral and atmospheric “Stagnation”, to the vividly disturbing themes found in 1971's "The Musical Box." Clocking in at 23 minutes, "Supper's Ready" is an epic track in the grand tradition of early 70s prog. It's origins come from a reading of the Book of Revelation with Magogs and dragons coming out of the sea providing the prominent imagery. But, it also came from a frightening experience that singer Peter Gabriel and his then-wife Jill experienced one evening while having a late-night conversation at the home of Jill's parents, along with producer and friend John Anthony.



Gabriel: It was one night at Jill's parents' house in Kensington when everyone had gone to bed… we'd just been talking to John… there's this strange room in the house in Kensington… I can never sleep there. It was decorated in turquoise and purple which are colors that are both quite high in the frequency range, and I think it was like an echo chamber for what was going on. It was late at night, and we were tired and all the rest, so it was quite easy for us to hallucinate or whatever… we hadn't been drinking or drugging, but… there was this girl who was an old girlfriend of John's and was trying to get back at him or something, and she was into magic and that sort of thing…

Anthony: Jill and I were having a conversation about power and strength and will. Suddenly I was aware that the whole room's atmosphere had changed, Jill had gone into some sort of trance. Suddenly the windows blew in, followed by extreme cold, followed by this psychic phenomenon.

PG: … [Jill and I] saw other faces in each other, and I was very frightened, in fact. It was almost as if something else had come into us, and was using us as a meeting point. The curtain flew wide open, though there was no wind, and the room became ice cold…

JA: Neither Peter, Jill, or I were doing drugs or drinking. I realized it was a basic manifestation. I have seen it before, the room was full of cold astral smoke, psychic ether. The thing that scared me was that it started moving in the form of a tourbillion – the great wheel that projects spirits into the astrosphere. It is nothing to do with death. It is a phenomenon that can occur with people with strong psyches. If you go through one there is a good chance that if you come back you will never be the same.

PG: And I did feel that I saw figures outside, figures in white cloaks, and the lawn I saw them on wasn't the lawn that was outside. It was just like a Hammer horror film, except it was for real… I was shaking like a leaf and in a cold sweat. ..Jill suddenly became a medium, and started spouting in a different voice… and it is very strange when someone you live with suddenly starts talking with another voice, and eventually, I made a cross with a candlestick and something and held it up to Jill when she was talking in this voice… she sort of reacted like a wild animal. John and I had to hold her down. And the rest of the night we eventually quietened her down, and made her a cup of tea, and tried to talk her through. Then she slept downstairs in the sitting room, but neither I nor John slept a wink that night. Anyway, that's how I got into thinking about good and evil, and forces working against each other. That's the sort of thing that Supper's Ready was… fed on. This was the thing, you see. This is why I was put into this state of mind really, only because the cross had worked. The cross, as a thing, meant nothing to me. I did it because I had seen horror films, and… just anything really that might have worked. I had experienced a sense of evil at that point – I don't know how much of this was going on inside my head and how much was actually happening, but it was an experience I could not forget and was the starting point for a song about the struggle between good and evil.

In the light of that, the idea of "supper" is a pretty mundane and ordinary concept and an odd title to a song so epic in scale. But, supper is also an intimate ritual, a nurturing act, one that is ultimately connected to the Last Supper and in that to the Apocalypse. It's about the battle against good and evil on a cosmic scale, and about being connected to something greater than oneself.

The track is divided into seven seamless sections. Gabriel goes straight to the lyric for "Lovers Leap" without any introduction delivering a beautiful vocal and melody with a musical backdrop that features a tinkly Hohner pianet, acoustic twelve string guitars, a cello, a flute and bass pedals which were used quite heavily throughout the album by Rutherford. "The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man" is a slightly harder faster piece with the first drum contributions by Collins, who was limited to cymbals, triangles and a bell in scene 1. Gabriel's vocal is much harder and in more of a rock style than the gentle folkiness of the opener, a short reprise of which leads into "Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men," a full-blown rock song with a guitar solo and some classic prog interplay with Kaye's distinctive keys. 

"How Dare I Be So Beautiful" is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus. At the end of the piece, the lyric suggests a transformation into a flower, to which Gabriel responds quizzically in the voice of a different character, "A flower ?"  which leads utterly into "Willow Farm," with lyrics, vocals, and characterizations from Gabriel at his most vaudevillian. How can one not see the humor in lines like "Mum to mud to mad to dad", "Dad Diddley office" and "Mum diddley washing" etc. (like Kate Bush in "Mrs. Bartolozzi" who sings so gloriously and with such meaning about intermingled laundry: "Slooshy sloshy/ slooshy sloshy/ Get that dirty shirty clean").

"Apocalypse in 9/8" is the heaviest segment featuring a powerful vocal from Gabriel and some pretty severe and complex playing from the band, leading to a further reprise of the "Lovers Leap," where Gabriel reverts to the gentler melody and vocal delivery of that opener but over the chord progression of the second part of the song "The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man." The juxtaposition is striking. "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs" provides a powerful ending with Gabriel's William Blake-inspired lyrics (which may also nod in the direction of Shelley with the King of Kings reference) belting out over pretty heavy instrumentation. The fade-out was always a concern for me (as it was in Firth of Fifth); my only criticism of the suite being the song's lack, after 23 minutes, of a proper ending. "Supper's Ready" is all over the place, while ultimately focused – that, of course, is the definition of epic. As if under the opiate of Buñuel, this grand crusade, with its mountains of humanity, psychotropic flowers, an enchanted farmhouse, an apocalypse, and finally, a triumphant arrival to the New Jerusalem, is powerful, funny, serious, burlesque, magical, mysterious, lunar, dark, bursting with light, ridiculous, and serious. Whew, all that in 23 minutes.

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