Today is Peter Gabriel’s 67th birthday (as well as my best friend Nate’s 36th birthday). I have been a BIG fan of Peter Gabriel and his music for the last two decades, and I even have a few very interesting connections to Peter. So here is a little backstory about how I became a Peter Gabriel fan.
I first became acquainted with Peter and his music when I was six years old. I remember seeing his most famous music video for his song “Sledgehammer” being played on MTV all the time. Even as a little kid, I thought that video was so fascinating and cool. In fact, the Sledgehammer music video won a record of NINE awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards and remains the most played music video in the history of MTV.
Then Peter pretty much fell off my radar until I was 15 years old. I was taking Driver’s Ed. in the fall of 1996, and I was riding along in the Student Driver car one afternoon with three other classmates and Coach Johns, our driving instructor. I was riding in the back seat when one of Peter’s songs, “Digging In The Dirt”, came on the radio. I was not very familiar with Peter’s music at that time and I had never heard this song before, but for some reason I was completely mesmerized by it. I particularly remember hearing the lyrics “Don’t talk back, just drive the car. Don’t say nothing, keep your hands on the wheel“, and Coach Johns jokingly remarked “Hey, this is the Student Driving song!”
I never forgot that song, and from that day on I was on a mission to find the album that featured that song and add it to my meager but growing music collection. However, this was long before the days of iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, or Pandora, and I did not have internet access at home in order to look up information about Peter’s discography, so I didn’t have many tools to help me find this song. But I do not give up easily!! I did not hear that song again until more than a year later at Christmastime in 1997. When I wrote out my Christmas Wish List to give to my father that year, one of the items I wrote down was “The Peter Gabriel album that has the song Digging In the Dirt“. LOL…As long as my father knew what I meant when he read it. And my father did find the correct album (Us) and bought it for me for Christmas that year, along with a few other of Peter Gabriel’s albums. Once I began listening to his albums, I was utterly hooked on his music and became an instant super-fan.
Then back in 2005, I had the honor and pleasure of chatting with his longtime bassist Tony Levin!! I happened to come across Tony’s public fan page in the early days of online social media. I didn’t know who Tony was at first, but his name sounded very familiar to me. After a few minutes, it hit me that he was one of Peter’s musicians. So I sent him a quick message and told him,
“Hey, I know who you are! You perform with Peter Gabriel!! You were the one he was referring to when he shouted out on stage, ‘Mr. Tony Levin, shaking his tree!‘ at the Secret World Live show!! I’ve been a big fan of Peter’s music for a long time, and he’s one of my top favorite music artists.“
I did not expect Tony to ever reply to my little message, but only a few moments later he DID!!! He was very friendly and laid back! He must have looked over my profile and my personal background info that I listed on it, because he referenced it when he replied. I don’t remember every word of what he said when he replied to me, but this was the gist of it:
“Hi, [name removed]. Yes, I have been touring with Peter Gabriel since…well since before you were even born! Good luck with your schooling and your future law school endeavors.“
There was actually quite a bit more to his reply than this, and he even replied AGAIN a second time, but I don’t remember all that was said since it was over a decade ago. I’m really kicking myself for not having printed out that conversation and saved it!!!! But it still makes for quite a cool story to tell to other fellow Peter Gabriel fans!!
If you think getting to chat with Peter’s bass guitarist was cool, it gets even better: On Peter’s first solo album, one of the musicians who played guitar for the song “Solsbury Hill” is a man by the name of Steve Hunter. Steve now lives in North Hollywood, California, but he was originally from my home state and the same city where my father and stepmother have lived for twenty years. My parents actually KNOW him. So when my father told me about Mr. Hunter many years ago, I went searching for him through social media. I found his public fan page and sent him a message telling him who I was and who my parents were, and he responded back!! He told me that he remembered my father and asked me to pass along a message to him: “Tell your father that I said he has a very beautiful daughter.” Steve and I became friends on social media and had a few conversations here and there over the years. So basically, I have had the distinct honor of speaking with TWO of Peter’s musicians!!
Over the last 20 years I have amassed quite a collection of Peter Gabriel’s albums and DVD concerts and have learned a lot about his various humanitarian efforts and programs. Peter is a very outspoken advocate for people who have been oppressed or imprisoned for being political dissidents. I think my favorite of his charities is WITNESS, an organization he founded that provides media equipment to people living in countries under political oppression so that they may film the human rights abuses they are enduring and alert the rest of the world to what is happening to them.
Over the years, Peter’s work has stirred my soul, lifted my spirits, and caused me to think more deeply. Whenever I hear his music, I feel centered and I feel like I am home. His music makes me feel like I am completely immersed within my own unique element as a person. Peter will always remain one of my top favorite music artists. And since I like eccentric artwork, I’m going to have all of the artwork from Peter’s “Us” album put together in a collage photo frame and display it in my home, since it’s one of my favorite P.G. albums and has inspired and affected me in such profound ways over the years.
Happy Birthday, Peter! Please keep on making beautiful music for the world to enjoy, and please keep on being a voice and a source of light for those around the world who need help.