Born May 13, 1950, in Cobham, Surrey, England; son of an electrical engineer; married Jill Moore (divorced); children: Melanie, Anna-Marie. Education: Attended Charterhouse public school in Godalming, Surrey. Addresses: Record company--Real World/Geffen, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069. Other--Real World Information (SASE required): The Box Magazine, P.O. Box 35, Bath, Avon, BA1 1YJ, England. E-mail-- firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the surface, singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel seems full of contradictions. A shy Englishman with a penchant for rock spectacle, a fiercely cerebral writer who champions the liberation of the body and the emotions, and a gatherer of ancient international music who also works on the frontier of interactive technology, Gabriel embraces an array of seemingly incompatible pursuits. Yet the clarity of his vision reconciles his differing impulses. Since his departure from the progressive rock band Genesis in the mid-1970s, he has produced an ambitious--and at times tremendously successful--body of work as a solo artist. He has also founded his own production facility and record label, campaigned for a bevy of worthy causes, and made strides toward the establishment of the first digital theme park.
Gabriel was born in Cobham, a town in the English county of Surrey, in 1950. His father, an Italian-born electrical engineer, was something of a visionary whose interests prefigured many of his son's technological passions. The singer told Los Angeles Times writer Amy Harmon that Gabriel senior "was campaigning for electronic democracy, for home shopping, films on demand and education and entertainment accessible to anyone." These concepts may have seemed outlandish in the days when the novelty of television hadn't yet worn off, but Gabriel noted, "I listened to him and championed the idea since I was old enough to understand what he was saying. And in some ways I've tried to carry it on."
He took an indirect route to this path. Gabriel's earliest preoccupation was rock music; at Charterhouse, a reputable English boarding school, he cofounded a band with some friends. After signing to a record label and having their name changed to Genesis, they began recording in 1968. With their arty themes and elaborate, classically influenced arrangements, the band fit into the "progressive" rock school; main songwriter and frontman Gabriel often sported outlandish costumes and turned Genesis concerts into unpredictable spectacles. Yet despite a number of ambitious recordings--most notably their swan song, the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway--Genesis didn't get much airplay until long after Gabriel's departure. Vocal chores were then taken up by drummer Phil Collins, whose simpler, radio-friendly tunes piloted the band to mainstream superstardom in the 1980s.
Gabriel also met a woman named Jill Moore at Charterhouse, and it wasn't long before they married. They had a daughter, Melanie, toward the end of his tenure with Genesis. She was born with a serious infection that nearly claimed her life, and Gabriel spent as much time with her as he could. Melanie survived, but her father's relationship with the band was irreparably impaired by his absence. Gabriel left in 1975 and took a hiatus--apart from recording a cover version of a song by the Beatles for a film soundtrack--before working on the first of several albums that bore the same title: Peter Gabriel. Fans have since given these recordings nicknames inspired by their cover art. His solo debut, released in 1977, is known as "Rainy Windshield" and contains the enduring single "Solsbury Hill," a folky, reflective song about a mystical experience; the album reached Number Seven on the UK charts.
Robert Fripp--guitarist and leader of the progressive rock band King Crimson, among many other projects--produced Gabriel's second solo outing, which is known to the faithful as "Fingernails." It charted in the UK and the States. Next came the album known as "Melting Face," a particularly challenging collection of songs that was rejected by Gabriel's record company, Atlantic. It was released by Mercury in 1980. Veering from the surrealistic politics of "Games without Frontiers" to the disturbing "Intruder" to the powerfully uplifting celebration of the life of slain South African activist "Biko," the album still stands as a quantum leap for Gabriel as a songwriter. "Biko" reappeared throughout the decade on recordings and film soundtracks supporting the struggle for racial justice in South Africa, and Gabriel participated in numerous all-star concerts for this cause.
In the early 1980s, Gabriel was a motivating force behind the establishment of the World of Music, Arts and Dance (or WOMAD) Festival. Debuting in Somerset, England, in 1982, WOMAD became an annual gathering for artists from all over the world. Though the venture initially lost money for Gabriel--so much, in fact, that he agreed to participate in a Genesis semireunion concert--it figured prominently in the growth of so-called "World Music" and in his subsequent projects. He next signed to Geffen Records and released Security, another eclectic, challenging collection; powered in part by the single "Shock the Monkey," the album was certified gold. Gabriel's tour in support of the album provided material for the 1983 double-disc Plays Live.
