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
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
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.