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Peter Gabriel, White Mountain, a Pack of Wolves, and Me

Posted on Monday, October 7, 2013 in Music, Short Stories and Poems, Writing and Writers

I came to Genesis kind of late in their game and in a way that other hardcore Genesis fans may scoff at - I first fell in love with the Phil Collins song ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’, and that led to me really liking the later Genesis song, ‘Mama.’ That meant that my first real exposure to Genesis was the 1983 album titled Genesis - pretty much the last thing they did before spiraling into pop music banality. There were a few really good songs on their biggest album, 1986’s Invisible Touch, but let’s face it - as much as I loved that record when I was 16, it’s mostly crap.

Fortunately, I loved Genesis so much, and I’m so much a completist, that I had to have every song they made in my library. I also had to have everything by Genesis’s original frontman, Peter Gabriel. And now, almost 30 years later, I truly believe that Peter Gabriel’s music has enriched my life and affected me more than any other artist from any other artistic medium, ever. As much as I love reading, and as much as I love movies, I don’t have a favorite author or director who’s impacted me as much as Peter Gabriel has.

I think that his power over me comes from the transcendent nature of his musical moods and his lyrics. That’s why he’s my favorite artist. Even though I only dabble in playing music, a musician is one of my chief influences.

Peter Gabriel’s songs are cinematic in scope - I think that’s why they appear so often in movies and television shows. (See Birdy, Wall-E, Gangs of New York, Red Planet, Waking The Dead, Babe: Pig In The City, City of Angels, The Craft, Natural Born Killers, Strange Days, Angus, Philadelphia, The Last Temptation of Christ, ¬†and Say Anything.) And for me at least, his lyrics have demonstrated that music can tell engaging, inspirational, even rapturous stories.

One of the earliest examples of Peter Gabriel’s genius came at the beginning of his tenure with Genesis. More hypercritical people have said that early Genesis was pompous, overblown, and pretentious. I’ve read those critics. And while I do agree that Peter Gabriel’s theatrical posturing at early Genesis concerts might have been a tad on the gimmicky side, when I listen to the music, it blows me away that songs of this level of complexity and magnitude were written by a bunch of kids barely out of high school, barely out of their teens. Early Genesis songs were, with few exceptions, nothing short of epic. It’s because of early Genesis that my favorite music these days comes from bands like Tool and Elbow and Mastodon. Give me epic over catchy any day.

At the same time, Peter Gabriel’s lyrics were chock full of literary references and adaptations of existing stories which made me have to go to my mythology and history textbooks again and again. My love for referential literature, like that of John Ashbery, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, came from the referential lyrics of one Master Peter Gabriel of Surrey, England.

The influence of Peter Gabriel on me is so high, in fact, that I actually concocted an entire novella based on the lyrics to one of Genesis’s earliest recordings.

In late 1970, when I was just over a month old, Genesis released a 6-song album called Trespass. The second song on it, ‘White Mountain’, was a 7-minute opus about a pack of wolves chasing a lone traitor to their pack across a frozen wasteland atop a snow-blasted mountain. The song may or may not reference Jack London’s novel White Fang, which has characters in it with names similar to those in the song.

‘White Mountain’, along with most of Trespass, had lackluster sales and got low marks from critics.

Except in Belgium. Go figure.

But to a teenage boy coming to the music a decade and a half after it was written, ‘White Mountain’ was an effective and haunting fable which would stay with him for many years, until he became an artist in his own right.

Sometime after that, he’d sit down and write a 10,000-word treatment of the story, fleshing out the background of the anthropomorphic wolves involved, elaborating on their relationships, and giving their story new life. Then, a few years after he wrote the story, a small press would be willing to e-publish the novella. Novellas are notoriously difficult to publish in traditional paper form, but the advent of e-books makes them more attractive and feasible.

So here it comes - The Three Trespasses, Part One, the story of a family of wolves living on the White Mountain, a story first imagined by one of my musical and artistic heroes, Peter Gabriel.

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