I’m taking Bruno for a walk every morning. I aim to walk about 3 miles which takes just over an hour. I trudge round the fields at the back of the local pub, making several loops of the same fields while listening to a podcast. In the current weather, it is rather blissful and Bruno certainly enjoys it. There’s a stream which he likes to go into to cool down and this morning it was very tempting to join him.
Listening to the podcasts is hugely enjoyable. There are several good Beatles ones, especially “Nothing Is Real.” There’s a great Bob Dylan podcast called “Bob Dylan Album By Album”. In this time of widespread fake news, listening to “More Or Less” and “The Full Fact Podcast” is essential. There’s a lot of other good ones and I’ve taken to listening to “A Word In Your Ear” and the YouTube companion “A Word In Your Attic” where David Hepworth and Mark Ellen just talk enjoyable nonsense, often with a guest. Today, I listened to them talk to Pete Paphides, whose book “Broken Greek”, I’ve just finished. Here’s a clip of what they said. The first voice you hear is Pete Paphides and the guy who makes a sweeping generalisation is David Hepworth.
I had to disagree with David Hepworth when he said “The great truth about popular music is that if you’re known for one thing, you can’t be known for something else.” There are so many examples that prove him false. I’ve just finished reading an article in UNCUT about Marc Bolan whose group Tyrannosaurus Rex who released four psychedelic folk records in the late Sixties and then invented glam rock in the Seventies. And talking of glam rock, David Bowie was known for all sorts of things and then kept re inventing himself.
After I finished listening to this podcast, I listened to one called “Revisionist History” presented by Malcolm Gladwell. I recently finished his new book called “Talking To Strangers” and I have also read “Outliers” and “Blink”. Wikipedia states that “Gladwell’s writings often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology”. In the podcast I listened to today, he was making a case that Pat Boone was more deserving of a place at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame than Elvis Presley. It was quite a convincing argument as it was centred on the idea of cultural appropriation. By playing some Elvis songs and comparing them to the original versions by the song writers, it was clear that he was trying to sound black. Whereas Pat Boone’s version of “Tutti Frutti” sounded nothing like Little Richards’ version. It sounded like a white man which is what he was. It also sounded terrible like most of Pat Boone’s work but that’s irrelevant to the argument. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell played two interviews with Little Richard. The first was given soon after Pat Boone’s version was a hit when Little Richard was complaining that Pat Boone had spoilt any chance Little Richard had of getting a hit. A few years later though, Little Richard had changed his mind and acknowledged that Pat Boone had provided a gateway for many people to walk through and explore the original recordings. By this time he was thankful to Pat Boone.
My very good friend Peter and I are exploring and discussing two records every week. We are attempting to identify artists about whom we know very little. We are both fascinated by the progressive/underground rock scene of the late Sixties/early Seventies and so as well as listening to “Thick As A Brick” by Jethro Tull, we have recently listened to “Selling England By The Pound” by Genesis, much to Ben’s approval as he loves Genesis nearly as much as he loves the Stones. Luckily, I’ve never seen Ben try to dance like Peter Gabriel.
Finally, finally, I can get to the point. Who is an artist that was known for one thing and then very successfully known for something else? Who is an artist who has had to tread carefully with regard to cultural appropriation? Who was in Genesis? The answer to all three questions, the overlap in the Venn diagram, is Peter Gabriel.
Peter Gabriel was a hugely imaginative, important and influential figure in the early Genesis records. Between 1968 and 1975, he wrote many of the songs, played zany oboe and flute, dressed up in mad costumes and took most of the lead vocals. He suddenly quit the band and subsequently released a series of solo records, all called “Peter Gabriel” between 1977 and 1982. He followed this with “So” in 1986. He had a number of successful singles including “Solsbury Hill” (1977), “Games Without Frontiers” (1980) and “Sledgehammer” (1986). Unforgettably he had a hit with “Don’t Give Up” in 1986 which featured a duet with Kate Bush. The accompanying video made me sick with jealousy – just for that 4 minutes, I wanted to be Peter Gabriel.
In 1988 Martin Scorsese released a film called “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The film, was shot entirely in Morocco. The film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. The film depicts Christ imagining himself engaged in sexual activities. I’ve watched the film. I didn’t enjoy it but the soundtrack, by Peter Gabriel, is astonishing.
The “AllMusic” website describes the double album as follows: “There’s no mistaking the record’s stirring power. Like much of Gabriel’s solo work, the album is a product of his continuing fascination with world music, which he employs here to create an exceptionally beautiful and atmospheric tapestry of sound perfectly evocative of the film’s resonant spiritual drama; inspired by field recordings collected in areas as diverse as Turkey, Senegal, and Egypt, “Passion” achieves a cumulative effect clearly Middle Eastern in origin, yet its brilliant fusion of ancient and modern musics ultimately transcends both geography and time. Remarkably dramatic, even visual, it is not only Gabriel’s best film work but deserving of serious consideration as his finest music of any kind; equally worthwhile is “Passion – Sources”, which assembles the original native recordings which served as his creative launching pad.”
Peter Gabriel himself said “It was a wonderful experience working with such different and idiosyncratic musicians. They came from Pakistan, Turkey, India, Ivory Coast, Bahrain, Egypt, New Guinea, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana. For many of them working with this material was something quite new and they were very enthusiastic. The soundtrack is full of the spirit of their performance.”
The most remarkable song on the record is the title song which is nearly 8 minutes long. It starts with the singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan singing wordlessly while Peter Gabriel’s keyboards and Shankar’s violin builds the atmosphere into a crescendo before segueing into a quiet passage featuring the lone voice of choirboy Julian Wilkins. Some Brazilian percussion increases the tension before Youssou N’Dour and Peter Gabriel himself add more wordless vocals. Once again the intensity builds and builds to a climax before a quiet and beautiful ending. It’s a remarkable piece of music – perfect soundtrack music whether it be to accompany the sexual temptation of Jesus Christ or driving along a deserted floodlit motorway at 2 a.m.
There are plenty of other amazing pieces of music on this record. There are no words, Peter Gabriel doesn’t dominate and all the musicians are given a chance to play wonderfully well. It is generally considered to be a landmark in the popularisation of World Music. WOMAD (World Of Music And Dance) was set up by Peter Gabriel (and others) in 1980 and the first WOMAD festival took place in 1982, 7 years before the release of this record.
I seem to remember (although I can find no reference to this anywhere) that there was a small controversy after the release of this record to do with cultural appropriation. The record was released under Peter Gabriel’s name so was he making personal profit or gaining artistic credibility by using musicians from so many different cultures? I guess there was a similar concern directed towards Paul Simon and the “Graceland” record which had been released 2 years previously. I think that to acknowledge this issue, Peter Gabriel released “Passion – Sources” on which he doesn’t play; it is a collection of World music that he used to inspire his compositions for the soundtrack. This is also a good record.
To conclude. 1) Yes it is possible to reinvent yourself. 2) Proper acknowledgement has been made to the different cultural music found on this record. 3) Peter Gabriel is a genius.