Passion Play was released to almost unanimous
critical disapproval in 1973 and remains, even
amongst the most avid Tull fans, the subject of
great controversy. Many find it musically and
lyrically unfathomable, others find it a
challenging, but rewarding work. Basically, I
think you either love it or hate it!! Personally
I love it!
follows is my personal interpretation of "A
Passion Play"; what you see below is what I
currently see and feel when I listen to this
album. I do not pretend that it was what Ian
meant when he wrote it, or what you might hear
when you listen to it.
- It is
fairly well known amongst Tull fans that "A
Passion Play" was created out of the
aftermath of the abortive "Chateau
D'Isaster" sessions in 1973. These sessions,
which were later to appear on the 1993 release
"Nightcap" seem to deal with two main
themes. Firstly there is Ian's slant on the
acceptability of aggression in business which he
achieves by portraying business people as various
animals. Secondly, he deals with the subject of
Free will Vs Pre-Destiny in human existence. As
part of this thread, he likens life to a play,
with God as the Director. Each of us goes on
stage without a script or rehearsal, to improvise
our story as best we can.
various reasons, these recordings were abandoned,
but the twin themes were refined and developed,
later to appear as separate albums, A Passion
Play and War Child. A Passion Play deals with the
death, afterlife and resurrection of its central
character, Ronnie Pilgrim In the programme it is
presented as being a play in four Acts, these
I: Ronnie Pilgrims Funeral: A winter morning in
II: The Memory Bank: a small but comfortable
theatre with a cinema screen - the next morning
"The Story of the Hare who lost his
III: The business office of G. Oddie and Son -
two days later
IV: Magus Perde's drawing room at midnight
believe it to be a mistake to take the contents
of the "Programme" too literally,
particularly the list of characters and their
order of appearance as I believe it was produced
for effect, to be part of the packaging, rather
than a true representation of the work.
Similarly, I feel that the ballerina on the cover
has little or nothing at all to do with the
story, other than the fact that on the front she
is dead, and on the back she is alive (a fairly
tenuous connection but there you go) Anyway, on
with the show...........
A Passion Play
you still see me even here?"
to a flying start!!!! The first line and I'm
confused!!. I have never been exactly sure as to
who is being asked this initial question. The
choices I have are The young man is addressing
his friends who have gathered to attend his
funeral, or is he addressing God and saying
" Is there nowhere I can go and be unseen by
you? I favour the latter, mainly because of the
use of the words "still" and
"even", but I remain to be convinced
"(The silver cord lies on the
And so I'm dead'', the young man said --- over
(not a wish away)."
number of cultures share the belief that our
physical body is connected to an astral body by a
silver cord, and that death occurs if (or when)
this cord is severed. The common belief is that
our dreams are the half remembered activities of
the astral body which take place whilst the
physical body sleeps. In this scene Ronnie looks
down to see the severed cord lying on the ground
and the realization dawns on him. He is dead, he
is over the hill, and his previous existence is
beyond him (more than a wish away). A significant
aspect to the use of the silver cord, is the Ian
makes it clear that we are not dealing with an
exclusively Christian view of the afterlife, the
implication being that no single religion has all
friends (as one) all stand aligned although their
taxis came too late."
for me is the first indication that the other
theme from the Chateau tapes was carried into
APP. This line and later lyrics in the work lead
me to see Ronnie as a leading light in the rat
race who died prematurely. His supposed
"friends" all showed up late for his
funeral, all using the same excuse that their
taxis were late. If nothing else, this shows
their lack of respect for him.
was a rush along the Fulham Road.
There was a hush in the Passion Play."
phrase is varied throughout, and is used as an
indicator of a scene closing. Here I see the rush
depicting his friends hurried departure from the
scene, getting away as soon as they can and the
hush being Ronnie left alone in the cemetery, his
life now finally over. (For anyone interested,
Fulham Road is a longish street which runs from
the Putney Bridge to the South Kensington areas
of London, the Maison Rouge studio, at which Tull
recorded being located at 2 Wansdowne Place,
a sense of glowing in the aftermath /ripe with
rich attainments all imagined / sad misdeeds in
sore thumb screams aloud, echoing out of the
All the old familiar choruses come crowding in a
different key: Melodies decaying in sweet
this point, recollections of his life crash in on
Ronnie like a wave. He now sees his life from the
new perspective (a different key)which his after
life state has given him. He sees his
achievements (rich attainments)and his actions
for what they really are, and the realization of
what he was makes him howl in anguish as he sees
all he held to be true exposed as worthless.
