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21 | The inevitability of Peter Gabriel

Inspiration for writing & creativity

Hello two days early! Today is Peter Gabriel’s 74th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. Specifically, the way his Genesis years influenced my writing.

It might not be obvious mainly because he’s a musician and I’m a writer. Though, in Genesis he did write most of the lyrics he sang. And, oh, those lyrics. So absurd, so vividly narrative. Par exemple:

With the guards of Magog swarming around
The Pied Piper takes his children underground
Dragons coming out of the sea
Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me
He brings down the fire from the skies
You can tell he's doing well by the look in human eyes
Better not compromise, it won't be easy

666 is no longer alone
He's getting out the marrow in your backbone
And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll
Gonna blow right down inside your soul
Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon
In blood, he's writing the lyrics of a brand-new tune

That’s from “Supper’s Ready,” or as I like to call it, “Supper’s Cold” because it’s 23 minutes long. It’s a good choice for a desert island disc because it’s like seven songs in one (and the lyrics are just part of the reason it’s one of my favourite songs).

Despite the obvious fantastical elements in his lyrics, they don’t always influence me directly. Rather, I’ve just always been inspired by him in general, his commitment to his own creativity. Even though I’m nowhere near as out there as Gabriel was in Genesis, I’ve always craved his no-fucks-to-be-had energy for my own work. I mean, just look at him.

Peter Gabriel was just so wonderfully weird in Genesis, performing in character wearing elaborate costumes, whether his bandmates liked it or not. Sometimes he sang his weird lyrics with seemingly his entire being, as if someone was trying to take singing away from him. He was the personification of “artistic vision.”

When I wrote the first draft of Seeker of the Lost Song I listened to Genesis’ Foxtrot, Selling England By the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway albums over and over again. By osmosis I received Gabriel’s delicious fantastical weirdness and filtered it through my own lens into my writing. While Seeker is a character-driven fantasy novel, its magic thrumming in a more restrained way than a Genesis song, I can see the echoes of Peter Gabriel’s inventive, mythical writing in it. He inspires me to play with language, to fall backwards into expression, emotion, and imagery.

And even earlier than Seeker, I wrote a short story called “Onstage, Slouching” inspired by this photo (though he may actually not be slouching) and the way he performed in Genesis. It’s about a woman who felt like an outsider, striving to create & live as she liked and bristling when she couldn’t. If you’re curious, you can download it here as a PDF. It’s completely literary, no SF/F at all except in a passing mention. I wonder if this look back at my older work is interesting to people. Let me know!

The funny thing is, I’m not really much of a fan of Gabriel’s solo work after Genesis. Some songs, sure, but just a handful*. And I’m certainly not a fan of Phil Collins’ Genesis. Yet somehow that ultra pickiness makes the Gabriel influence even sweeter to me. He was in the band for eight years and six albums. Tiny in relation to the many albums both he (solo) and his former band created afterwards. So when I want to tap into that particular flavour of Peter Gabriel weirdness I crave, I only have limited options to choose from.

But I always get what I need from those limited options. My writing isn’t as theatrical as Gabriel’s performances, but that’s why I need him. I never have more fun than when I just open the tap and create unrestrained. I need a little nudge to just let go, to embrace what my curiosity and imagination want me to do, and fuck everything else. This is true of writing, photography, or both. That “fuck it, get weird” feeling is something I’ve been drawn to for most of my life, but also something that can feel difficult to hang on to.

I will forever find a weird Peter Gabriel picture to relate to.⁠ (I’m a bit annoyed about how I wasn't smooshy enough in the second one but the important thing is my eyes weren't closed fully, so it's nice and creepy.)⁠

Oh, and let’s not talk about how Peter Gabriel was in his early-mid twenties, like, half my age when he was in Genesis creating his absurd magic. Will I ever get over that? The hell I will. Instead, we can talk about how I was in my early twenties when I was introduced to Genesis by my friend and then-roommate David. I’m sure he explained why he liked Gabriel so much, but maybe it was unneeded. Maybe he sensed the inevitability of Peter Gabriel in my life. Maybe he knew he just needed to crack open the door and I’d slide the rest of the way down myself. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.

I’ve never really been a technical singer as such, or a musician. I’m someone who goes for the feel of something and tries to build pictures.

*(Though I do appreciate the way his creative weirdness still pops up in some of his solo stuff, like the video for Games Without Frontiers, from which I got the screenshots in the black-and-white photo montage above.)

PS What I’ve read

I’m in a “have my brain scrambled by books” phase, it seems. I recently finished “The Memory Police” by Yōko Ogawa, in which everyday objects - and the memories of them - literally disappear for the residents of an island. Calling it “surreal” seems almost wrong, because aside from the main hook of the novel it’s a very calm, meditative story. And this only heightens how wonderfully unsettling it is.

Next, I started Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled,” where I was thrown headfirst into another examination of the shakiness of memory. The Guardian called it a book with “a dreamlike lack of obvious logic.” Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant” is one of my favourite books and it felt comforting to enter his good ol’ memory fog again. At least, initially. Unfortunately I didn’t take to this book and had to DNF at around page 100 (about a fifth of the way through). I gave it 50 pages more than my usual DNF threshold and I’ll probably return to it later. I just don’t have the focus for this one right now, I’m afraid. I don’t believe you have to like everything your favourite authors write, but I still feel a bit sad about my experience with this one!

Talk soon,

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