Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peter Gabriel's mercurial, disruptive Moses: on the Mozo song cycle and making gold from crap

"I got power, I'm proud to be loud; 
my signal goes out clear
I want everybody to know that Mozo is here"

-Peter Gabriel, lyrics to "On The Air"

Having been a Peter Gabriel fan for almost forty years (!),  I am surprised I have  missed  the Mozo  backstory all this time,

I've posted on Pete Townshend/The Who's abandoned Lifehouse Project..

but I didn't realize that another visionary (Gabriel) had also planned an album/screenplay/film that  never completely happened..

Like Townshend's  Lifehouse,  Gabriel's project  did happen and emerge in parts, and can be traced and  trainspotted across decades' worth of albums..

Gabriel created a character named Mozo, the name an intentional play on "Moses."   I remember the name being referenced in the second solo album's "On the Air," where an intriguing messy, messianic dude longs to  makes his presence known to the world  via shortwave radio as he broadcasts by night from his home in a trash dump.
But I never connected Mozo to Moses;  never hyperlinked to the idea that Gabriel was playing Mozo on the cover of said album (see above; 10 commandments/10 fingers), and never realized he and others from the intended project showed up  and surfaced in other songs/albums.cycles...

let alone know that "Red Rain," which I had long  felt/heard was ultimately about the blood of Jesus overcoming the Exodus plagues ( see  "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Red Rain of Jesus").....was the very centerpiece of the song cycle and story.

Gabriel has always been Godhaunted and Bible-intrigued (entrigued), maybe most obviously in the apocalyptic 25-minute exorcism/anthem, "Supper's Ready,"  or  praying through "in Your Eyes"...but Gabriel doing Moses (or as Mozo/Moses), that's a film I'd see.

I found this from an old "Gabriel-authorized" biography:

Little more than a year after Rael [Christ-figure of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." a Gabriel/Genesis epic that DID come to pass] was conceived, Gabriel invented the "mercurial stranger,"  Mozo.
He was partly based on Moses, but he was a fictional character who came from nowhere, disrupting people's lives and causing changes and then disappearing, said Gabriel.
Mozo was part of a "master plan" dreamed up during his sabbatical in 1975-6 which he alternately wanted staged or filmed. Mozo was inspired by Aurora Consurgens, a medieval alchemical treatise based on The Song of Solomon. It was brought to light by Carl Jung who thought it the work of St Thomas Aquinas. The text is full of alchemical and religious symbolism and apocalyptic imagery. Jung saw alchemy and psychology as having the common aim of self-transformation. Gabriel was captivated by Jung's alchemical writing.
"I have always been interested in transformation of one sort of another," said Gabriel. "When Mozo came in he upset the status quo and the story is about the struggles after his appearance."
Mozo was a catalyst for spiritual change. This was true alchemy of which changing base metal to gold was a mere analogy. Mozo was at the core of what Gabriel tries to express in music. Perhaps he sees himself as that mercurial stranger able to transform and uplift people. Gabriel wanted to scatter songs about Mozo over several albums, though they would make a complete story when put together. The songs were "Here Comes the Flood,"  an apocalyptic vision: "Down The Dolce Vita,"  a ship leaving harbour on an intrepid journey; "On The Air": Mozo and his fantasy world; "Exposure"" the struggle for salvation; "Red Rain" :denying one's inner feelings; and "That Voice Again." judgment.
"Mozo is set in this fishing village, which is very upmarket, not quite Mediterranean, but something of that ilk," explained Gabriel in 1987. "There is this volcanic sand which gives the sea a red colour. Everything is focused on the sea, which is very rough, and the great macho fear is to cross the water, which no one had done. Mozo is discovered in a tip, in a house built out of rubbish, on the edge of the city. And initially kids and passers-by are just very curious to look inside this little shed, and they see in it what they are most afraid of. They project their fears on to him because he is different. I remember in Horsell Common near Chobham, where my parents live, there was this beaten up old caravan, with newspapers in the windows. I used to think there was a witch inside there. And I think it probably fuelled this setting for Mozo. Eventually the people who have discovered Mozo in this hut on a tip get disturbed. They are upset by what they are seeing, by what they are projecting onto him and they try and kick him out. He escapes, and he proves later on that he has crossed the sea. So he goes from being the tramp underneath society to the hero on top of it. And then having been placed above other people he is challenged by the people who put him up there. They then have him as a target to push down to the bottom again."

"On the Air," on the second album, introduces Mozo, who lives in a fantasy world created by what he picks up and transmits on hi short-wave.

