PETER GABRIEL OF GENESIS TALKS TO BARBARA CHARONE.
“People think we ripped off Yes and Alice Cooper – and of course that is what happened.”
THE MUSIC world rarely awakens before noon, but I met Peter Gabriel at the unlikely hour of 9.30 a.m. Genesis, having finished their ‘Selling England By The Pound’ album, were rehearsing the new show. The man was looking veary-eyed as he ate buttered toast and sipped a coffee – the living proof that rock is all late-night rave-ups.
Off-stage, Gabriel is unassuming, rather slow at opening up in conversation, and a far cry from the figure who runs rampant in bizarre gear
But anyway, what exactly have the conquerors of Epping Forest been up to in preparation for the new act?
He thinks for a moment and gives with a schnide smile “I’ve been having conversations with my mask maker. I gave him a copy of the lyrics to the new album … I’ve found it helps to go over the words with him, trying to get pictures from the words, conceptions of characters.
“We’ve also have a guy working for us on stage designs. We explain what effects we’d like, with lighting and all. On this tour we’ll be using a screen for backdrop projections. All these things,” he stresses, “help to create the fantasy we work under.”
Character is a word that crops up often in a conversation with Gabriel. The theatrical comparison is obvious, and always apparent on stage.
“My part has been to conceive all the characters and masks I can from a piece. The visuals are really just an adaptation of something that’s already been written, and recently I’ve been trying things out with new characters.
“The visuals did begin out of necessity,” he agrees. “With gaps in the playing the door was left open to me. At first I used to improvise completely – which I don’t do now.
“When the visuals work, they set up pictures in the mind. That way someone can enter the music more receptively. But visuals can only succeed if the music is just as satisfying. It’s actually a means to an end.
“The only reason we’re up on a stage is to communicate to people, to entertain, and you’re better able to do that with movement. So whatever we can get our hands on, we’ll use.”
That, my friends, includes pyramids, flowers, fox masks and other image-oriented objects.
Since the band is a five piece with five very separate opinions, I wondered how Gabriel convinced the others of his stage ideas. Or did he simply show up one day in his flower regalia?
“Actually,” says Gabriel with a smile, “that’s exactly what happened.”
Gabriel believes that one day film, music and theatre will merge. Already they’re moving closer together in a working partnership, and he offers the Red Budha Theatre as proof. Genesis, who incorporate a bit of several mediums in their stage show, hope to one day operate from their own inflatable theatre.
Says Gabriel: “In this portable theatre there’d be various textures. At the theatre’s entrance you’d go through a selection of things happening – which would set your mind thinking in a fantasy situation. The whole experience wouldn’t relate to anything you’ve known before.
“The fantasy would stay with the audience from the moment they entered the theatre until they went home. During the entire two or three hours of the show a complete fantasy would be going on all around. Then people could relate all the time, being all insular and vulnerable.”
Genesis obviously differ from the dressed-up 12-bar that most bands unravel. And because of these very differences, the band have been slated over over their motives.
Gabriel says: “I think some people have a rip-off concept of us, which goes something like this: they see us as a band who were sitting around doing nothing, and who looked at who was pulling in the money in the music market, so they think we ripped off Yes’s music, Alice Cooper’s visuals, and we came up with Genesis.
“And of course,” Gabriel both laughs and sighs, “that’s how it happened.
“And just because I was dressing up, people assumed I was imitating Bowie. But the thing is, the characters I play are things talked about in the lyrics, and they do occur. Bowie’s a great writer, but I don’t always think his costumes are relevant to his music.
“Visuals should provide some images that sink into the music, so if you’re listening at home you’ve still got traces of the characters floating around.”
Onstage, there’s something almost hypnotic in the way Peter Gabriel addresses an audience. Does he believe Genesis make people feel uncomfortable?
“Great if we do … I like to disturb the audience a bit and then bring them into our world.”