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FUV Essentials: Darren DeVivo on Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel (photo by Joi Ito, courtesy of Creative Commons)

Peter Gabriel (photo by Joi Ito, courtesy of Creative Commons)


What are they saying in that “Games Without Frontiers” song? There’s something very exotic and captivating going on there. Or what about “Shock The Monkey?" What the ... is that what he’s singing?

I was initially bitten by the music bug when I was four years old. As I grew older, my scope widened. By the late '70s and early ‘80s, my teenage ears were craving to discover something more: something different, intriguing, compelling, and challenging. I still loved the music I’d been listening to for the past decade, but I had more space in my internal audio room that was ready to be filled.

Then, Peter Gabriel walked into that room. I was 15 years old when “Games Without Frontiers” hit the radio. I don’t remember if at that time I already knew who Gabriel was and that he had been the singer in Genesis. I do remember that something just reached out of that song and shook me. What were they singing? “She’s so what?" That addictive "Whistle While You Work"-reminiscent melody followed by the ominous lyrics, “If looks could kilI/they probably will/in games without frontiers/war without tears.”

I didn’t understand what I was hearing, but it sure resonated with me. Two years later came Gabriel's “Shock The Monkey,” which was a straight-ahead, mind-blowing blast of sci-fi hi-fi. “Shock The Monkey” came from Peter’s fourth solo album, known as Security here in the U.S. Except for the release of his first live album, Peter wouldn’t be heard from again for almost four years.

By the time his fifth studio album, So, was released in 1986, I was an adult, in college, and on the air at WFUV. So was a musically rich mixture of progressive rock, pop, soul, African music and other world rhythms. Peter drew from this dynamic sonic palette to build instantly memorable, art-pop songs. Once again, Peter had made music that opened my eyes and my ears.

In fact, coupled with Paul Simon’s Graceland, which was released three months after So, my tastes had spread beyond North America and Europe for the first time. Both albums quickly became endearing favorites on WFUV’s airwaves. Over the next six years, a lot changed at WFUV, but a couple of things remained constant: I was still on the air and I was playing Peter’s music. To my ears, his sixth album, Us, summed up everything Peter had accomplished up to that point as a solo artist.

I could never have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to meet Peter Gabriel, but, 22 years after hearing “Games Without Frontiers” for the first time, I not only met the man, but I sat down and interviewed him as he promoted his seventh solo studio album, Up. I have accomplished many cool things in my career, but getting to compare grey goatees with Peter Gabriel is one of best.

Peter is as essential and amazing as ever, with a new song, “I’m Amazing,” and his 2016 Rock Paper Scissors tour with Sting in North America.

Oh, by the way, I have since learned that what I thought was “she’s so something” is actually Gabriel's friend Kate Bush singing "Jeux Sans Frontières,” the French translation of “Games Without Frontiers."