"Through short-wave radio he becomes whoever he wants, but in real life, on the street, he's totally ignored," explained Gabriel.
I got power, I'm proud to be loud; my signal goes out clear
I want everybody to know that Mozo is here
On the air. . . (On The Air; Gabriel, 1978)

"Down the Dolce Vita", from the first album, introduces characters setting out on the intrepid journey across the sea. Aeron and Gorham, like Mozo, have corrupted biblical names. "Here Comes The Flood," was written at the height of Gabriel's fascination with short-wave radio. If radio signals got stronger at night, he reasoned, maybe psychic and telepathic awareness could be similarly increased and made to flood the mass consciousness. Those who were honest and straightforward could take on board their new insights, while those who hid their thought and feelings would be lost.
When the flood calls
You have no home, you have no walls 
In the thunder crash
You're a thousand minds, within a flash
Don't be afraid to cry at what you see
The actors gone, there's only you and me
And if we break before the dawn, they'll use up what we used to be 
(Here Comes The Flood; Gabriel, 1976)

"Exposure", from the second album, is stark and minimal. The music was co-written by Gabriel and Robert Fripp, who named his 1979 album after the track. The version sung by Gabriel on Fripp's album is introduced by a recording of English sage J.G. Bennett uttering, "It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering."
The final Mozo-linked songs to appear on record were "Red Rain" and "That Voice Again" from the So album. "Red Rain" is about repressed feelings and pain that

become expressed by the elements.

"That Voice Again", Gabriel explained, was about" judgemental attitudes being a barrier between people. The voice is the voice of judgement. A haunting internal voice that instead of accepting experience is always analysing, moralizing and evaluating it."
The song was originally called "First Stone", but Gabriel abandoned the biblical allusions. He went through three sets of lyrics before David Rhodes came to the rescue and co-wrote them with him. Gabriel first sought backing to perform Mozo in early 1976, soon after the Genesis album A Trick of the Tail became their biggest success to date. It was an unfortunate time to make an approach. Genesis's good fortune overshadowed Gabriel's. There was little enthusiasm from publishers and record companies for what promised to be an expensive exercise and Gabriel was forced to wait until he had commercial success as a solo artist. He had discussed his ideas with Bob Ezrin the producer of his first solo album. Ezrin told him about the Czech theatre Laaterna Magica and the pioneering Josef Svoboda. Gabriel visited him twice in Prague in the late seventies. He was interested in Svoboda's perforated screen combining cinema with theatre. In it a film was complemented by live action using a device that made actors appear to go in and out of the screen. Gabriel was later introduced to Czech animator Raduz Cincera who developed his "Kineautomatâ". Cincera was working on opera sets for the London Coliseum when he met Gabriel.
"The 'Kineautomat has cinema seats with yes/no buttons," said Gabriel. "There were about a dozen decision points, the plot chosen by vote. So, for example, an actor would come out of the screen and say to the audience, 'Should I stay with my wife, or go with this woman?' And the cinema would become as lively as a football match."
Eventually the Mozo idea lost impetus, though in autumn 1985 Gabriel was still considering working on developing the story into an hour-long video.   -"Peter Gabriel: An Authorized Biography" by Spencer Bright

A later source:

“Mozo is someone who appears in various places in many disguises. I even sketched a film script around his character. I read JUNG and all this alchemy stuff, and they make gold from crap, from the junk, from the stuff people want to get rid of. In my new studio we try to combine hand-made, cheap, disposed-of elements with the best technology available. It is easy to get enthusiastic about this high-tech, reasonable, modern world and losing the gut feeling of being down to earth, the grunt factor, I like to call it, that comes from failures, mistakes, funny incidents and thrown-away elements" link
Note: "Signal to Noise"  and "Big Blue Ball"  has been suggested as part of the Mozo cycle/trope:

2015 update link:
"The Birth of Mozo"


  1. This is very interesting! As a Christian and a Peter Gabriel fan, I love the biblical imagery. I feel a bit stupid, though, for never catching on about the Mozo idea. Explains a lot of questions I had about song meanings (and disorients me, a bit, too. I had already cemented in my mind that That Voice Again was about wanting to be in a romantic relationship. Peter, of course, had much more in mind.)

    Anyways, I like thinking about these thoughts, before I go and see Peter in a few days. Much obliged!

  2. Thanks so much for the comments...No worries, i never got the Mozo connection without research. (:

    Jealous about the concert..This is am interesting tour. Love to hear your review.

  3. Hi, excellent analysis. I was just wondering if 'White Shadow' fits into the Mozo song cycle? There is something so mysterious and otherworldly about the song.

    I had read about 'Mozo' years ago, but I never realized that 'Red Rain' & 'That Voice Again'were Mozo songs. Funny, back when 'So' came out in 1986, those two songs were the ONLY ones I liked from the CD. Now I know why.

    1. Love it!
      I'll have to think about White Shadow,,good catch!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!