In the fall of 1974, Genesis released the double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
It is widely considered a masterpiece of the progressive rock genre and one of the great rock concept albums of all-time.
The song cycle follows Rael, a young punk kid living in 1970’s New York City, on a surreal and grotesque journey of transformation, psychedelic adventure and spiritual redemption.
Peter Gabriel introduced a January, 1975 performance of the complete album in Los Angeles:
“We’ve written a big lump of story and music and we’d like to play the whole thing for you tonight. It tells of how a large black cloud descends into Times Square, straddles out across 42nd Street, turns into wool and sucks in Manhattan Island. Our hero, named Rael, crawls out of the subways of New York and is sucked into the wool, to regain consciousness underground. This is the story of Rael.”
Although the album and songs have become part of the classic Genesis canon, the broader story that accompanied the original LP is less known.
For your reading pleasure, The Rock File presents the full transcript of Peter Gabriel’s original story that accompanied the majestic The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
by Peter Gabriel
Keep your fingers out of my eye. While I write I like to glance at the butterflies in glass that are all around the walls. The people in memory are pinned to events I can’t recall too well, but I’m putting one down to watch him break up, decompose and feed another sort of life. The one in question is all fully biodegradable material and categorized as ‘Rael’. Rael hates me, I like Rael, — yes, even ostriches have feelings, but our relationship is something both of us are learning to live with. Rael likes a good time, I like a good rhyme, but you won’t see me directly anymore — he hates my being around. So if his story doesn’t stand, I might lend a hand, you understand? (ie. the rhyme is planned, dummies). The flickering needle jumps into red. New York crawls out of its bed. The weary guests are asked to leave the warmth of the all-night theater, having slept on pictures others only dream on. The un-paid extras disturb the Sleeping Broadway. WALK to the left DON’T WALK to the right: on Broadway, directions don’t look so bright. Autoghosts keep the pace for the cabman’s early mobile race.
Enough of this–our hero is moving up the subway stairs into daylight. Beneath his leather jacket he holds a spray gun which has left the message R-A-E-L in big letters on the wall leading underground. It may not mean much to you but to Rael it is part of the process going towards ‘making a name for yourself.’ When you’re not even a pure-bred Puerto Rican the going gets tough and the tough gets going.
With casual sideways glances along the wet street, he checks the motion in the steam to look for potential obstruction. Seeing none, he strides along the sidewalk, past the drugstore with iron guard being removed to reveal the smile of the toothpaste girl, past the nightladies and past Patrolman Frank Leonowich (48, married, two kids) who looks at Rael in much the same way that other Patrolmen look at him, and Rael only just hides that he is hiding something. Meanwhile from out of the steam a lamb lies down. This lamb has nothing whatsoever to do with Rael, or any other lamb –it just lies down on Broadway.
The sky is overcast and as Rael looks back a dark cloud is descending like a balloon into Times Square. It rests on the ground and shapes itself into a hard edged flat surface, which solidifies and extends itself all the way East and West along 47th Street and reaching up to the dark sky. As the wall takes up its tension it becomes a screen showing what had existed in three dimensions, on the other side just a moment before. The image flickers and then cracks like painted clay and the wall silently moves forward, absorbing everything in its path. The unsuspecting New Yorkers are apparently blind to what is going on.
Rael starts to run away towards Columbus Circle. Each time he dares to take a look, the wall has moved another block. At the moment when he thinks he’s maintaining is distance from the wall, the wind blows hard and cold slowing down his speed. The wind increases, dries the wet street and picks up the dust off the surface, throwing it into Rael’s face. More and more dirt is blown up and it begins to settle on Rael’s skin and clothes, making a solid layered coat that brings him gradually to a terrified stillness. A sitting duck.
