Maybe it’s just one of those days where EVERYTHING sounds good.
On the way to the dentist, I heard a live, in-studio version of Los Lobos’ "Peace" on XM’s Loft. And Van Morrison’s "Cry For Home" resonated when I heard it on Sirius’ Spectrum. But in between, I was elated in the Southern California sunshine as Peter Gabriel’s "Digging In The Dirt" pumped out of the car speakers.
Like Peter, I was just skiing. But I didn’t hit a rock, I’m not wearing a soft boot around my leg. And, if I had, I wouldn’t have quite the sense of humor about it that Peter possesses. Brooding rock stars? For a deep-thinker, Gabriel’s got quite the sense of irreverence. An integral element of success for a second wave English rock star.
Yup, Genesis was positively seventies. And by time they came to take Peter Gabriel home, to solodom, most people in America had no idea who he was.
But "Solsbury Hill" got FM airplay. In an era when the free format was done, when Lee Abrams’ Superstars format ruled. So casual listeners had an idea who Peter was, or at least knew this jaunty ditty that wouldn’t get Top Forty airplay in ANY era.
But it was downhill from there. Peter’s second album, also entitled "Peter Gabriel", made no dent in the U.S., and his label, Atlantic, refused to put out a third.
And kind of like Wilco, but with a much more groundbreaking album than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Gabriel took his completed disc to another label, in this case the one tied for worst in the business, Mercury (more cred but even fewer hits than the unhip RCA). And then I wouldn’t say all hell broke loose, but over time, the third "Peter Gabriel" seeped into the public consciousness, "Games Without Frontiers’ became a staple and "Biko" became legendary.
In short order, Peter was picked up by Geffen. He made an impact on the nascent MTV with "Security". And we loved hearing and seeing "Shock The Monkey", but we wished the big splash was for an earlier, better, further from center masterpiece.
Then came "So". Also not as good as the Mercury record, but containing two career defining tracks, "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes". The first was possibly the best, certainly the most innovative, MTV video to date. And I think Cameron Crowe is a hack, making fantasy movies where nobody loses, but when John Cusack/Lloyd Dobler holds that boombox over his head in the mist outside Ione Skye/Diane Court’s bedroom window we experience one of the best marriages of music to film EVER!
And then came "Us".
With a headphone mic long before Lou Pearlman’s boy bands, Peter Gabriel appeared on the Grammys in a production number of "Steam" and true fans winced. Who was Peter playing to? He was OUR artist! Had he lost the thread?
Well, he lost mass appeal.
Ah, please talk to me
Won’t you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me
When the revolution comes, when I can post MP3s online without penalty, when all music comes above ground and flows freely, when the public is finally delivered and can partake of the fruits of all performers, I’m going to disseminate one of my favorite Napster downloads of all time, Michael Hedges’ "Come Talk To Me". Not as good as his epic cover of Dylan’s "Like A Rolling Stone", but your heart will be touched by the soul of this now dead man.
Who knew "Come Talk To Me" was such a classic? Certainly not the public that didn’t buy "Us". "Us" stiffed. It appeared to be a "So" remake. Conventional wisdom was we’d seen it, and you didn’t need it. But then, two years later, Peter Gabriel released what was seen as an obligatory live album, and all those songs imprisoned in a sterile mix and a bad mastering job on "Us" CAME ALIVE!
The takes of "Come Talk To Me" on "Us" and "Secret World Live" may share the same changes and lyrics, but they’re COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! This isn’t Michael Hedges’ intimate version, Peter is positively IMPLORING, PLEASE COME TALK TO ME!
Oh, you’re together, and it’s not good, but then you break up. And the LONELINESS! You feel like you’re in free-fall. Won’t you call? Won’t you please come talk to me? Connect me to the Earth, to the UNIVERSE?
There’s pain in this version of "Come Talk To Me", and a band that plays with thunder.
But the masterpiece is the title track, "Secret World". It’s longer than the original studio take, it’s not a dirge, but a pied piper MARATHON! You can’t help but march along. And when the track explodes close to its nine minute finish, you experience something akin to aural orgasm. This is why you went to the show. For these moments. When you threw your arms into the air, pointed your head to the sky and SANG ALONG! These moments are religion. Far deeper in meaning than any I’ve ever experienced in a traditional house of worship. I’ll take the Staples Center over the synagogue ANY DAY!
