My Life with Peter Gabriel, Part Two

From roughly 13-15 my friends and I hung around anywhere we could, in parking lots, diners, parks, driveways, basements, family rooms, derelict train cars, the high school bleachers (but never on game nights). A favored spot, at least to get high, was simply behind the fence at a gas station near our school. Like most such places we claimed — a certain stairwell comes to mind, or a narrow strip of grass next to a bank parking lot — we were oblivious to the surrounding area, babies in an elaborate, public round of peek-a-boo: if we didn’t see the adults, they didn’t see us. It was a fragile scene in those years, trouble at home for some of us, trouble at school, and it seemed like the whole world was trying to keep us at home or school. Although I did my best to steer clear of serious trouble, I found some, mostly in drug use and the eventual self-determined cessation of my public education in the course of my sophomore year. It was a difficult time.

A spot favored by my friends and me, 1983-84.  Photo taken in 2017.
A spot favored by my friends and me, 1983-84. Photo taken in 2017.

But there were two things in my case that made a difference: I was honest about my truancy, and I never missed my curfew. Why would I lie about skipping school if both the school and my mother knew I had done it? I saw no point, and the penalties for skipping were not, in my estimation, prohibitive. As for the second thing, why would I stay out later than my mother wanted when I could get high and listen to music and read at home? I was perfectly happy, most of the time, to abandon my crew and head home to food and shelter and the safety and comfort of my bedroom. As it happened, mine was a home almost entirely free of conflict, if not worry. There was plenty of worry but my mother and I seemed to agree about it, share the struggle.

My mother and I, 1983.
My mother and I, 1983.

And so I came to spend an increasing amount of time alone with either headphones and my stereo or my Walkman.[^1] This would have been 1984-5, as I recall, and my listening was all over the place: Bob Dylan’s [first]( [three]( [records]( were favorites; metal as it was understood at the time by _Kerrang_ magazine; Jimi Hendrix, especially [_Axis: Bold As Love_](; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s [_Couldn’t Stand the Weather_](;[^2] British Invasion, especially [the Who]( and [the Kinks]( Lots of music. Always music. There was also radio, 96.5 WCMF,[^3] 92 WMJQ,[^4] and 104 WDKX.[^5] Radio was social, mostly for the car or seasonal hanging out at people’s homes, speakers in the window or dragged outside. This was the stuff I shared with others. My private music, on the other hand, was Gil Evans-era Miles Davis, especially [_Sketches of Spain_](, a reasonable collection of [Motown](#) and [Chess]( tapes, and Peter Gabriel, especially _Security_ which for reasons described elsewhere both confirmed and assuaged my most intense fears.

I’m not sure why I kept these musics to myself. I suspect it stemmed from my response to my parents’ divorce, which was to hold things close for fear that they might be taken from me, or that this kind of compartmentalization kept me from being totally abandoned, kept something for myself, gave me a barely-conscious feeling of control. For some kids, divorce leads outward and they seek relief in likeminded and collusive souls whose presence secures them from further pain and separation. Experience is validated by consensus. Some, however, like me, withdraw even from their peers and seek refuge in more private selection and recursion. It’s hard on the kids either way and the difference is more temperamental than qualitative. Without a group’s affirmation, the first kind of kid sinks. Without sufficient fortification, the second kind of kid can’t bridge the gap between themself and the world around them.

Peter Gabriel’s music eventually became my sufficient fortification, the music that first bridged this gap for me.

([*click here for Part Three*](

[^1]: Unrelated: the first tape I ever wore out was a TDK C90 with Judas Priest’s _Unleashed in the East_ on one side and Iron Maiden’s _Number of the Beast_ on the other. At some point while listening to Maiden, Priest’s “Sinner” became audible, backwards.

[^2]: Subsequent editions of this record have replaced the original sequence on most streaming platforms. I link here to the original sequence because it’s the one I’m referring to.

[^3]: “Rochester’s _only_ home of rock and roll!”

[^4]: Somewhat awkwardly, never quite able to rise above the status of Rochester’s *other* home of rock and roll. But there was plenty of rock and roll to go around back then.

[^5]: A black-owned and operated station since the 70s whose call letters stood and stand for Frederick **D**ouglas, Dr. Martin Luther **K**ing, Jr., and Malcolm **X**.

The Great Bailout

[Moor Mother, _The Great Bailout_ | The Quietus](

Tom Verlaine Books Sale

[At the Tom Verlaine Book Sale | LRB](

The Constitution Turned Upside Down

[The Constitution Turned Upside Down | The New York Review](

> Any account of Trump v. Anderson should lead with the fact that the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that an insurrectionist will remain on the presidential ballot.