Ronnie has been ruthlessly shown the honest
measure of his worth! Additionally, Ronnie was
unable to make his "quietus", whereby a
dying person could make atonement and achieve
penance by recalling and repenting ones every
sin. The sudden nature of his death meant Ronnie
was unable to do this, and as a result his sins
are left in disarray.
was a rush along the Fulham Road, into the
Ronnie is ripped from this last
earthly scene into the after life.
who comes here to wish me well?
A sweetly-scented angel fell.
laid her head upon my disbelief and bathed me
with her ever-smile."
Ronnie stands alone in the afterlife
and is still suffering the shock from his new
self awareness. This state is not unique to our
hero, as all newly departed souls would suffer
the same sensory overload, and so what happens ?
An angel arrives to administer an almost
spiritual anaesthetic to soothe his shock and to
make him ready for the ordeal to come. The use of
the word "scented" (repeated later on
as "scented cathedral") suggests purity
with a howl across the sand I go escorted by a
of gentlemen in leather bound -- NO-ONE (but
someone to be found)."
as suddenly as the Angel arrives, Ronnie is
snatched from her by a group of
"gentlemen". He is bound, and taken
into limbo to await his fate. As a soul in limbo
Ronnie has no status (He is no-one) and his
future has yet to be decided (someone to be
along the icy wastes there are faces smiling in
This is quite a vivid image for me.
Ronnie is being escorted towards a film theatre
like a movie star on Academy Awards night, only
instead of a glorious Spring evening with cameras
flashing and crowds of excited fans, it is silent
and in semi-darkness and his path is lined by
barely visible faces peering at him expectantly
through the gloom. Spooky!!!
up roll down, Feeling unwound? -- step into the
The narration then shifts from
Ronnie, to the Cinemas Projectionist who invites
Ronnie in and asks if he is relaxed:
cameras were all around. We've got you taped --
you're in the play. Here's your I. D. (Ideal for
identifying one and all.)"
is told that every moment of his life has been
recorded on tape. The Projectionist finds
Ronnie's particular tape and tells him that his
life is about to be re-shown. (normally when
people returns from coma or any death-like
experience, they tell they have seen their lives
as a movie)
your life in the memory bank -- ours the interest
and we >thank you." Ronnie is
given a clue as to the purpose of this recording.
His life is being compared to a bank account with
his actions, good or bad keep him in credit or
put him overdrawn, with the obvious connotations
of where he is bound for if his account end up
finally overdrawn. The pun on the word
"interest" delivers a message that it
is the duty of the projectionist and his staff to
examine his life and balance the account. It is
also implied that any form of profit he makes is
passed on to them in some way. They are therefore
interested in his life as it earns them
interest!!. The tone in Ian's voice as he
delivers the words "and we thank you"
tell us that they didn't earn much from Ronnie
ice-cream lady wet her drawers, to see you in the
A lovely image. Ronnie is told that
his life was so ridiculous to behold that even
the lady who sells the ice -cream and soft drinks
during the interval, laughed so hard that she wet
her pants! (Here I ever thought the movie was
depreciating him so much that it was interesting
for the other "human" beings in the
room) The Projectionist then begins to recount
some of the details of Ronnie's life, almost as
though he is reading the cover notes from a video
cassette case. >take the prize for instant
pleasure We are told that Ronnie is way ahead of
his peers in terms of being selfish and self
of the cricket team
public speaking in all weathers
a knighthood from a queen."
He is revealed as a success in all
walks of life, gaining public and official
recognition for his business and public actions.
your best friends' telephones never cooled from
the heat of your hand.
