Brian Jones Lays His Hands on Peter Gabriel

By - Sep 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Brian Jones

As sophomores in high school, my small group of friends and I spent most of our time trying to be as cool as possible. By “cool” I mean we knew we weren’t popular, so it was our goal to be as strange, and in our minds, cutting edge as possible. Nobody else in our central Illinois town wore the clothes we wore. Punk meets the new wave and we had an obligation to show everybody else how uncool they were (and, by extension, how cool we were) in our Soviet full-length wool trench coats. Of course nobody listened to the same music. We were determined to be whatever we wanted to be as long as it wasn’t like everybody else. We conformed to being non-conformist.

Not many concerts come to Normal, Illinois so when my friend Paul asked me to go a Peter Gabriel show I was psyched. We knew him then only as the former front man for the 70s prog-rock group Genesis. At the time Gabriel was enjoying moderate success with a strange little tune called “Shock The Monkey.” What I did know was that Gabriel was the kind of artist who didn’t conform to any standards. He did what he wanted to do, and I wanted to see what that was all about.

Paul and I put on our best punky clothes, complete with Clash and Sex Pistol buttons, and headed to Braden Auditorium one early December evening in 1982. I think Paul’s older sister drove us to the show, and I think we chugged two whole beers before we went in.

Our seats were in the 4th row, just to the left of the stage. The house lights were still on when a man walked out. Nobody seemed to notice him at all. I said to Paul, “Hey what’s that guy doing, checking the mics or something?” He stepped up to the mic and said, “Excuse me… Excuse me… .” The man began again. No one really paid attention. “Excuse me. I’m Peter Gabriel. Thank you for coming out tonight. We hope you have a good time. I just wanted to let you know how things are going to go this evening. These fellows are about to come out and play for you and then we’ll be back a little later to entertain you. So please welcome The Electric Guitars.” It was him. He actually came out to introduce the opening act. He had already impressed me.

After the Electric Guitars got through pounding an oil drum with a baseball bat and hitting a suspended piece of sheet metal like it was a cymbal, the lights went out. In the distance we heard drums. We looked around but couldn’t tell where they were coming from, when suddenly everybody turned around to see the whole band marching through the mezzanine pounding on marching drums. They headed out into the hallway, then reappeared right in front of us, marched up on to the stage, took off the drums and put on their instruments. Suddenly Gabriel appeared on a platform above the band launched into “The Rhythm of the Heat.” The crowd went nuts.

Gabriel, all decked out in strange psychedelic monkey makeup, mesmerized us. I have never been to a show since where the crowd was so responsive to every emotion. And I was in the 4th row, losing my mind. The best part was still to come, as Gabriel began singing “Lay Your Hands on Me.” The crowd was singing, with Peter standing on the edge of the stage. Suddenly he stepped off, on to the back of the seats in the front row, grabbing the hands of the people sitting there. He was about a dozen people down from Paul and me when he crossed our row: again, we’re losing our minds. About 30 or 40 rows deep Gabriel turns walks down the row and began to head back towards the stage. And yes… he was headed right towards Paul and me. He reached the 4th row… singing the whole time… he grabbed my hand and Paul’s hand and we helped him across our row. Again, I’m out of my mind.

The show ended with the moving tribute to Stephen Biko. In twenty years of shows, some have come close but nothing has been the equal. But more importantly, Gabriel somehow made me and my friend feel that all the things we were trying to say and be with everything we did… was all right. That doing what you believe in is much more rewarding than conforming to what everybody else might be doing.

Today, I still hold on to the idea of being what ever I want to be, even though that isn’t always easy. I’m not trying as hard to not be like everybody else but I still won’t conform for any reason.

Postscript: the following year, Gabriel released a two record album called Plays Live, recorded at four shows in the Midwest of the United States. Of course, I’m convinced that most of it comes from that night in Normal, Illinois.

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