My Life with Peter Gabriel, Part One

I was inspired to write about Peter Gabriel’s music after seeing him perform at Madison Square Garden last fall. It was, as they say, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one granted to me as a birthday present from my wife. She told me that she bought the tickets because she knew I wouldn’t have done so and would, further, have regretted it. She was right and I remain grateful. It was one of a handful of concerts I have attended that undeniably changed me in some essential ways. It’s worth noting that Gabriel is the only artist who has had this effect on me twice, once in November, 1986 and again in September, 2023. I won’t go into it any further than that at this point but it seems worth mentioning at the outset, in case you’re wondering why I’m writing this at all.

My life with Peter Gabriel began, as far as I can recall, with the “Shock the Monkey” video and then that of “Games without Frontiers.” It was 1983 and I had just moved back or was about to move back to Rochester, NY (from Annandale, VA) under somewhat troubled if not, though probably, traumatic circumstances. My mother worked a lot and MTV was an important part of latchkey life for my friends and me. In that context of being left to our own devices in modest suburban basements, of smoking cigarettes or pot, of getting to second base or whatever else was happening among unsupervised 13 year-olds, MTV was frequently just on, like regular tv or the radio.

Gabriel’s presence was jarring to my pre-/adolescent mind, and stood out from most of the videos that were in rotation at that time. In Gabriel’s music, there weren’t exactly monsters (were we the monsters?) and there definitely weren’t any parties or particularly festive events, no breakups or rain-soaked night-driven heartache, even if there was rain.

Some of his lyrics, even the hooks, were largely unintelligible to me 1 but their intention was clear as verses or choruses, for example, and I always knew, or thought I knew, where he was coming from. His music was made by machines, a fact that was enmeshed in several cultural conflicts at the time, but it wasn’t exactly electronic music as that was understood. And although he was well-known, the trio of “Solsbury Hill” (which I must have known from the radio), “Games without Frontiers,” and “Shock the Monkey” didn’t add up to the kind of fame I understood to be the goal of popular musicians and artists.

He was weird and I was into it but couldn’t say why. I picked up his first two records, known colloquially as Car and Scratch, and except for “Solsbury Hill” and “Here comes the Flood,” I was baffled. Looking back, those two records seem to be mostly a matter of getting the era out of his system. Much of it sounds like lesser or confused versions of his contemporaries.2 Peter Gabriel 3, also known as Melt, however, was a significant shift. I’m not sure all of the songs were better, exactly, but the focus was clear: each song described or narrated a certain kind of person or their action. So even if, for instance, ”Intruder“ wasn’t your thing, there was no denying that it was intruder music. There were flashes of the kind of complications that bogged down the first two records3 but any record that has ”Intruder,“ ”No Self Control,“ and ”Biko" was bound to hit me where I was living.

And then there was his fourth album, Security, which included “Shock the Monkey” and marked the end of his initial solo phase. To my young ears, this record was from a different planet, one eroded by blurred paranoia and abiding, persistent, and disenfranchised ritual. The message I received was that on a global scale, nothing was working out, and the forces we sought to annihilate or convert weren’t having it.

Our days were numbered. What I was hearing was music from the future, from after the end, from after the flood. Gabriel’s music seemed to offer some answers, to know something we didn’t. However bad things got, there was an after and what were we supposed to do then? This all made sense to a teenager whose recent years had been defined by myriad thwarted and fugitive desires, and seemingly few allies.

([*click here for Part Two*](

  1. I don’t think I ever believed the line from “Games without Frontiers” was “She’s so popular,” but learning that it was rather the name of a French game show failed to unmuddy the lyrical waters. ↩︎

  2. e.g. David Bowie, Brian Eno, ELO, Pink Floyd, and of course Genesis. The leap in sophistication and the extent to which he established his own voice between his second and third albums is remarkable, and telling with regards to his next two albums. ↩︎

  3. e.g. ”Family Snapshot," which strains under P.G.’s efforts towards enactment or a theatrical mode that was better suited to his work in Genesis, which is not to say I don’t love it, but rather to say that I came to love it after I fell for So and needed to hear more Peter Gabriel of any kind. ↩︎

Thus we refer to our practices of the world

> People do not ordinarily say that they believe X; they simply act as though X were true, and hence as though the world were that way. Thus we refer to our practices of the world rather than to our beliefs, and feel as though it is reality itself we are describing rather than ourselves we are confessing.

— Arthur C. Danto, _The Transfiguration of the Commonplace _

Elizabeth Arnold and Lyn Hejinian, R.I.P.

Hard to believe we lost [Elizabeth Arnold]( and [Lyn Hejinian]( today. Such losses change the course of poetry individually, let alone the compounding of suffering them in a single day. They would surely have been among those to remind us that the world keeps turning whether we’re here for it or not, and whatever sadness or rupture death brings, we should remember that it’s always there, always the end of the story but never the world. May their memories be a blessing for us all.