There's / a line in a front-page story / 13
horses that also-ran."
lines suggest to me that Ronnie was never
reluctant to touch his friends for favours and
information, but that he rarely repaid them, and
frequently used the information he gained to
profit at their expense.
in your old umbrella. Does it have a nasty tear
in the dome? But / the rain only gets in
sometimes and / the sun never leaves you
I take the umbrella to be a metaphor
for Ronnie's self perception, which he used in
life as a defense mechanism to shield himself
from his own true personality. He is being asked
if the insights being provided have made a hole
in his protective layer through which the reality
of his true self can be viewed and through which
the real world leaks in. I am probably totally
wide of the mark, but I have always felt that the
line "the sun never leaves you alone"
refers to the Sun newspaper, published in the U.
K. , which has something of a well earned
reputation as a sensationalist scandalsheet, and
is probably most well known for its "Page
Three Girls" (the topless models it used to
feature on the third page) It is the type of
journal that is renowned for publishing whatever
scandal it can find on public figures, often
pursuing them beyond the bounds of decency to get
a "story". Ronnie, in life, would be a
natural target for it's attention. As I say, I'm
probably wrong, but I hear the line and I get
that image every time. One of Ian's many talents
(I had never thought this sun would be The Sun,
but now that you said, it makes a lot of sense,
so I think you can remove the "I'm probably
of the black and white -- it's your first night.
The Passion Play / goes all the way / spoils your
Projectionist tells Ronnie that they know that he
is/was a man with strong views and definite
opinions, sure in his knowledge, but that they
know that he is growing nervous about his life
being replayed and made public(he is like an
actor with first night nerves). He is warned that
there is worse to come and that what he will see
will shatter his illusions about himself and his
me / how the baby's made / how the lady's laid /
why the old dog howls in sadness."
is taunted about what he knows about life(how the
baby's made, the lady's laid) and death (there is
a belief in British folklore that a dog will howl
at the moment of its masters death). These
questions are thrown rapidly at him. but before
he can answer, the projectionist relates the
your little sister's immaculate virginity wings
away on the bony shoulders of a young horse named
George who stole surreptitiously into her
geography revision. (The examining body examined
sordid and previously unknown episode is related,
almost contemptuously by the Projectionist, as if
to prove how much he knows and how little Ronnie
of the low-high Q, let's hear your view.
Peek at the lines upon your sleeves since your
memory won't do.
Tell me / how the baby's graded / how the lady's
faded / why the old dogs howl with madness."
humiliation continues, as the Projectionist
continues to question how little Ronnie knows.
His remark that Ronnie should peek at the lines
on his sleeve are a further attack on his honesty
and that they are reminding him of his lack of
scruples in life.
of this and some of that's the only way to skin
Ronnie's response to the taunts and
questions is to tell the Projectionist " Yes
I did all that you said, and I would do more of
the same because life is hard and that's the only
way to get through it.
now you've lost a skin or two -- you're for us
and we for you.
The dressing room is right behind"
The Projectionist tells Ronnie that
he has passed his ordeal, that for him the play
is over, and that his place of rest (the dressing
room) is at hand.
"We've got you taped -- you're
in the play."
The expression "We've got you
taped" has a double meaning here. Apart from
the obvious statement that his life has been
recorded, it is also a common English slang term.
To "have someone taped" means to have
the measure of them, to be wise to them and their
does it feel to be in the play? >How does it
feel to play the play? >How does it feel to be
The Projectionist is asking these
questions, not to taunt Ronnie. There is almost a
sense of envy about them, as if they want Ronnie
to tell them about what it is like to be alive,
something they have not experienced and cannot
comprehend. (Here I think he's being asked how
does it feel to be exposed, but I think that the
point you mentioned is also very relevant. That
was what he did, he is now retired from living).
of passion rise again, we won't cross you out --
for we do love >you like a son -- of that
there's no doubt."
By the use of the phrase " Man
of Passion" which is clearly a reference to
Christ, as well as the use of the word
"cross",the projectionist is
acknowledging that Ronnie has passed through
purgatory, and that his suffering is now over.
These lines, and the invitation to rise again
indicate that his admission to heaven is now
assured. (That's another reason why I think the
Projectionist is God, because the use of the word
son and he is doing to Ronnie what he did to
Christ, but I think when he says Man of Passion
is probably because Ronnie is up to stand for
us / is it you who are here for our good cheer?