And buried in the middle of this live double album is a monster version of "Digging In The Dirt". This ain’t no men with shovels, this is heavy equipment. They’re not scratching the surface, they’re going all the way down. Back to your childhood, to your first marriage, to find the places you got hurt.
Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt
There’s not a lot of digging going on in today’s society. We don’t want to know the derivation, the causation, we just want to see the train-wreck, the explosion. We haven’t got time to look backward, to find out how we got here. We don’t want to be left BEHIND!
But then something terrible happens. Usually romantic. But sometimes health-related. We’re stopped in our tracks. We can see no way out. Some people fall on their swords. The inner pain is too much. And if they reveal it to anyone, they’ll be seen as second-class citizens. But if you truly let go, truly know you can’t fix your own problems, that your friends and family care but don’t understand, you make an appointment with a therapist.
Still, you can’t tell anyone. It’s a sign of weakness. Of sickness. You’re not man enough to solve your own problems.
This is when music comes alive. There are records, the truly great ones, that speak to you when you’re in this condition. They contain all the angst, all the questioning, all the PAIN you’re feeling. The artists have been where you’ve been. That’s why you give them all your money, need to see them live. Because you don’t only respect them, you BELIEVE IN THEM! They’re your better you. They’re who you want to be…
The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes
It always comes down to sex. Your fantasies don’t mesh with reality. Your fantasies stop working completely. One day you thought you were a red-blooded human, now you find you’re a cripple. Orgasm is on the other side of the impassable mountain. Impossible even alone in the sanctity of your own home. As for another person… Who could love you, you steaming sack of laughable shit.
You’re not good-looking enough. You’re not rich enough. You don’t own the right clothes.
But really, it all comes down to words. Can you convey your feelings? Can you tell someone else how you feel? Can you stumble through the wilderness to find a like-minded person? One who’s been hurt, but is still willing to play?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Life was supposed to be an endless upward spiral. You were no longer supposed to feel like you were sixteen. You no longer were supposed to be inhibited, afraid of other people…who you desired SO MUCH!
Are you willing to look? In a country where the President never doubts his vision? Where our biggest pop stars believe life is about partying? Isn’t it all supposed to be good times?
But it’s not all good times!
After becoming addicted to "Secret World Live", I went back to the "Us" CD. It was a blueprint. Instead of being in-your-face, it was cut in a rarified, removed atmosphere. The studio’s sterility obscures its essence. At first. But when you start digging…
"Not long before Led Zeppelin’s reunion in London in November, Gabriel said he got a call from singer Robert Plant, wanting to know one thing: ‘He asked which of us was going to sell out first.’"
To Michael Cohl and Arthur Fogel, it’s just money. A deal, a mathematical equation.
But to the fan, it’s a matter of life and death. Sure, everybody needs to eat, but we see our musician heroes as above life, as Gods. We don’t want to know they’re mortal, consumed with the trivialities of life. We need to look up to them. We need to believe they’re always one step in front of us, paving the way, illuminating the path. We DEPEND ON THEM!
Once the illusion is suspended we feel ripped off. Our whole lives come into question. Were these really just records, not wafers from God?
Peter Gabriel has never stopped searching. At least not yet. Not every nook and cranny he’s gone into has paid dividends, has been fascinating, but he’s struck gold, hit the mother lode, more than once.
Whether it be pure theatre, seeing him passed overhead by an adoring, supportive audience… Or testing musical boundaries, helping to end apartheid… Or finally looking inward, allowing us to go along for the journey… One always pays attention to what Peter’s doing.
Most times when you hear the oldies you get nostalgic, for a time and place a long time ago.
But when you hear a Peter Gabriel record, you feel vibrant, alive, IN THE NOW!
I dug in the dirt earlier today. I’ve still got more questions than answers. My shrink is there to help guide the way. But when I leave his office, I rely on music. To help me, to not only get me through, but show the way.
This music is my life. I’m like the Nazi in "The Producers". Don’t fuck with my memories. They’re pure. I need to believe these artists are still searching, still guiding the way.
So far, Peter Gabriel hasn’t disappointed me.