From Supper's Ready Illustrated by Nathaniel Barlam
(see YouTube link at end of post)
The other night, while I was doing the dishes, I listened to Supper's Ready by Genesis for the first time in over 30 years. For those of you unfamiliar with the track, it's a 23 minute 'concept song', which takes up the whole of Side 2 of the band's 1972 LP, Foxtrot. As such, it's very easy to deride it as pretentious, overblown silliness. Many have done so, of course, including myself at times. You can see why punk had to happen, in a sense. But as the years go by one gets less uptight about these things and I have to say that I really enjoyed hearing it again. It's such a buoyant work, packed to the brim with lyrical inventiveness and musical dexterity.
It's hard to believe that Peter Gabriel was only 21 when Supper's Ready was recorded. His voice carries such force and authority, as well as sounding distinctly weird and otherworldly. As for Phil Collins, despite the many low points of his dire (though highly successful) solo career, this track reminds us just what an outstanding drummer he's always been, up there with the best of the best to my mind, e.g. Keith Moon (The Who) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). His entry at 4:25 in the YouTube link below is simply magisterial.
What struck me most, however, was the deeply eschatological content of the lyrics. I've no idea if Gabriel (who I think wrote the lyrics) is or was a Christian, but the New Testament motifs in the song are remarkably overt. Nathaniel Barlam's artwork, in the outstanding video below, highlights this aspect really well. It's utterly unthinkable that a contemporary UK rock band would take on such a theme and from such a blatantly pro-Christian standpoint. We'd be far more likely, in my view, to see something in the style of David Bowie's sinister Blackstar video, where the Father of Lies (for surely it is he) is welcomed as a liberating force.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and the Church invites us to contemplate Christ's coming again in glory at the end of time. To be honest, I think we could do a whole lot worse at this time of year than listen to and reflect on this song.
There is also, I should say, something archetypally English about Supper's Ready. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. This song just couldn't have been conceived or written in any other country. Whether the English are still capable of such creative bounce and flair is, of course, another question.
Anyway, here it is. Enjoy!