Or / are we here / for the glory / for the story
/ for the gory satisfaction
of telling you how absolutely awful you really
This parting shot by the
projectionist begs the question as to who's end
is served by this process. (Here I think it's
Ronnie standing up for himself, questioning God
and then the surprise of everybody)
was / a rush along the Fulham Road.
There was / a hush in the Passion Play."
Ronnie moves on from Purgatory to
the next stage of his journey Interval This marks
the end of the second Act and the start of the
interval. It was (is) traditional during the
performance of Passion Plays, to insert a lighter
hearted,but moralistic,piece between Acts. The
plays themselves could last up to three days, and
these pieces were meant to lighten the mood. The
story is in the form of a fable (a short moral
work in which the characters are usually animals)
and is essentially a lesson to us about
interfering in the business of others. Hare loses
his spectacles, and all the other animals, who
seem to think they know what's best for him,
offer various (useless) solutions to his
predicament. At the end, hare wonders what all
the fuss is about, because after all he has a
spare pair. The piece contains a number of puns.
They are far more obvious when you hear John Evan
actually reciting the work.
III THE END
sleep by the ever-bright hole in the door / eat
in the corner / talk to the >floor -- cheating
the spiders who come to say "Please'',
(politely). They bend at the knees. Well, I'll go
to the foot of our stairs."
The Act opens with Ronnie's
observations on life in heaven, and it is not
what he expected. The lines give me an image of a
vast barrack like room, full of Army style, metal
frame beds. The room is dominated at one end by a
huge wooden door, pillars either side, and with a
large key hole. Were they allowed through it, the
door would lead to the presence of God and the
heavenly hosts. The light emitted by this divine
gathering beams through the keyhole and is the
light by which the occupants are expected to
sleep. The occupants of the barracks are highly
regimented, with none of the freedom Ronnie was
expecting. They have to eat their meals in the
barrack corner, and must keep their heads bowed
when they speak (i. e. they talk to the floor.)
Even the behaviour of the insects has been
rendered polite and inoffensive. The line "
Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs" is
an expression used in Lancashire in the North of
England, to express surprise or amazement It is
similar to "Well I'll be a monkeys
gentlemen talk / of when they were young / of
ladies lost and erring sons. Lace-covered dandies
revel (with friends) pure as the truth -- tied at
Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs."
expresses surprise at how boring the after life
is, with little to do but sit around and
reminisce about the past.
cathedral -- spire pointed down.
We pray for souls in Kentish Town."
I remember reading that a church
spire was pointed because it was supposed to
channel the prayers of the congregation upward
towards heaven. The line suggests that the
churches in heaven would logically (?) have their
spires pointing earthwards as the congregations
pray for the souls on earth. It also suggests to
me that each section of heaven has its own bit of
earth to pray for, Ronnie's being the area of
London known as Kentish Town. An alternative
theory I remember seeing (but I can't remember
where) is that the Kentish town refers to
Canterbury in the county of Kent, which is the
seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, ordained
head of the Church of England
delicate hush -- the gods / floating by / wishing
us well -- pie in the sky."
This strengthens the image of an
indolent and inert place, and again provides a
hint that heaven is not just limited to
Christianity. There is more than one god here,
lesser ones (denoted by the small case
"g") float by offering their
patronising best wishes to the masses.
of ages / Lord of Time -- mine is the right to be
Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs."
addresses God angrily, telling him he has a right
to more than this boring existence, he has a
right to be human and experience success and
rabbit mister spawn a new breed of love-hungry
pilgrims (no bodies to feed)." He
continues his irreverent speech, likening God to
a jack rabbit in the way he sires new life. He
tells God that he should produce a race who are
only interested in the spiritual, and are free
from all earthly appetites. That way he would be
sure of producing souls who found heaven
acceptable, as it is currently no place for a
"Show me a good man and I'll
show you the door."
Ronnie tells God he is sick of
Saints and piety, and says the equivalent of
"if I see another goody goody I'll scream!!
last hymn is sung and the devil cries
He points out the futility of
singing Gods praises, as even Lucifer is not
daunted by them and asks to hear more.