The moment of impact bursts through the silence and in a roar of sound, the final second is prolonged in a world of echoes as if the concrete and clay of Broadway itself was reliving its memories. The last great march past. Newsman stands limp as a whimper as audience and event are locked as one. Bing Crosby coos “You don’t have to feel pain to sing the blues, you don’t have to holla — you don’t feel a thing in your dollar collar.” Martin Luther King cries “Everybody Sing” and rings the grand old liberty bell. Leary, weary of his prison cell, walks on heaven, talks on hell. JFK gives the OK to shoot us, sipping Orange Julius and Lemon Brutus. Bare breasted cowboy double decks the triple champion. Who needs Medicare and the 35c flat rate fare, when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are dancing through the air? From Broadway Melody stereotypes the band returns to ‘Stars and Stripes’ bringing a tear to the moonshiner, who’s been pouring out his spirit from the illegal still. The pawn broker clears the noisy till and clutches his lucky dollar bill. Then the blackout.
Rael regains consciousness in some musky half-light. He is warmly wrapped in some sort of cocoon. The only sound he can hear is dripping water which appears to be the ource of a pale flickering light. He guesses he must be in some sort of cave — or kooky tomb, or catacomb, or eggshell waiting to drop from the bone of the womb. Whatever it is, he feels serene, very clean, and content as a well kept dummy with hot water in his tummy, so why worry what it means? Resigning himself to the unknown he drifts off into sleep.
He wakes in a cold sweat with a strong urge to vomit. There’s no sign of the cocoon and he can see more of the cave about him. There is much more of the glowing water dripping from the roof and stalactites and stalagmites are forming and decomposing at an incredible rate all around him. As fear and shock register, he assures himself that self-control will provide some security, but this thought is abandoned as the stalactites and stalagmites lock into a fixed position, forming a cage whose bars are moving in towards him. At one moment there is a flash of light and he sees an infinite network of cages all strung together by a ropelike material. As the rocky bars press in on Rael’s body, he sees his brother John outside, looking in. John’s face is motionless despite screams for help, but in his vacant expression a tear of blood forms and trickles down his cheek. Then he calmly walks away leaving Rael to face the pains which are beginning to sweep through his body. However, just as John walks out of sight, the cage dissolves and Rael is left spinning like a top.
When all this revolution is over, he sits down on a highly polished floor while his dizziness fades away. It is an empty modern hallway and the dreamdoll saleslady sits at the reception desk. Without prompting she goes into her rap: “This is the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging, those you are about to see are all in for servicing, except for a small quantity of our new product, in the second gallery. It is all the stock required to cover the existing arrangements of the enterprise. Different batches are distributed to area operators, and there are plenty of opportunities for the large investor. They stretch from the costly care-conditioned to the most reasonable mal-nutritioned. We find here that everyone’s looks become them. Except for the low market mal-nutritioned, each is provided with a guarantee for a successful birth and trouble free infancy. There is however only a small amount of variable choice potential — not too far from the mean differential. You see, the roof has predetermined the limits of action of any group of packages, but individuals may move off the path if their diversions are counter-balanced by others.”
As he wanders along the line of packages, Rael notices a familiarity in some of their faces. He finally comes upon some of the members of his old gang and worries about his own safety. Running out through the factory floor, he catches sight of his brother John with a number 9 stamped on his forehead.
No-one seems to take up the chase, and with the familiar faces fresh in his mind he moves into a reconstruction of his old life, above ground–
Too much time was one thing he didn’t need, so he used to cut through it with a little speed. He was better off dead, than slow in the head. His momma and poppa had taken a ride on his back, so he left very quickly to join The Pack. Only after a pell in Pontiac reformatory was he given any respect in the gang. Now, walking back home after a raid, he was cuddling a sleeping porcupine.
That night he pictured the removal of his hairy heart and to the accompaniment of very romantic music he watched it being shaved smooth by an anonymous stainless steel razor. The palpitating cherry-red organ was returned to its rightful place and began to beat faster as it led our hero, counting out time, through his first romantic encounter.
He returns from his mixed-up memories to the passage he was previously stuck in. This time he discovers a long carpeted corridor. The walls are painted in red ochre and are marked by strange insignia, some looking like a bulls-eye, others of birds and boats. Further down the corridor, he can see some people; all kneeling. With broken sighs and murmurs they struggle, in their slow motion to move towards a wooden door at the end. Having seen only the inanimate bodies in the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging, Rael rushes to talk to them.
