One of the most talent albeit underrated musical artists of our era, he is never a dull subject to cover. From art-rock roots in the early 1970s to the present day as a solo artist breaking ground constantly, Peter Gabriel is just a fascinating rock persona.
Perhaps one of the most defining moments of his solo career came with the So album from the mid-1980s: It features pop hits like "Sledgehammer", "Big Time" and the enduring "In Your Eyes". Yet it also contains art-house nuggets like "Mercy Street" and "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)": the former an ode to poet Anne Sexton, the latter a duet with Laurie Anderson. How many musical artists can pull that kind of combo off? Not many.
Yet we are getting ahead of ourselves. What makes Gabriel so endearing to his fans and even to casual listeners? It's hard to find someone that lived through the 1980s that doesn't know the lines to "Shock the Monkey" and/or the aforementioned "In Your Eyes". Even if the audience doesn't connect those two songs to the same artist, the audience knows the music and the lyrics.
Peter Gabriel has won six Grammy Awards and 13 thirteen MTV Video Music Awards. TIME magazine also once named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world for his worldwide activism. Perhaps he's "Bono Lite" to some people, but he's a bit more talented than Bono in terms of musical appreciation and performance on his own—and that's no knock on Bono, either. Gabriel is just ... extraordinary.
Regardless, we came up with the five reasons we love Peter Gabriel, and here they are in no particular order:
Art-rock persona: Just go to Google Images and enter "Peter Gabriel Genesis" to see what comes up. It's a beautiful array of artistic interpretation of rock and roll. Most of those images come before the KISS era of the mid-1970s that changed art rock into some parody of ridiculousness. In Gabriel's era with Genesis, it was bold and groundbreaking—right up there with Roxy Music and the recently deceased David Bowie. That's the origin of Gabriel's coolness.
Pop-music flexibility: Gabriel left Genesis to go on his own, and while he may not have maintained his art-rock roots 100 percent, he did show a flexibility to appeal to wider audiences at the same time that he was keeping in contact with his origins. "Shock the Monkey" illustrates this transition from pure art-rock presentation to something blending more mass appeal with Gabriel's roots. This flexibility continued through the 1990s for Gabriel's solo career.
Video artistry: Starting with "Shock the Monkey" and moving right on through "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time", Gabriel demonstrated his artistic prowess by maximizing the video medium for mass exposure. MTV may have changed the face of the music industry, and Gabriel's artsy roots played right into that multimedia experience—for himself and his audience. His videos were always cutting edge and worth watching repeatedly. Audiences could notice something new with every viewing.
Longevity: Gabriel has been active in the music scene since 1967, and while it is easier nowadays to stay active forever (yes, we're looking at you, Mick Jagger), that's not the point. Gabriel, as an artist, has kept himself busy by being flexible. Look at the first three reasons on this list: He used these three things to give himself a broad range of outlets over the years. Consider the score he composed for Martin Scorcese's film The Last Temptation of Christ. It's amazing music and something that even was chosen by an Olympic ice-skating medalist to perform to in competition. The best careers that last forever are the careers that have more than one trick to them.
Sensitivity: Shakespeare still appeals to modern audiences because of the human nature captured in his characters and their actions. Perhaps the most famous of all Bard plays—Romeo and Juliet—revolves around love. That sensitivity appeals to all of us, because we're human. "In Your Eyes" may be Gabriel's long-lasting equivalent to R&J, but it's hardly his only (or even best?) love song. "Loved To Be Loved" is another enduring testament to human emotion, and even Gabriel's ability to blend heartfelt poetry with musical art (in "Mercy Street") demonstrates an amazing artistic sensitivity that few ever capture or even conceive.
© axs, by Sam McPherson