“My argument was that there aren’t many novels which are written by a committee.”
–Peter Gabriel (from Hugh Fielder’s The Book of Genesis, quoted by The Annotated Lamb Lies Down on Broadway)
Novel? Suggesting the new? Suggesting a sort of SERIOUS STORY (the unavoidable uppercase insinuating itself into any thought of that suggestion)? Sure, it’s like a novel. We’re used to calling it a “concept album” too, as if most albums are somehow without (bereft of) a concept. Both novels and concept albums had significant histories behind them in 1974, when The Lamb was loosed. One might say that they were “old hat,” though there are always folks around interested in wearing old hats, tilting them at what they take to be new angles, or perhaps sticking new feathers in them and calling them “Mac” or “Tony.”
It’s like a novel, like a concept album, like a sharp bend between genres. Taken to the stage on its infamous tour, it’s like a multimedia circus (remembering that some adore a circus, others think a circus puerile, and still others are just deathly afraid of the clowns). It’s like a Gesamtkunstwerk, in a Wagnerian idiom of “express to excess.”
So just what the hell is it? Or give that question a nastier edge with the “F-WORD,” implying a deep skepticism regarding whether it is, in any sense, FORWARD.
But does it have to be? Must it be? Muss es sein?
These gestures of “criticism,” this architectural dance — whether printed or blogged or just traded with intense sincerity on the floor of one’s room, between the speakers — has so often turned into a flippant flame, fueled by the expectation that whatever it is, it must be something novel.
I’ve recently been watching the TV-series, Castle, the one about the rich crime writer who teams up with the hot detective, and much murder and dark hilarity ensue. Novels are the business of the title character, but they are clearly the kind of novels that are not really meant to be particularly novel, at least not in the sense that they might eventually be discussed with great solemnity in future seminar courses in departments of English Literature. (Yet who can predict?) I love the program, not because it brings me something new, but because it does something that is NOT new, that is familiar, friendly, and it does it (in my estimation, at least, and perhaps sometimes more than others) exceptionally well. It constantly and deliberately teeters on the edge of the cheesy, embracing formulaic characters and dialogue with breathtaking abandon, concentrating not on breaking any molds but on filling and caressing every part of the mold, lovingly filling the mold and affirming its shape and texture. (And the frequent humorous references to Nathan Fillion’s earlier role in Firefly are a lot of fun.)
I don’t watch Castle with the same expectations that I bring to the BBC’s more edgy and exploratory Sherlock. Hopefully you get the picture.
So what does this have to do with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? No, no, don’t hurry me. The answer is not necessarily “everything.” It should be clear, however, that the answer is also a significant distance away from “nothing.”
It dawns upon me slowly, as I am writing this, that my impetus here is a polarity, a bidirectional field of force between a pole that is supposed to be new, innovative, groundbreaking, trendsetting, cutting edge, so-cool-only-hipsters-know-about-it on the one hand, and a pole that is content with breathing as much life as it can into something old, something “stock,” something cliché.
Having followed associations along an idiosyncratic path in the manner of the Freudian dream analyst, I arrive at the final word of the last paragraph, ‘cliché,’ and finally lay a hesitant hold on what I’d like to offer you in this Look at The Lamb. I’m reminded of Todd Rundgren’s song, “Cliché” (from the album, Faithful ). It exudes Rundgren’s trademark pop relational agonizing, and captures a certain heartfelt gesture of negation at the banality of the familiar, of the expected. “Who makes up the rules for the world?” “I vivisect and then pretend to know.”
So here’s my recommendation this time: Listen to that Rundgren song, and feel the painful, frustrated resignation in Todd’s inimitable voice.
Done that? OK, now go back to The Lamb. Listen and resign.
What the hell is it?
It is the jigsaw. it is purple haze.
It never stays in one place, but it’s not a passing phase,
It is in the singles bar, in the distance of the face
It is in between the cages, it is always in a space
It is here. it is now…
It is real. It is Rael.
Resign and allow it to be between the cages, always in space, not fixed at a pole but perpetually spinning between.
If it seems like a cliché, let it be so and listen for the loving caress. If it seems novel, let it be so and watch for “the big reveal.” But most of all, if it seems to be neither, please please just let it be so.