“What’s going on?” he cries to a muttering monk, who conceals a yawn and replies “It’s a long time yet before the dawn.” A sphinx-like crawler calls his name saying “Don’t ask him, the monk is drunk. Each one of us is trying to reach the top of the stairs, a way out will await us there.” Not asking how he can move freely, our hero goes boldly through the door. Behind a table loaded with food, is a spiral staircase going up into the ceiling.
At the top of the stairs he finds a chamber. It is almost a hemisphere with a great many doors all the way round its circumference. There is a large crowd, huddled in various groups. From the shouting, Rael learns that there are 32 doors, but only one that leads out. Their voices get louder and louder until Rael screams “Shut up!” There is a momentary silence and then Rael finds himself the focus as they direct their advice and commands to their new found recruit. Bred on trash, fed on ash the jigsaw master has got to move faster. Rael sees a quiet corner and rushes to it. He stands by a middle-aged woman, with a very pale skin who is quietly talking to herself. He discovers she is blind and asking for a guide. “What’s the use of a guide if you got nowhere to go” asks Rael. “I’ve got somewhere to go,” she replies “if you take me through the noise, I’ll show you. I’m a creature of the caves and I follow the way the breezes blow.”
He leads her across the room and they leave the crowd, who dismiss their departure as certain to fail. When through the door, the woman leads Rael down the tunnel. The light of the chamber soon fades and despite her confident step Rael often stumbles in the darkness.
After a long walk they arrive in what Rael judges to be a big round cave, and she speaks a second time asking him to sit down. It feels like a cold stone throne. “Rael, sit here. They will come for you soon. Don’t be afraid.” And failing to explain any more she walks off. He faces his fear once again.
A tunnel is lit up to the left of him, and he begins to shake. As it grows brighter, the hears a non-metallic whirring sound. The light is getting painfully bright, reflecting as white off the walls until his vision is lost in a sort of snow blindness. He panics, feels around for a stone and hurls it at the brightest point. The sound of breaking glass echoes around the cave.
As his vision is restored he catches sight of two golden gloves about one foot in diameter hovering away down the tunnel. When they disappear a resounding crack sears across the roof, and it collapses all around him. Our hero is trapped once again.
“This is it” he thinks, failing to move any of the fallen rocks. There’s not much spectacle for an underground creole as he walks through the gates of Sheol. “I would have preferred to have been jettisoned into a thousand pieces in space, or filled with helium and floated above a mausoleum. This is no way to pay my last subterranean homesick dues. Anyway I’m out of the hands of any pervert embalmer doing his interpretation of what I should look like, stuffing his cotton wool in my cheeks.”
Exhausted by all this conjecture, our hero gets the chance in a lifetime to meet his hero: Death. Death is wearing a light disguise, he made the outfit himself. He calls it the “Supernatural Anaesthetist.” Death likes meeting people and wants to travel. Death approaches Rael with his special cannister, releases a puff, and appears to walk away content into the wall.
Rael touches his face to confirm hi is still alive. He writes Death off as an illusion, but notices a thick musky scent hanging in the air. He moves to the corner where the scent is stronger, discovering a crack in the rubble through which it is entering. He tries to shift the stones and eventually clears a hole large enough to crawl out of. The perfume is even stronger on the other side and he sets off to find its source, with a new-found energy.
He finally reaches a very ornate pink-water pool. It is lavishly decorated with gold fittings. The walls around the pool are covered with a maroon velvet up which honeysuckle is growing. From out of the mist on the water comes a series of ripples. Three snakelike creatures are swimming towards Rael. Each reptilian creature has the diminutive head and breasts of a beautiful woman. his horror gives way to infatuation as their soft green eyes show their welcome. The Lamia invite him to taste the sweet water and he is quick to enter the pool. As soon as he swallows someliquid, a pale blue luminescence drips off from his skin. The Lamia lick the liquid; very gently as they begin, with each new touch, he feels the need to give more and more. They knead his flesh until his bones appear to melt, and at a point at which he feels he cannot go beyond, they nibble at his body. Taking in the first drops of his blood, their eyes blacken and their bodies are shaken. Distraught with helpless passion he watches as his lovers die. In a desperate attempt to bring what is left of them into his being, he takes and eats their bodies, and struggles to leave his lovers’ nest.
