Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's in a name?



I recently checked out two of my favorite rock concept albums from the public library that I currently only have on LP (that's long-playing records for you young'uns): Tommy by The Who and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. After reading the liner notes, I noticed a connection between these two albums that I'd never noticed before.
One of the early titles for Tommy was going to be Rael, a longer song that appeared on the previous album The Who Sell Out.
From Wikipedia: "Rael" is an excerpt from one of Pete Townshend's early attempts at rock opera. The plot is not clear from the excerpt, but it apparently involves a heroic "Captain" who is betrayed by his crew during a clandestine attempt to save Rael from a looming invasion by the Red Chins. The dramatic instrumental section in the second half of the song shows up as a dreamy sequence in both "Sparks" and "Underture" of the later rock opera Tommy.

Here's a link to the lyrics of "Rael"

Years later (1974), when the British progressive rock group Genesis made its own attempt at rock opera, the hero of their rambling, nonsensical tale is a Puerto Rican New York gutter punk named, you guessed it, Rael.

I've done some cursory Internet research and found nothing that connects Tommy and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway via this name, Rael, which is a play on "real." Was Peter Gabriel inspired by The Who when he chose that name for Lamb's main character? Although I found an exhaustively researched site about that album, The Annotated Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I still have not found anything more about the Tommy/Lamb Rael connection.
Here's what that site says about the name:
"In some ways it was quite a traditional concept album - it was a type of Pilgrim's Progress but with this street character in leather jacket and jeans. Rael would have been called a punk at that time without all the post-'76 connotations

Rael was [Peter] Gabriel's made-up name. It was similar enough to the popular Spanish name Raoul to fit in with the character, but English enough to suggest both reality and fantasy.

And what of the significance of "Rael"? Transpose the "a" and the "e" and you get "real", which is referred to in the end of "It": "it is Real, it is Rael".

The juxtaposition of "is" and "Rael" is interesting, since it forms the word "Israel" at the climactic point of the album. Since this album is full of metaphors and references to everything under the sun, it is not out of order to assume that this was intentional. If we go along with this, then we're talking about the children of Israel. According to the dictionary, the Hebrew word "yisrael" means to struggle against God. Judeo-Christian references played a major role in the music of Gabriel-era Genesis, starting with the band's very name. The Lamb's songs might be considered within the context of the New Testament. Some things may begin to fall into place. Carrying the metaphor further, we can assume Real is a Christ figure. "The lamb lies down on Broadway" would then mean "Jesus Christ dies in New York." At the end of the story, Rael sacrifices his life for his brother John, in spite of the numerous times John had forsaken him, and he loves him anyway. This is a very Christian attitude. On an unrelated note, "Rael" spelled backwards is "Lear", which may be an intentional reference to the mad king of Shakespear. "

Let's not bring in the weird clone cult, the Raelians, who have no connection to concept albums except for the incomprehensibility of their beliefs. As any fan knows, rock opera plots are equally as difficult to make sense of. Maybe I could start a cult devoted to deciphering the lyrics...

1 comment:

DR. LARRY MITCHELL said...

There's no stopping
The cretins from hopping.