"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their entrances and their exits,
And one man in his time plays many parts."
As You Like It
The Night People
, it sounds as though
Pete Sinfield and Mel Collins got the brass section from
for a late night blowing session. The song features a stunning jazz arrangement
including several tempo changes and the sort of high register playing that made
Maynard Ferguson famous.
While all of this is going
on, Peter Sinfield paints a richly detailed unforgettable picture of a
night out in London. The song begins at dusk, with quiet dreamy
music and Peter's wonderfully vivid imagery introducing the
"Blue neon clock fingers sneaking past the stars
the last fuse of day."
With the word "neon", we are, right away, put on notice that, though the verses
here are pastoral, it is an urban scene that Peter Sinfield is painting. There
is also significant symbolism in line one. "Neon" represents civilization
and the "clock" consciousness, the Logos "sneaking past" getting by, over-shadowing "the stars"
(the mystical, Eros, the unconscious). But line two, "extinguish the last fuse
of day", connotes an opposite meaning. The day represents consciousness. And so
a major theme, if not the major theme, of
The Night People
is the avoidance of consciousness or the night as a refuge from modern
civilization, the crushing velocity of
42nd and Treadmill
Mr. 9 'Till 5
, modern life and its concomitant demand that we maintain, in order to survive,
a hyper-vigilance, a hyper-consciousness.
The streets (paths of civilization) are "black" (dark, offering little hope or
direction for the spiritual traveler) and "rain" (pain)-wet". The "cars" are
but a symbol of their inhabitants who, in their "Mr. 9 'Till 5" routines,
"rush" about "bleary-eyed" (spiritually lost or confused). In the attempt to
forget who they are and their responsibilities in the world, the people in the
cars are already "drunk". As it is early yet, perhaps the "revelers" are drunk
on civilization, asleep to reality. It is the soulless, spiritless demands of
civilization that make us "blasť". "Every stale day is a haywire highway."
Blasť executives "yawn" into their business suits (personas). The day was
"empty" and the night will be an "echo" of that emptiness but "the night
people", like Hermes, Dionysus or the transcendent function, will "slide
The "spotlight" says "Don't look there. Look here." The material world of Maya
is a sleight of hand trick and laughter is a "sauce" that covers/conceals the
true nature of the proceedings. And yet there is always a way to the right
path. "Sallow" means unhealthy in appearance, pale and yellow (Hermes="the
yellow jester"). Sallow is also a willow tree (see chapter eleven,
) and the wood of this tree is used as a source of charcoal. (source:
American Heritage Dictionary
) One way or another, sooner or later, we will all walk thorough the cleansing
spiritual fire (see chapters thirteen through fifteen,
Just as reality is covered over by "laughter sauce" the smiles are "brandied".
The truth covered over by alcohol.
"Mouths of dice" likens romance to a game of chance and also provides a
connection with the previous song on the album (
A House of Hopes and Dreams
) wherein a relationship was built with "painted cards", "loaded dice" and
The "tunnel" band serves its purpose: inducing, for it's audience, tunnel
vision in the "smokescreen atmosphere". "The dancers kick like marionettes",
archetypically driven puppets.
At this point,
The Night People
reverts to the quite dreamy introspective quality of verse one. As Neil Ingram
pointed out regarding
(the song): "Introverted verses give way to extroverted choruses leading to
introverted verses to extroverted choruses. The alternating cycle of taking in
and giving out. One could say that the verses are the introspections of the
private man, and the choruses are the public pronouncements. Alternating
stillness and movement."
So we see that
The Night People
, being structurally quite close to
, is therefore something of its counterpart (mirror) on the album. And, like
the the piper, we are "in and out of the spectral trees", in and out of unity
with nature and ourselves, back and forth between the inner and outer worlds.
"The term dervish literally means "threshold," and that picturesque description
itself provides the crucial clue: the dervish calling has something to do with
the meeting of two worlds. For the hermit, reclusion is the bottom line: he or
she leaves the world and lives apart as a sign of renunciation and poverty of
spirit. The dervish is drawn, almost in spite of himself, back and forth across
that threshold. He or she lives at the boundary between pure solitude and the
need to spill back into the world, still pointing like a weathervane in the
direction of that other. Try as one might, the tension won't collapse. The
solitude drives one back into the world to communicate (not necessarily in
words but in the quality of one's aliveness) some vestige of that divine
intensity that aches for human expression."
