Robert Shaw: “It is the nature of music, unlike painting and most of literature, that its final creation is not its original creation. Music needs to be sounded, needs to be sung. It needs to be heard. In this sense the composer literally must leave his work to be finished by others.”
I recently heard someone report another person’s claim that David Bowie had been the greatest genius in the history of music, and someone else replied: “Really, what about Bach? Come on!” I can see the reason for that reaction. However, when I sit at the piano and play and sing through David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?,” I know what it’s supposed to sound like, because he and his production team went to an awful lot of trouble to record it to sound a certain way. That included parodying the show-tune style of Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and featuring keyboardist Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock band Yes on piano. Actually, the melodies, rhythms, chords, and words of the song remain excellent, even though I don’t have an electric guitar, Mellotron, bass, drums, backing vocal, and string section available to accompany me–not to mention Wakeman’s considerable keyboard skills. Choirs do something similar when they rehearse selected choral movements with piano for several months before they ever hear the (piano-less) orchestra and the (choir-less) solo vocal sections. The main difference between Bowie and Bach is that the former gave us “final/original” recorded versions of his music, whereas the latter did not and could not.
About a week and a half ago, I completed the manuscript for Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion. It includes eight chapters, a timeline, an introduction, a conclusion, a list of selected reading and media, and a list of selected listening. The book will be published by Rowman & Littlefield by September of 2016 in print and e-book form and will be available at Amazon and elsewhere.
The book cover will incorporate the following image:
Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion mostly focuses on the songs found on his four primary studio albums: III/Melt (Chapter 4), IV/Security (Chapter 5), So (Chapter 6), and Us (Chapter 7). Chapters 1-2 cover his early years with Genesis (three studio albums per chapter), and Chapter 3 covers his first two solo albums: I/Car and II/Scratch. I’ve covered tours, film scores, other collaborations, cover versions, biographical details, etc. more briefly along the way. Thus, I think I can probably manage to include 2010’s Scratch My Back covers of other people’s songs, 2011’s New Blood orchestral reworkings of his own songs, and 2013’s And I’ll Scratch Yours covers of his songs in the same chapter (Chapter 8) that mainly covers 2002’s Up.
I’m now halfway through Chapter 5 of “Experiencing Peter Gabriel,” so that’s exactly halfway through the nine-chapter book. Woo-hoo! You may be interested in the book summary and writing sample.
I have often used the 15th-century Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem as a whipping boy to underscore my field’s lingering, unrepentent obscurity. For example, I found it hilarious when I had an internship at the American Musicological Society’s office in Brunswick, Maine in the summer of 2010 that there was nothing much there other than this huge, unsold stack of Vol. 3 of Ockeghem’s collected works from 1992. The fancy, expensive books had obviously been sitting there since the AMS office moved there from Philadelphia in 2006. Now, in 2016 the office will be moving to New York City, and they’re trying to pawn the books off for just the cost of shipping and handling. It occurred to me that they might actually get rid of a few of them if they included some free Slap Chops!
For Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion, I think I made the correct decision to do Chapters 1-2 up to early Genesis (childhood/1967-71 and 1972-75), Chapter 3 covering Peter Gabriel 1 and 2 (1976-78), and one on each of the main studio albums after that. I’m nearing completion of Chapter 4 on PG3/Melt (1979-80), and it will be around 22 pages, which is similar to the lengths of Chapters 1, 2, and, 3. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t have enough material, but I think that PG3/Melt is his best album. In Chapters 5 (1981-4/IV/Security), 6 (1985-89/So), 7 (1990-99/Us), and 8 (2000-09/Up), I’ll also have his live album, four film/media scores, occasional movie songs, and entrepreneurial/humanitarian activities to cover a bit. Chapter 9 (2010-15/Scratch/NewBlood) will then also get into the covers/retrospective/double-Rock-Hall-induction, etc. stuff. It’s shaping up nicely!
Kelly J. Baker just posted an article called “Goodbye to All That,” about abandoning her recently-contracted plan to write an academic book on the cultural history of zombies. I have very similar feelings about my work on music in The Simpsons, including my proposed academic book, related possible journal articles, and already-presented conference papers (e.g., 2006, 2013). Without a tenure-track, professorial context, I have to let those types of academic things go and possibly reimagine them as public music history projects instead. I’ve already made that transition from my dissertation on the rock band Rush to Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and am currently working on Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). So, I don’t see why I should stop now. Maybe, I’ll be able to get to the point of making a living wage at it!