Gabriel's soundtrack for the Alan Parker film Birdy was released in 1985. This highly personal, emotionally charged record was followed in 1986 by the breakthrough success of his album So. Thanks to barnstorming singles like "Sledgehammer" (the imaginative video to which earned scores of awards on its own and was dubbed the best of all time by Rolling Stone), "Big Time," "In Your Eyes," and a duet with alternative rock heroine Kate Bush called "Don't Give Up," the recording reached the Number Two chart position and achieved triple-platinum sales in the United States. "Sledgehammer," with its melding of rock hooks and dance rhythms, earned three Grammy nominations, and the album was nominated for album of the year. Gabriel also earned two BRIT awards, including one for best British male artist.
Those who had followed Gabriel's career were not surprised that the singer-songwriter didn't issue some kind of "sequel" that sought to copy So's formula. Instead, he composed the score for Martin Scorsese's controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ. The Grammy-winning soundtrack album, titled Passion, was the first release on Real World, a label that the artist had formed in conjunction with WOMAD. With his Real World studios near Bath, England, Gabriel was able to record international artists in a state-of-the-art, independent facility and then release these recordings through his own company. His anthology Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats followed in 1990; Real World has also released recordings by Sufi devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, among many others.
It wasn't until 1992, however, that Gabriel resurfaced with a new studio album. Unlike the commercial supernova So, his next effort, Us, is a somewhat more understated recording; People magazine praised it as a "well-conceived and carefully crafted album" that conveys "anger, pain, and finally self-knowledge." Indeed, the album reflects some sobering changes in the performer's life. After a painful divorce from Jill Moore and a brief but turbulent relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette, Gabriel found himself exploring his difficulties in relationships. "I started with twenty-three different lyric ideas, on a range of subjects," he related to Rob Tannenbaum of GQ in describing the process of creating Us. "But the personal stuff seemed to dominate the songwriting, as it had done in my life for the past five or six years. I did couples' group therapy and single group therapy for about five years, to try and understand what was going wrong in the relationships." Ultimately, he noted, the painful "look inside was central for me, and not to have written about it would have been a denial." Perhaps most importantly, this introspection helped him get closer to his second daughter, Anna-Marie.
The album's first single, "Digging in the Dirt," describes the difficult process of therapeutic self-examination. The video that accompanied that song features Gabriel hitting his female companion, and when asked what affect this might have on his image as an international do-gooder, he replied, "Ah, I'm sick of that. I don't think I'm Mr. Nice Guy. There's an aggressive, mean bastard and a playful, humorous character in my makeup, and I don't get to show those faces so often." Many of his friends corroborated this self-description, noting that Gabriel had often been difficult to get close to; yet the artist's positive experiences in therapy made him something of a convert. It also helped shed light on some of his past work and piqued a renewed interest in the theatricality that he'd set aside after leaving Genesis. "The mask, which people see as an instrument with which to hide," he mused to Tannenbaum, "is seen in most other cultures as a way of releasing parts of the personality or soul that don't normally get expressed."
With renewed vision, Gabriel mounted his most ambitious tour yet, with a cast of international musicians, high-tech visuals, and a handful of "concepts" guiding a career retrospective that included not big hits but personal favorites. Renowned Canadian theater and opera director Robert Le Page contributed to the realization of the enormous set, which occupied two opposing spaces; Billboard's Zenon Schoepe described these as "a square 'male, urban, water' stage and a circular 'female, rural, fire' stage connected by a conveyer belt." This thematic division guided the entire production. "We tried to analyze the songs in terms of whether they belonged to the 'male' or 'female' or represented a journey between the two," Gabriel told Schoepe. A video recording of the concert made in Modena, Italy, was released in 1994 with a double-CD, both titled Secret World Live. People claimed, "The video is not the companion piece to the recording. It is the true, indispensable text."
"It's a rare moment when an artist takes his established, even iconic work and makes it still stronger," raved Susan Richardson in her Rolling Stone review, adding that Secret World Live is "just such a moment." Meanwhile, Gabriel went on to pursue still grander dreams. True to his commitment to interactive technology, he helped develop a CD-ROM called Xplora 1. In addition to permitting users to remix his songs with their computers, Xplora provides video footage from Gabriel's career, a sampling of international music and information about the non-Western instruments that create it, and a virtual tour of Real World studios.
Not content to dwell on music, Gabriel introduced a political dimension to his CD-ROM by adding footage from his Witness Project, which handed out video cameras to document human rights abuses worldwide. Some highly disturbing footage of violent incidents is included to jar participants into actively supporting human rights. Gabriel told Musician's Martin Townsend that Xplora and related ventures would pose a stark alternative to the fantasy violence of video games. "The shoot-'em-up esthetic is going to be challenged," he insisted. "Interactive technology is going to open up in the form of this whole big communication, entertainment, information and education soup."
