A Perfect Record #3 – Peter Gabriel (Car)

I remember what a blow it had been, to learn that Peter Gabriel was leaving Genesis. My high school friends and I were heavily into “Prog Rock,” and used it as a means to define ourselves as “cool” and “hip” and “not them” in the era of Donna Summer and Disco Duck. Genesis was at what seemed to be their artistic height. How could he leave?

I remained loyal to Genesis in the post-Gabriel years, but they were changed. The music was different. And Peter Gabriel’s solo work, when it started to appear, was different as well. I didn’t much like that it was different. Not at first. I liked Genesis the way they had been and wanted them to continue exactly what they doing. But because we’d all been so good together in the past, I stuck with them: Genesis without Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel without Genesis. I listened, and I listened again, and again. Eventually I settled down and fell back in love.

Listening today, I’m surprised that Gabriel’s first solo album felt like such a challenge at the time, as it’s an old friend now. The first two cuts were a perfect transition, Moribund the Burgermeister serving as a look back at Gabriel’s Genesis years, and Solsbury Hill serving as both an explanation for his departure and a decisive nod in the direction he was heading. The rest of the album introduced a number of new sounds he would explore in subsequent years. Excuse Me added a bit of levity to the mix.

I’m not sure that every track is a classic. It’s not that which makes this album “perfect,” not in the way I might judge So or Us. What makes this album “perfect” is that it contained two of the most “perfect” songs I know: Solsbury Hill and Here Comes the Flood. Solsbury Hill feels, to me, like a master class in lyric writing, the images so vivid, the “explanation” so heartfelt and real, all riding on the epic 7/4 time signature, the “tribal” percussion, and that iconic acoustic strum. His words became my words, his story my story, his quest my quest. It was an early step in my own journey of self-understanding, as if Peter Gabriel himself had “come to take me home.” I still tear up, to hear that song today.

And Here Comes the Flood? It spoke to my nascent sense of the world around me, a sense which would blossom eventually into the full-blown awareness of the global situation that compelled me through the process of making and marketing What a Way to Goand beyond, into a more open view of the nature of reality itself, and the limitations of the dominant paradigm, and the possibility of living at the edge of that worldview, and On Beyond Zebra. Lush, epic, bombastic, quiet, the song took me to feeling spaces I had difficulty achieving on my own. Thus enlivened, I could find my own power to “give my island to survive.”

As with most of the artists I might write about, it is difficult to choose which one of their recordings might be the most “perfect.” Gabriel’s solo work propelled him to huge popularity and new creative heights, and deservedly so, I think. But this album, his first one “on his own,” with all its supposed weak spots and flaws, occupies a spot in my heart his other works do not. It “saved my life” more than once through the years, and comforted me during some very difficult times. Ultimately, it has helped me to “show another me.”

My heart going boom, boom, boom…

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