Peter Gabriel

Singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel spends a large portion of his time on

social activism. In 1992, in conjunction with the Reebok Foundation, he

established the "Witness" program, which arms human rights activists

with hand-held video cameras and other communications tools to document

oppression.

Gabriel also has conducted, since 1982, the frequent WOMAD (World of

Music, Arts and Dance) festivals. He currently is planning five such

events this year: one each in South Africa (February 12-14), Australia,

New Zealand, England and the U.S.

Gabriel was born 49 years ago today in London. He began singing in the

band Garden Wall with keyboardist Tony Banks; the two started writing

songs, along with guitarists Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, while

all were students at an exclusive secondary school. The group became

Genesis in 1966; drummer Phil Collins soon joined them.

The early Genesis featured an elaborate stage show in which Gabriel

pranced around theatrically, dressed in outrageous costumes. Genesis'

folk/pop quickly evolved into keyboard-heavy extended art-rock suites.

The band had experienced substantial success in the U.K. and had a

sizable cult following in the U.S., when Gabriel quit to go solo, after

Genesis' most arty endeavor, 1974's double concept LP and live show,

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

As the Collins-fronted Genesis went on to huge commercial success,

Gabriel, in a confusing move, issued three solo albums with the same

eponymous title. Gabriel said his same-title concept was to be similar

to issues of a magazine. The first LP yielded the gorgeous "Solsbury

Hill," while the second offered the single "D.I.Y." Neither album

received much commercial attention, but Gabriel's third LP (1980)

received a good amount of FM-radio airplay with "Games Without

Frontiers." It also featured his famous anti-apartheid song "Biko." His

fourth album, subtitled Security (1982), spawned Gabriel's first

top-40 entry, "Shock the Monkey." Gabriel's work began to take on a

world music quality and he subsequently designed WOMAD to bring African

and Far Eastern music to western nations.

In 1984, Gabriel scored the Alan Parker movie "Birdy." The following

year, he founded Real World, Inc., to develop cross-cultural projects in

the arts and technology. Real World Studios has since been a recording

venue for such artists as Van Morrison; it also spawned the Real World

record label.

Gabriel's commercial breakthrough came with 1986's critically lauded

So, featuring the #1 funk song, "Sledgehammer," and other hits

such as "Big Time" (RealAudio

excerpt), "In Your Eyes" and "Don't Give Up," a duet with rocker Kate

Bush. The video for "Sledgehammer" won numerous awards for its visual

innovations. Also that year, Gabriel joined Sting, Bruce Springsteen

and other big names for the first Amnesty International concert.

The 1989 soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ"

won Gabriel the Grammy for Best New Age Performance. His last studio LP,

1992's Us, generated respectable sales but no smash singles. Two

years later, Gabriel issued Secret World Live, documenting two

concerts in Italy.

In 1994, Gabriel released the CD-ROM "Xplora," one of many projects he

developed with Real World; he developed similar multimedia endeavors in

succeeding years. Last year, he announced plans to issue an album

entitled Up, around the same time that R.E.M. said their LP would

bear that name.

Although only R.E.M.'s Up has surfaced, that band's singer,

Michael Stipe, said at the time: "We love Peter Gabriel and we are

honored to have this association -- great minds think alike."

In December of last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights, Gabriel participated (along with Radiohead,

Tracy Chapman and others) in a Paris concert organized by Amnesty

International and The Body Shop to celebrate the thousands of human

rights defenders around the world.

Other birthdays: Peter Tork (Monkees), 55; Ed Gagliardi (Foreigner), 47;

Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), 43; cEVIN Key (Skinny Puppy),

38; Henry Rollins, 38; Les Warner (Cult), 38; Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey), 37;

and Freedom Williams (C+C Music Factory), 33.