Day 53. The song that you’re most proud of knowing all the words to.

“Supper’s Ready” – Genesis

A Flower?

Yesterday’s song was just over a minute long. Today’s song, “Supper’s Ready” is often referred to as an opus (no, not the penguin from “Bloom County,” although Opus in the flower costume (right) is a funny mental image). Or an epic. Either one is an apt description:  depending on the release, “Supper’s Ready” clocks in at about 23 minutes, plus or minus a few seconds.To put that in perspective, the average sitcom runs 24 minutes without commercials. (“Supper’s Ready” has a better plot than the vast majority of them.)

Any hardcore Genesis fan has a special place in their heart for “Supper’s Ready.” Keyboardist Tony Banks still counts it as the best thing they’ve ever done; many fans do as well.

Not familiar with a song I’ve mentioned?
Click the > button above to hear samples.

The song has 947 words. To put that in perspective, my average post length is around 700 words. So, while it’s not quite the length of a college essay, it’s also not a song you learn in a single sitting; I’ve listened to this many times. While you may scoff at the hours that I’ve spent on it, it’s well worth the listen(s). As you might expect, at 23 minutes, this isn’t your typical verse/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus construction. As a result very few of the words repeat. And, since it’s essentially a suite built around seven distinct sections, it’s musically diverse and interesting as well.

Like “Solsbury Hill” Peter Gabriel started writing the lyrics based on a “spiritual experience.” (He seems to have many more of these that the average person.) He described it in Armando Gallo’s excellent book, I Know What I Like, about the early years of Genesis:

“The first sequence was about a scene that happened between me and Jill [Gabriel’s first wife]… It was one night at Jill’s parents’ house in Kensington, when everyone had gone to bed… There was this room at the top of Jill’s parent’s house. This room was the coldest part of the house. I always used to get the shivers when I went in there. It was covered in strong purple and turquoise wallpaper. Everything was bright purple and turquoise… We just stared at each other, and strange things began to happen. We 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.”

He claims they were completely sober, no drugs or alcohol. Uh… sure. I’ll leave that to you to decide. The resultant lyrics:

Walking across the sitting-room, I turn the television off.
Sitting beside you, I look into your eyes.
As the sound of motor cars fades in the night time,
I swear I saw your face change, it didn’t seem quite right.
[…]
Coming closer with our eyes, a distance falls around our bodies.
Out in the garden, the moon seems very bright,
Six saintly shrouded men move across the lawn slowly.
The seventh walks in front with a cross held high in hand.

I’m sorry, but when you see seven guys in white walking across your lawn with a cross, you’re either in the Deep South and about to be in for some trouble or decidedly un-sober. That’s my opinion, anyway.

At any rate, the remainder of the song goes through its series of sections, many with allusions to, and imagery from, the Bible, ultimately culminating in the salvation of the narrator at the Apocalypse. It’s some pretty powerful stuff when you hear it.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen Genesis perform this song live. They stopped doing it in its entirety back in the late 70s, and the last time they performed any part of it was 1987. (It was released in 1972.) The closest I’ve come was seeing it performed by a tribute band called The Waiting Room. I have to say, short of hearing Gabriel himself sing the song, you can’t get closer. I was blown away at how much the lead singer sounds like Peter Gabriel. And he had the flower.

“What’s with the friggin’ flower?” you ask.

Well, along with the long songs that I’ve alluded to in the past, Gabriel often used costumes (sometimes outlandish costumes) as part of the performance. During the middle of “Supper’s Ready,” at the end of the “How Dare I Be So Beautiful?” section are the following lyrics: “Social Security took care of this lad./We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower./A flower?” At this point Gabriel would appear wearing the flower costume featured at the top of this post. It’s an iconic image from those days of the band. That’s the deal with the friggin’ flower.

I could talk a long time about this song. (In fact I’d be happy to discuss with you any time.) The lyrics are all over the place, and in some places border on nonsense. In other places they’re pretty deep. But no matter what, I’m still pretty impressed that I know them all. But at the end of the day, you’re still going to think I’m crazy. Most of you, anyway. The rest know who you are.

As impressive as “Supper’s Ready”‘s 947 word count is, I briefly considered a couple of other possibilities. (Mostly because I’m trying not to double up on songs, and there’s a challenge a little ways down the road about the longest song you like. But I found a way around it.) One option was another Genesis song, “The Battle of Epping Forest,” which runs right around 11:45 and has 782 words. That is, until I realized that I didn’t actually know a bunch of them. Although, neither did Peter Gabriel half the time. But that’s another story.

I also considered “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. But, same story. I know most of them until they get into the “Gonna make a break and take a fake/I’d like a stinkin’ achin’ shake/I like vanilla, it’s the finest of the flavours” section. Yeah, I know the last line just fine, but get to the  “stinkin’ achin’ shake” and I start to lose it.

So back to “Supper’s Ready” it was. It’s a good choice. A fine choice. An epic choice.