I'm all for leaving and that being done, I've put
in a request
to take up my turn in that forsaken paradise that
calls itself "Hell'' --
Where no-one has nothing and nothing is..."
Ronnie tells God he has had enough
of heaven and has decided to try Hell:
"... well meaning fool, pick up
thy bed and rise up from your gloom (smiling).
Give me your hate and do as the loving heathen
Tired of this tirade, God interrupts
Ronnie. Almost sympathetically, he tells Ronnie
to cheerfully pack his belongings (paraphrasing
Christ's words when he healed the lame beggar
"Take up thy bed and walk", Mark
Chapter 2 vs 1 to 13). He accepts Ronnie has no
great love for him, and so bids him do what the
promiscuous non-believers do, and Go to Hell!!
I've none -- dark or light, red, white or
Ronnie is transported to hell, where
Lucifer introduces himself. His opening remark is
to tell Ronnie that he owes allegiance to no-one,
neither to good or evil (dark or light) nor to
any artificially created state, (the red, white
and blue representing a nations flag).
is my touch (freezing).
Summoned by name -- I am the overseer over you.
Given this command to watch o'er our miserable
Fallen from grace / called on to bring sun or
Occasional corn from my oversight grew.
Fell with mine angels from a far better place,
offering services for
the saving of face."
He goes on to outline his history.
He is the Archangel who fell from Gods grace, and
that as punishment, was cast down from heaven and
was charged to oversee the mortal world. The line
"offering services for the saving of
face" suggests that part of Lucifer's duty
involves being a ready scapegoat for mankind to
use when they do wrong. Easier to save face and
say "the Devil made me do it " than
admit your own failings.
you're here, you may as well admire all whom
living has retired
from the benign reconciliation."
Ronnie is told that he is not the
only person who came to hell because they could
not cope with heavens sterility compared to the
feeling and joy of being alive.
were born surrounding mysterious lights seen in
the sky (flashing).
I just / lit a fag then / took my leave in the
blink of an eye."
Lucifer boasts to Ronnie that he is
so powerful that an action of his as simple as
lighting a cigarette achieves of power and status
beyond human comprehension. "Passionate
play -- join round the maypole in dance
(primitive rite) (wrongly). Summoned by name / I
am the overseer / over you."
He tells Ronnie what he must do in
Hell. It is constant action and activity, exactly
the opposite of heaven, but to Ronnie, equally
"Flee the icy Lucifer. Oh he's
an awful fellow! What a mistake! I didn't take a
feather from his pillow."
Ronnie has realised he has made a mistake, and
that hell is no better than heaven: "Here's
the everlasting rub: neither am I good or bad.
I'd give up my halo for a horn and the horn for
the hat I once had."
He realises his dilemma. He has to
spend eternity in either heaven or hell, and he
belongs in neither. He would give up both to be
alive again. His observation that he is neither
good nor bad, comes from the realisation that
whether or not an action is sinful is a purely
human and subjective decision.
only breathing. There's life on my ceiling.
The flies there are sleeping quietly."
The reality of his situation grows
clearer to him. His thought " I'm only
breathing" means he is not truly living, he
is just existing in his current state. He
realises that even the flies on his ceiling are
better off than he is. They are sleeping quietly,
satisfied with what they are.
my right arm in the dark. I would give two or
three for one of those days that never made
impressions on the old score. I would gladly be a
dog barking up the wrong tree."
He would endure torture to re-live
even the dullest day of his life and would be
glad to be in a position to make mistakes.
saved -- we're in the grave. See you there for
He realises that everyone in heaven
or hell is comfortable with their lot, although
their spark of humanity is dead (in the grave) He
mocks the dullness of their cosy existence with
his reference to taking afternoon tea, that most
genteel and staid of English customs.
for awaking -- the tea lady's making a brew-up
and baking new bread."
