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 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!
I recently asked about arranging for status as a Visiting Scholar to the Music Department of Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo. That’s my undergraduate alma mater in the city where I now live again. They just agreed to that, which will give me such Faculty/Staff/Grad library privileges as term-long book loans, access to scholarly publications and media through inter-library loans, and internet access in an office/carrel-type setting. The scenario will definitely help me work more efficiently on my current book project: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion. So, thanks to Grebel music chair Laura Gray and librarian Laureen Harder-Gissing!
Around the same time, Gabriel made an orchestra-accompanied cover version of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” for an obscure film of war-related footage and news headlines and clips from war movies combined with new versions of Beatles’ songs, called All This and World War II. The film and soundtrack double-album also include recordings by the Bee Gees, Leo Sayer, Tina Turner, Elton John, Frankie Valli, Rod Stewart, the London Symphony Orchestra, and numerous others, as released in November of 1976. Gabriel’s version of that Beatles’ song was thus his first solo release, and it is fairly charming, although he occasionally sounds rather like Kermit the Frog. He later worked on a number of film scores and film songs from 1984 to 2008 and then revisited the idea of orchestra-accompanied cover versions much more extensively on his 2010 album Scratch My Back. In a related project, the 2013 response-album And I’ll Scratch Yours includes other artists’ stylistically-distinctive cover versions of some of Gabriel’s songs.