"The paint peeling tea stall by Charing Cross bridge
Attracts lonely moths to its lamps."
Just as Orpheus descended into the underworld to retrieve his dead wife (his
anima), so was Charing Cross originally erected as a tribute to the dead wife
of a king (Edward I).
And, just as we were the "bleary eyed cars", so, too, are we the "lonely moths"
who want to cross over the "bridge", attracted to the "paint-peeling" away of
masks and the "lamp" of spiritual union with God, the Self.
All of us are searching for spiritual food ("queueing for soup", "A Song and a
Bowl of Soup") while being "pushed on" by custom and dogma (law, "policemen"),
"softened" by the word ("newspapered") to buy into the world and its deceptive
message. The spiritual traveler (Dervish/Sufi) attempts to evade the world's
outstretched glove (cloak).
And so back into the world . . . but not of it.
"Gargoyles chewing on dead cigars
Stack chips in crystal halls.
Sequinned starlets scent their breasts
Till the single finger calls."
"Sequinned starlets" cast a "sequin spell". Our enchantment by material
reality, a "spell", becomes more powerful the further we travel (caravan) from
the source, the psychological unity of the womb, infancy and early childhood.
Cochineal is a red dye produced from the crushed bodies of insects.
"When Spaniards arrived in Mexico, they were fascinated by the intense scarlet
color of cochineal dye, which was brighter and better than anything in the Old
Incidentally, saffron, woad and cochineal are all ancient dyes. Perhaps these
several references are reflective of Peter's career as a fabric designer.
A defensive barrier made of strong posts or timbers driven upright side by side
into the ground.
A similar fenced or enclosed area, especially one used for protection.
A jail on a military base.
And so the "cochineal stockade" is a red protected area, a (red light) district
for those imprisoned by desire and seeking protection ("lest they scratch their
gilded fears") from confrontation with the Self.
"...underlying all life is
the ground of doubt and self-questioning which sooner or
later must bring us face to face with the ultimate meaning of
our life. This self-questioning can never be without a certain
existential "dread"-- a sense of insecurity, of "lostness," of
exile, of sin. A sense that one has somehow been untrue not
so much to abstract moral or social norms but to one's own
inmost truth. "Dread" in this sense is not simply a childish fear
of retribution, or a naÔve guilt, a fear of violating taboos. It is
the profound awareness that one is capable of ultimate bad
faith with himself and with others: that one is living a lie."
These are the jaws of the same "night" who enfolded "her cloak of holes around
the river meadow" in
, Prince Rupert's Dark Night of the Soul.
"In Hindu mythology, the destruction of the "ego," whether as joy or terror,
is represented by
the image of Kali, the goddess-mother who "prepares us for the oneness. Kali is
swallows the universe. She consumes smallness, your pain, your guilt, and
ego...Kali is the Black Mother, the dark mother of the night. It is she who
kills the ego dead.
(Bhagavati, 1998, p. 18)."
And yet, in the "night" of
The Night People
, the "piper is never paid". What is this price that must be paid?
"What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the withered field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain."
- William Blake, Vala or the Four Zoas
The denizens of
The Night People
are living symbolically, very much like the Smiths of
who sought dream images without dreaming and spiritual awakening ("indoor
fireworks") without truly paying the price. Just as Charon must be paid with a
coin by those who wish to cross over the river Styx, the piper must be paid if
we hope to retain our authenticity (as symbolised by our children).
"By the late Middle Ages the Piper had merged with the figure of Death as the
leader of la danse macabre or the Dance of Death."
Rustlers hope to obtain something they have not earned, something for which
they are unwilling, or unready, to pay the price. Gangsters, freaks, rustlers.
The night is inhabited by the illegitimate, the less than genuine, who "drive
away blindfold", still refusing to see. This is a reflection of who, or where,
"Dead the hollow dreams of night
Turn grey dissolve . . . .dissolve . . .
"Dervishes dissolved the surface consciousness by a technique
whereby they whirled around and around while doing an intense
mental concentration, a counting exercise which maintained their
point of awareness, while the surface consciousness was dissolved."
"News vans and lorries with oranges roar
From Fleet Street to Ealing Broadway.
The first bus with charladies stops in the Strand
Milk vans and post vans cruise by.
At Euston commuters, shop girls and striped suiters,
Are jostling and milling, cars hooting, brakes shrilling . . . . . ."