Ronnie decides he has had enough and
he has to get back to a mortal existence. He is
aware that God is constantly creating new souls
to be born. (he trivialises this by comparing
Gods creation of flesh and blood, to the routine
tasks of a worker in a factory canteen, what we
Brits call a tea lady, preparing bread and tea,
with a parallel to the Eucharist where bread and
wine represent the body and blood of Christ).
me up at half past none -- there's not a moment
Having decided to go, he must go
now. Even in a place where time stands still (the
clocks stand at none o'clock) he has to leave as
soon as possible, i. e. half past none.
is the train on which I came. On the platform are
my old shoes.
Station master rings his bell. Whistles blow and
A little of what you fancy does you good (Or so
Ronnie makes his way to the arrival/departure
terminal. I always get a picture of a huge,
incredibly busy, transport complex, with
countless souls coming and going on every
conceivable form of transport. Ronnie spots the
particular train he arrived from purgatory on,
and sees that the place is so busy, his human
trappings have not yet been disposed of.
"I thank everybody for making
I'd stay but my wings have just dropped
He joins the queue to depart,
bidding everyone a sarcastic farewell.
Son of kings / make the ever-dying sign / cross
your fingers in the sky for those about to
Ronnie calls on Christ (identified
by the use of an upper case "S" in Son)
to give the command that will allow those waiting
to be born. He also asks him to cross his
fingers, thereby wishing them luck in life. (Just
a note:"here I always imagined the Son of
Kings making that symbol to tell the gladiators,
they could kill their opponents in the Roman
Empire" because as he's in limbo, a sign to
go down would be here to the earth as you said
about the spire pointed down. I always imagine
the Sarcastic Ian doing it live...)
am I waiting along the sand.
Cast your sweet spell upon the land and
Ronnie is anxious, in a state of
suspense, and he asks Christ to hurry. The image
of being on the sand, between land and sea
reflects him being in a state of transition
between life and after-life
Perde, take your hand from off the chain.
Loose a wish to still / the rain / the storm
about to BE."
The word " Magus" comes
from the Old Persian for sorcerer or wise man
(there is a Simon Magus in the New Testament, who
was a sorcerer who tried to buy spiritual powers
from the Apostles). Perde I cannot come up with a
meaning for. The closest I can get is
"Perdre" the French verb, which means
to lose, forfeit or to ruin. (I don't know the
meaning of Perde, but I know that Perdo in latin
means destruction, also associated to magic) I
would therefore hazard a guess that Ronnie is
addressing Christ again, calling him "
Sorcerer of the Lost", a somewhat insulting
interpretation of the word "Saviour",
and is again beseeching him to hurry and pull the
chain and blow the whistle which is the command
that will free him, this time comparing the souls
awaiting birth to a storm about to break.
am I (voyager into life).
Tough are the soles that tread the knife's
There is a pun here on the words
soles/souls, with the knife's edge being life.
There is also a somewhat tenuous literary link to
the Sword Bridge across which Sir Lancelot had to
cross on his bare hands and feet, in order to
rescue Queen Guinnevere in the story, " The
Knight of the Cart"
the circle / stretch the line / call upon the
Bring / the gods / the gods' own fire.In the
The command is given, the gift of
life (the Gods own fire, which has a reference to
the Greek myths of Prometheus who was blinded for
stealing the Gods own fire) is bestowed and they
can begin to enjoy the struggle of being alive.
passengers / upon the ferry crossing / waiting to
be born / renew the
pledge of life's long song / rise to the reveille
Animals / queuing at the gate that stands upon
the shore / breathe the ever-burning fire that
guards the ever-door."
The signal is given, and as life is
breathed into them, all those who wait, human or
animal begin to move forward to be born
/ son of man / buy the flame of ever-life (yours
to breathe and >breath the pain of living):
Ronnnie's turn to be reborn into
human life arrives. His mortal status is
acknowledged (Man, son of Man) and he is told the
gift comes at a cost, that cost is to feel pain
am I! Roll the stone away from the dark into
Ronnie announces his arrival or
resurrection, the image of rolling the stone from
the tomb coming from the New Testament account of
Christ's resurrection, and the raising of Lazarus
from the dead.
was a rush / along the Fulham Road / into the
We end with the rush of the new
souls into life, part of the never ending cycle.
Chrysalis Music Corp. (ASCAP) US & Canada.}