Part V: Cabaret
For one night only Dominic Mattos graced the festival as the angel Gabriel, fantastically drawing the events of the day to a close and leading us into the evening entertainment.
Following a grand entrance, which involved sprinkling the audience with heavenly petals, the shimmering Gabriel kicked off an hour long performance with a rendition of Cole Porter’s Blow Gabriel Blow. This song clearly has biblical links with reference to repentance (via the line “now I’m ready to trim my lamp”) and the foolish virgins of Matthew 25. This demonstrates not only that Porter had a knowledge of the biblical texts but also that the intended audience were expected to be familiar with them too otherwise the joke would have been lost.
This was merely the beginning of an exploration of the use of biblical texts within popular music as the audience were taken on a journey not only chronologically through popular music but also through the pages of the bible, from Hebrew Bible to New Testament.
Gabriel then sang Paul Anka’s Adam and Eve which makes clear links to the Genesis narratives. This song again assumes the listener has prior knowledge of the narrative, this is made plain in the lyric: “In the garden of Eden, a long time ago, there’s a certain story I’m sure you all know.” However, the song clearly embellishes the details provided in the Bible, the song has clear sexual themes running throughout, with lines such as “until one day arose” (a double entendre which also includes phallic arousal).
With the aid of two Heavenly Helpers the audience were kept on their toes as water pistols accompanied Gabriel’s next song: the nursery rhyme The Animals Went in Two by Two, a childlike excitement accompanied Gabriel’s nod to the story of Noah and the flood.
Tom Jones’ Delilah, a readily recognisable song, was next in the set. It could be easy to assume that the song directly links to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, however, when closer attention is paid to the lyrics the song does not follow the plot of the Bible. Instead the song uses the stereotypical idea of a woman created by the Biblical Delilah, that of a temptress; a woman of loose morals. And since the song is sung from the man’s point of view we readily accept this negative imagery of Delilah and feel sympathy for the unwitting men whose hearts she captures. This can been seen in many artistic depictions including Solomon J. Solomon’s Samson as well as this stereotype infiltrating popular culture; such as the name Delilah being associated with being a “Biblical bitch” (in an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S), and the use of the term “a Delilah” to refer to a woman of loose morals (in an episode of 30 Rock). Instead of Tom Jones’ song being about the biblical narrative of Samson and Delilah, rather the song is about a man who kills his lover in an act of revenge for her sleeping with someone else, calling on the stereotype of Delilah as a woman of loose morals.
The performance remained interactive as the audience played guitars fashioned out of brown paper bags as Gabriel sang By the Rivers of Babylon, first a hit for The Melodians and later Boney M. It is clear why Gabriel selected this song because it makes clear use of Psalm 137, Israel’s exile from the Promised Land. When the song became popular with Boney M, themes of slavery were highlighted within the song, not surprising really with the Civil Rights Act only coming into place in 1968.
Following this Gabriel performed Madonna’s Like a Virgin. The song does not make any reference to the biblical text; however, it does bring together in a frank (and perhaps scandalous) discussion the archetypical Christian woman, the Virgin Mary (via the artists name Madonna, which is often the name given to the virgin Mary in paintings such as Leonardo Dda Vinci’s Madonna on the Rocks) and ideas surrounding virginity.
Gabriel next took on a musical classic: I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Clear biblical links can be noted, mainly because the musical was inspired by the biblical text. For instance, the line “I’ve had so many men before in very many ways,” refers to Mary Magdalene’s status as a prostitute.
From musicals to Gaga, Gabriel then sang the recent chart-topper Judas, this number got some of the audience up on their feet dancing! Now this song contains many biblical references, but mixes them up in a rather odd fashion, for example, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is referenced but is linked with Peter’s betrayal in the lyric “Even though three times he betrays me.” Does this song perhaps then differ from the earlier songs (such as Porter’s) in that the lyricist has less knowledge of the biblical texts and so a clear paralleling is absent?
The performance then took an unlikely direction with Gabriel taking on Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. The song has biblical links in that it directly quotes the book of Revelation. However, the song misses distinct ideas present within the biblical narrative. So in a similar fashion to Gaga’s Judas, this song takes biblical motifs that are well-known (in this instance hell, fire and apocalypse) and utilises them to portray an idea to the listener (but an idea that does not directly parallel the original biblical story).
Gabriel blew the house down with a jaw-dropping rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain from The Sound of Music. Although this song does not have any clear biblical links, it is religious in the sense that it was written to be sung by a novice (Maria) and so associations to liturgical worship, such as singing Psalms can be noted in the lyrics and composition.
Gabriel’s encore wowed the audience and one said they “Loved Angel Gabriel! Most fun I’ve had in ages!” Hidden Perspectives was thrilled that the angel Gabriel graced their festival, exploring the hidden biblical underbelly of popular music with a ‘Bible Belting’ performance.