Monday, July 2, 2018

Humdrum - Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel's first four albums were meant to be considered four issues of the same magazine; the first (Car) as Vol. 1, No. 1, etc. By analyzing the musical diversity amidst the arrangements and instrumentation, one can readily see the idea come to fruition. 

I've immersed myself so much in Kate Bush these past few weeks that I found myself listening to all of her collaborations, in particular, "You" with David Gilmour and Roy Harper, and the three with Gabriel, "Another Day," "Games Without Frontiers" and "Don't Give Up." Though I find it unfortunate that "Don't Give Up" was so intently overplayed, I can still find the emotional poignancy that hit me the first time I heard it. At Amnesty, the Kate Bush portion was sung by Tracy Chapman, but I'm particularly partial to the wonderful live version with Paula Cole. From there, the Zen of Music led me back to Gabriel's eponymously titled LPs. 

From the first issue of the magazine, I have been enamored for more than 40 years with "Humdrum." It is among my very favorite tracks (as nostalgic as "Ventura Highway," as enigmatic as "Benny and the Jets" and as angst-ridden as "I'm Not in Love"). A tango rhythm, synths-meets-Gallic-accordion, Gabriel's trademark smoky voice, and a series of musical threads that start in one place and seamlessly end in another, "Humdrum" is a mishmash that's been a constant in my life since 1975. Indeed it is thematic as the song that I play first in a new home. My youth gone, I'm not as mobile as I once was, moving from studio apartment to a loft to some girl's couch, but it remains the song that I play first. Open boxes, put things away, sit on the sofa, "In coal she burn, she burn."  

One thing "Humdrum" does is to position itself in the cultural context of Europe, full of Valentinas, and "little liebe schoens," confronting American elements at JFK, and television that cuts a deep incision. After years of ferrying himself this way and that across the Atlantic as an internationally successful act in Genesis, I imagine crossing these cultural lines was as familiar to Gabriel as lambs lying down on Broadway.

But what is so compelling in the track is the references to women and to birth, one of the reasons Gabriel gave up, if temporarily, being a rock star. His wife Jill had a difficult pregnancy, and his first daughter Anna-Marie was ill as a newborn. While still in Genesis, he blew off a series of recording sessions and put off a tour in order to be with his family. That last verse says it all. 

"Humdrum" is a song that I found long ago, long before I could possibly understand its width or breadth, when it was mystical at best. Today, within its cryptic message, I find real life, a real wife, children and a garden. I relish in that humdrum.