Eager to be in the soup himself, Gabriel set to work designing an interactive theme park with fellow music-performance visionaries Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson. Set to open in Barcelona, Spain, the park would differ from mainstream amusement parks. "We want to create a beautiful, natural environment with lots of water, trees and gardens," he informed Townsend, "and then bury the experiences. It would be like the Greek underworld. You would come up to the surface, where it's calm and relaxing; then, when you're ready for another big adventure, you go down."
Plenty of big adventures remain in store for Gabriel. Dedicated, as he declared to Harmon of the Los Angeles Times, to the "issue of democratizing technology," he seems to have found a way to merge his eclectic musical vision, his fascination with multimedia development, and his hope for enhancing communication and freedom worldwide. Indeed, he predicted to Harmon, the new media "will break down this ridiculous barrier that exists between supposedly 'creative' people and the rest of the population." Whether or not this turns out to be true, Gabriel's own creative spark will now reach an even greater audience.
by Simon Glickman
Peter Gabriel's Career
Recording and performing artist, 1967--. Played with bands the Garden Wall, the (New) Anon, and Genesis at Charterhouse; Genesis released debut single, 1968, and album From Genesis to Revelation, 1969; Gabriel left Genesis, 1975; contributed cover version of Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" to All This and World War II soundtrack, 1975; released solo debut Peter Gabriel, 1977; cofounded World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Festival, early 1980s; signed to Geffen Records and released Security, 1982; participated in Genesis reunion concert, 1982; contributed to Artists United against Apartheid recording "No More Apartheid," 1985; participated in numerous benefit concerts since 1986. Provided scores for films Birdy, 1985, and The Last Temptation of Christ, 1989; founded Real World record label, 1989; launched CD-ROM Xplora 1 and codesigned interactive theme park, 1993-94.
Peter Gabriel's Awards
Ivor Novello Awards, London, 1983 and 1987; two BRIT Awards, 1987; a dozen MTV music video awards, 1987-1993; Grammy Awards for best new age performance, 1990, and best music video, 1992 and 1993; "Sledgehammer" voted #1 Video of All Time by Rolling Stone, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Solo Various artists, All This and World War II (soundtrack; appears on "Strawberry Fields Forever"), 1975.
- Peter Gabriel (aka "Rainy Windshield"; includes "Solsbury Hill"), Atlantic, 1977.
- Peter Gabriel (aka "Fingernails"), Atlantic, 1978.
- Robert Fripp, Exposure (appears on "Here Comes the Flood"), 1979.
- Peter Gabriel (aka "Melting Face"; includes "Games without Frontiers," "Intruder," and "Biko"), Mercury, 1980.
- Security (includes "Shock the Monkey"), Geffen, 1982.
- Plays Live, Geffen, 1983.
- Against All Odds (soundtrack; appears on "Walk through the Fire"), 1984.
- Birdy (soundtrack), Geffen, 1985.
- So (includes "Sledgehammer," "Big Time," "In Your Eyes," and "Don't Give Up"), Geffen, 1986.
- Passion: Music from the Last Temptation of Christ (soundtrack), Real World/Geffen, 1989.
- Various artists, Rainbow Warriors (appears on "Red Rain"), Geffen, 1989.
- Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats, Real World/Geffen, 1990.
- Us (includes "Digging in the Dirt"), Real World/Geffen, 1992.
- Secret World Live, Real World/Geffen, 1994.
- With Genesis "The Silent Sun," Decca, 1968.
- "A Winter's Tale," Decca, 1968.
- From Genesis to Revelation, Decca, 1969.
- "Where the Sour Turns to Sweet," Decca, 1969.
- Trespass, Impulse, 1970.
- Nursery Cryme, Charisma, 1971.
- Foxtrot, Charisma, 1972.
- Selling England by the Pound, Charisma, 1973.
- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Atlantic, 1974.
January 27, 2004: Gabriel, along with music producer Brian Eno, founded an online alliance for musicians who want to use the Internet to sell their music to fans. MUDDA, or Magnificent Union of Digitally Downloading Artists, will debut in a month. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, January 29, 2004.
June 12, 2005: Gabriel appeared with Annie Lennox and Robert Plant in Nelson Mandela's 46664 Arctic Concert, an AIDs relief concert held in Tromsoe, the main city of Norway's Arctic. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, June 13, 2005.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
- Periodicals Billboard, August 20, 1994.
- GQ, December 1992.
- Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1995.
- Musician, June 1994.
- People, November 2, 1992; October 3, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, August 19, 1993; October 20, 1994.