Leaving by the same door from which he had come in, he finds some sort of freaks ghetto on the other side. When they catch sight of him, the entire street of distorted figures burst into laughter. One of the colony approaches him. He is grotesque in every feature, a mixture of ugly lumps and stumps.
His lips slip across his chin as he smiles in welcome and offers his slippery handshake. Rael is a little disillusioned, when the Slipperman reveals that the entire colony have one-by-one been through the same glorious romantic tragedy with the same three Lamia, who regenerate themselves every time, and that now Rael shares their physical appearance and shadowy fate.
Amongst the contorted faces of the Slippermen, Rael recognizes what is left of his brother John. They hug each other, John bitterly explains that the entire life of the Slipperman is devoted to satisfying the never-ending hunger of the senses, which has been inherited from the Lamia. There is only one escape route; a dreaded visit to the notorious Doktor Dyper who will remove the source of the problems, or to put it less politely, castrate.
They discuss the deceptively-named escape for a long time and decide to go together to visit the Doktor. They survive the ordeal and are presented with the offensive weapons in sterile yellow plastic tubes, with gold chains. “People usually wear them around their necks,” said the Doktor handing them over. “The operation does not necessarily exclude use of the facility again, for short periods, but of course when you want it you must provide us with considerable advance warning.” As the brothers talk themselves through their new predicament, a big black raven flies into the cave, swoops down, grabs Rael’s tube right out of his hands and carries it up into the air in his beak. Rael calls for John to go with him.
And he replies, “I will not chase a black raven. Down here you must read and obey the omens. There’s disaster where the raven flies.” So once more John deserts his brother.
The bird leads Rael down a narrow tunnel, he seems to be allowing him to keep at a closed distance. But as Rael thinks he might almost catch hold of the bird, the tunnel opens and finishes at an enormous subterranean ravine. Casually, the raven drops his precious load into the rushing waters at the bottom. It’s enough to drive a poor boy ravin’ mad.
Seeing the dangers of the steep cliff, our courageous hero stands impotent and glowers. He follows a small path running along the top, and watches the tube bobbing up and down in the water as the fast current carries it away. However, as he walks around a corner Rael sees a sky- ight above him, apparently built into the bank. Through it he can see the green grass of home, well not exactly; he can see Broadway. his heart, now a little bristly, is shaken by a surge of joy and he starts to run, arms wide open, to the way out. At this precise point in time his ears pick up a voice screaming for help. Someone is struggling in the rapids below. It’s John. He pauses for a moment remembering how his brother had abandoned him. Then the window begins to fade — it’s time for action.
He rushes to the cliff and scrambles down the rocks. It takes him a long time to get down to the water, trying to keep up with the current at the same time. As he nears the water’s edge he sees John losing strength. He dives down into the cold water. At first he is thrown onto the rocks, and pulled under the water by a fast moving channel, which takes him right past John, down river. Rael manages to grab a rock, pull himself to the surface and catch his breath. As John is carried past, Rael throws himself in again and catches hold of his arm. He knocks John unconscious and then locking themselves together, he rides the rapids into the slow running water, where he can swim to safety.
But as he hauls his brother’s limp body onto the bank he lies him out and looks hopefully into his eyes for a sign of life. He staggers back in recoil, for staring at him with eyes wide open is not John’s face — but his own.
Rael cannot look away from those eyes, mesmerized by his own image. In a quick movement, his consciousness darts from one face to the other, then back again, until his presence is no longer solidly contained in one or the other.
In this fluid state he observes both bodies outlined in yellow and the surrounding scenery melting into a purple haze. With a sudden rush of energy up both spinal columns, their bodies, as well, finally dissolve into the haze.
All this takes place without a single sunset, without a single bell ringing, and without a single blossom falling from the sky. Yet it fills everything with its mysterious intoxicating presence. It’s over to you.
Story by Peter Gabriel, 1974
Artwork by Hipgnosis, 1974