Listen to this Genesis’ song, “The Lamia” taken from their 1974 concept album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
The story which is threaded through the songs on this album is a sort of phantasmagorical quest myth, based as it was on a series of dreams that frontman and lyricist Peter Gabriel was having at the time. Also, the band had made a trip to New York City the year before, and the cityscape had made an impression. This contributed to the lead “character” in the story, Rael, a homeless New York street urchin who is swallowed up by a mysterious phenomenon while exiting an all-night movie theatre in Times Square. He’s cast into a series of subterranean adventures (literal or psychological? You be the judge) , while trying to locate his brother John, who may in fact be a facet of his own identity, rather than an actual person (again – you be the judge).
Among the many odd adventures Rael has is his encounter in an underground cavern pool with the Lamia, seductive beings with bodies of serpents and faces of beautiful women. Stay with me, now, good people. They entice him to have a four-way, inter-species romp with them in the pool. They bite him (and he “feels no pain”) and drink some of his blood. Unfortunately, his blood is poisonous to them, and they die (who knew?). So, what does our hero do? He does what anyone in his position would do; he eats their remains, which apparently taste of garlic and chocolate. It may surprise you to learn that this is a really bad idea, leading to all kinds of Freudian consequences.
You can read the lyrics to the song here, and follow along.
The full story of ‘The Lamb’ album itself was compelling enough for Exorcist film director William Friedkin to approach Gabriel about a proposed film, which never came to fruition. As murky and weird as the story is, what really counts here is the atmosphere the band creates to supplement their established musicianly chops. They’re able to get a sort of dream-like effect which is true to the lyrics, with the help of one Brian Eno on board who creates something of a sonic backdrop. All of this allowed them to create what many consider to be their definitive statement as a five-piece.
The group would tour the album in 1974-75, the final bow of an era before Gabriel quit Genesis to “grow cabbages and raise children”. He legitimately intended to quit being a musician, before reconsidering and returning in 1977, having completely re-invented himself as a solo artist.
Here’s an interesting site that has recreated some of the “scenes” from the Lamb album via a series of paintings, including the Lamia episode.
2 thoughts on “Genesis Perform “The Lamia”, from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”
I love trying to interpret the Lamb. Everybody does it differently, incorporating many lofty ideas and references and yet it always finds it way back to some guy chasing after his wang floating down a river.
And that link to the paintings in pretty neat. Good stuff man.
Interpreting the Lamb is like trying to trace the narrative of a dream you had, which is impossible. Most of the time, we’re just left with little episodes, flashes of symbols, and a general idea of what the dream felt like, not about what it was “about” in a story-telling sense. I think that’s why this record and the songs found on it are so compelling. They nail this same effect. It would have been easy just to write a story and hang songs on it. These guys did it the other way around.
But I think ultimately, the story is about a guy chasing his wang floating down a river, which is as good a model of Freudian analysis as I can think of! 🙂