After the third or fourth mention, I told Steph about the obvious alternative: Peter Gabriel. “His records are largely electronic, and he also has a mostly pessimistic worldview, but he’s a lot more constructive about it,” I said.
I convinced Steph to download Gabriel’s entire catalog from the illegalnets, and told her to start listening at Peter Gabriel 3. She wasn’t thrilled, calling it “dated.” That prompted me to listen to the track previews on Peter’s website, to see if the songs were as good as I remembered. That’s when it dawned on me that this guy was one of my favorite artists for ages, and I hadn’t listened to his records in, oh, let’s say 15 years.
I’m usually not “down” with the illegalnets. But all my CDs are in boxes in the attic, and even if I were up for a scavenger hunt followed by a ripping session, there are some of Peter’s records I have only on vinyl. And he’s released a couple of new ones since I stopped paying attention. And I’m pretty poor right now. Sigh.
It was worth the digital thievery. After having listened to Gabriel’s entire catalog of studio albums a couple of times, I can safely say that after years of only middling interest, I once again Believe In The Power Of Music. Holy cow.
I’ve read interviews where Peter sort of disowns his first two solo records, Peter Gabriel 1 and 2. They’re competent British-flavored prog rock, but there is nothing to distinguish them from any of the millions of other entries in the genre. For Peter Gabriel 3, he discovered his secret weapon: African rhythms. There has always been an ugly side to Peter’s music, and he finally figured out how to show, not tell. This record and Peter Gabriel 4 feature an atmospheric dread that has never been duplicated. It is anguish made flesh. Phil Collins’ “gated” drumming became the envy of the music industry for a couple of years, everybody wanted to duplicate that sound. If you grade records on the effectiveness of presenting their message, then these two are my all-time winners, hands-down. They drag me in, every time.
Then we have So. This is the record that made him a household word, and I listened to it a lot back in the day. But he was drifting away from what I found to be so compelling about his music, towards a more poppy, accessible style. It no doubt made him a lot of money, and I can’t begrudge him that.
For me, Peter’s story stopped in 1992, the year Us was released. I liked it okay, but he was venturing ever further into territory unfamiliar to me. I can see how I lost the thread.
His next proper studio record, released long after I stopped paying attention, was Up. I’m sorry I missed that one. Excellent addition to his ouvre, and it catches him right up with the times. Incidentally, this is the record where Steph was finally able to grasp what I meant when I said “still generally pessimistic, but more constructive than Depeche Mode.” I suppose it helps that she can’t claim it’s “dated.”
Then there’s Scratch My Back. This one doesn’t work for me. It sounds too much like something Barbara Streisand would do. Peter’s all weepy and emotional, blubbering over tasteful piano arrangements. OVO is similarly foreign. I’m going to be really ugly here and say that this sounds like an entry in a category I like to call Noble Brown People Records. Yes, I am a racist, you are outraged, etc etc. I still don’t want to listen to it.
But you know, even considering the ones I’m not crazy about, I think it’s worth the effort. Peter’s middling records are better than most people’s best efforts. Even though I don’t like OVO, there is something to be gained by listening to it. When I can mentally filter out The Noble Brown Man’s Struggle, I can hear a lot more interesting stuff going on underneath.
One thing I was really shocked by was the stunning technical quality of the records Steph dredged up from the illegalnets. These are all high-fidelity rips from the best SACD versions, along with scans of the artwork. This saves me from having to buy them and rip them and scan the artwork for iTunes and carry around the physical CDs for the rest of my life, or worry about my DRM-infested files becoming obsolete. Win-win-win. Except for that nagging conscience thing.
There are of course arguments to be made that you are only ripping off rich, soulless corporations. I admit I have little sympathy for them. That’s beside the point. The reason you shouldn’t steal is not because you’re hurting some corporation, it’s because of what it says about yourself. You are sending yourself a message: I am the type of person who will fuck people over for my own benefit. That was the big blow when I discovered that my sister had stolen from me. It’s not so much about the money, it’s that yes, she really is the craven, soulless, selfish bitch I’ve always feared she was. She left no room for doubt. How I could I be related to someone as horrible as that? It boggles my mind.
Despite the big speech just there, I’m not tossing my newfound Peter Gabriel records. Even though I personally make money by selling piles of bits that are easily and naturally duplicated, the same predicament that the record industry is in.
A little back-of-the-envelope math says I’ve spent about 50,000 bucks on records over the years. I am at the moment pursuing a path that is not likely to make me wealthy any time soon. I haven’t had a real home, where I truly stretched out and unpacked everything and felt like I really lived there, since I was living in Miami, over a decade ago. I’m going to be nomadic for awhile. This is one of the compromises I am going to make. I’ll find a way to make good on it later on.