What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
…the valley of steel
(Pink Floyd, “Sheep,” from Animals)
You pay attention to an instance of saying, or an instance of writing (or, by extension, an instance of singing). The hardest thing to notice is quite often nothing that is there; it’s what is not there. Oh yes, an absence can definitely be a presence, but I’m not just rehearsing on that saw again. This time, I’m thinking of what’s just not there at all, and does not demand your attention by its absence. Yet noticing its absence can change things. Maybe a lot.
So, what Lamb? What Lamb lies down? Which Lamb is it?
An easy answer that I explored before: The Lamb whose Supper was Ready in 1972.
But now let’s look at our text again. If you have your liner notes, please turn with me to Isaiah chapter 53, verse 6.
What do we actually know about this Lamb? It lies down on Broadway (Duh!!).
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.
Nothing to do with Rael, even though it’s our TITLE? Nothing to do with any other lamb? Would this include the Lamb for whom Supper’s Ready? It’s really only one section of the title song that tells us much of anything more than this(and it isn’t that much):
The lamb seems right out of place,
yet the Broadway street scene
finds a focus in its face.
Somehow its lying there
brings a stillness to the air.
Though man-made light
at night is very bright,
there’s no whitewash victim,
as the neons dim, to the coat of white.
When Rael meets the Crawlers, he notes: “There is lambswool under my naked feet.”
It seems as though that’s all. I can’t find any more right now. Not explicitly there, at least. In fact, there are no more lyrical references to The Lamb after the title track, except the wool.
This especially strikes me today. The album does not provide an answer to my question: What Lamb?
Push aside (though only for now; only for this look) the strong associations of ‘lamb’ with sacrifice. It occurs to me that a lamb is a young sheep. Notice the grammar here: “It occurs to me.” It is an event that happens to me. I’m the fly again, and it’s a windshield that I didn’t see coming. It’s not that I didn’t know it, in some broad and technical sense of ‘know.’ Sure, I knew it. But it just occurred to me. And when that word, ‘sheep,’ came as part of the occurrence, a whistle blew and I heard a voice shout, “ALL CHANGE!”
Take a look at the opening section of the article on ‘sheep’ on Wikipedia. It’s right here if you click. I’ll wait….
A sheep is a ruminant mammal. Rumination. “The process typically requires regurgitation of fermented ingesta (known as cud), and chewing it again.” (Wikipedia again). As my students like to say nowadays, “I just threw up in my mouth a little,” and I need to chew some more.
So let’s ruminate a bit on sheep. This is my suggested background for our next listen. (You are listening again each time, right? No, there will not be an exam. Not besides the exam that you administer yourself.)
The title betrays my first association. “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” (You thought of Handel or Bach — or both — just as quickly as the Bible, or perhaps even more quickly, right? A body which was baroquen for you? Oops, we put aside the sacrifice thing, didn’t we?) Second association in the opening epigraph: Pink Floyd’s “Sheep.” Third association: John Brunner’s 1972 novel, The Sheep Look Up (its title a reference to Milton). More upbeat, following on the reference to Bach: “Sheep May Safely Graze.”
But here’s where the wool begins to rub. Sheep suggest peace, and the protection of a shepherd. I was a lost sheep, but the shepherd found me, and it’s so good to be back with the fold again. But sheep follow. Sheep go with the herd (not unlike cattle).
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel
‘Sheep’ is plural, so there’s no ‘s’ to remove in order to make it singular. Does it ever really become singular? We think of sheep as followers in a very negative sense. They are also boring in just the right way to put us to sleep if we count them. It may be only the clothing that is sheepish, the wearer being a wolf. If the sheep is black, we don’t want it in our family (which suggests racism, as well as having three bags full of wool). If the sheep are lost, leave them alone and they’ll come home.
Where in the flock is this associative chain headed?
My experiment this time is with taking the detour via the word ‘sheep,’ but then coming back to the Lamb.
If it is a Sheep that Lies Down On Broadway, what did that shout (“ALL CHANGE!”) portend? When we know that we don’t know more than this about The Lamb, how does this change how we hear The Lamb? If the lamb that lies down is not actually singular, even though it supposedly has nothing to do with Rael or with any other lamb (the latter being singular, perhaps?), what then?
Let us listen again and see. Yes, I will be doing it with you. There will be a number of us, over the next couple of days, on at least two continents (if Progarchy stats are believable), but who’s counting? Perhaps we should also try to be aware of each other, in some way.
Don’t think of it as following. Think of it as an individual choice to explore “following.”
And don’t fall asleep. If you do, it means that you were counting rather than listening.