Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Peter Gabriel's Security (1982)

We have a way forward. We'll take a look at Peter Gabriel's followup to the Melt album, 1982's Peter Gabriel, a.k.a., Security. Then we will attempt a landing at Hippies vs. Punks ground zero, 1976's Taxi Driver. I saw it again last Saturday, wanting to make a reappraisal of the Martin Scorsese-Paul Schrader version of the Arthur Bremer story, and was blown away how perfectly it enacts the death match between the Hippie and the Punk, and in so doing, provides a punchlist for neoliberalism's rollback of post-WWII social democracy.

So far we have arrived at some solid signposts. Nineteen-seventy-five: The death rattle is gargled out of the Hippie's maw before New Year's Day with the catastrophic November-December 1974 Harrison-Shankar Dark Horse Tour, the first North American tour by a Beatle since 1966. Its failure proved prescient. One-year later Patti Smith would proclaim a new dispensation with her debut LP, Horses. Nineteen-seventy-six: Taxi Driver is released in February. Punks rise from the earth, California lite rock fills the Bicentennial airwaves, and The Band stages The Last Waltz at Winterland with Marty Scorsese in the director's chair. Carter is on his way to the White House. Alea iacta est.

Before turning to Peter Gabriel, a few thoughts on aging. One problem with aging, besides a loss of energy, is that as you age people -- young people -- stop paying attention to you. Young people are, whether conscious of it or not, governed by sexual appetites. For youth, and by youth I mean 40ish and under, it is all about the sex organs. An old codger like me -- north of the half-century mark, gray beard, with wrinkled brow and eye socket, throat flesh beginning its droop -- is politely placed off to the side.

I have no problem being out of the game. It takes too much time. But one's species-being is one's species-being. And the Homo sapiens stands out in the animal kingdom for its insatiable desire to be desired. Add to this the fact that young people are the ones with the energy and who are doing things -- being invisible to this audience is not to one's advantage -- and suddenly the realization that one is marginalized due to agedness becomes dispiriting.

Fortunately we were all once young. When I was young, living on my own for the first time as a teenager in the Bay Area, autumn of 1982, a big album for me, possibly the biggest, from the fall through the winter and into the spring, was Peter Gabriel's Security.

Peter Gabriel 3 and Peter Gabriel 4 are an amazing tandem of albums. Three, with Steve Lillywhite handling production chores, is more a Post-Punk album; with Security, Gabriel creates more of a Hippie, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway-type of album. The lead guitar is almost entirely absent. Larry Fast's synthesizers, Tony Levin's Chapman Stick, Gabriel's sampler and, last but not least, Jerry Marotta's drumming provide the album's distinctive sound.

I saw this lineup twice. First, must have been January 1983, at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium); and then, either late spring or early summer 1983, at Berkeley's Greek Theater. What I remember about the show at the Greek is that Gabriel came out early, before even the warm-up band had come on and most of the audience had yet to arrive, and spoke to those of us who were there. Most didn't recognize him. Gabriel looked like a leading man. Dressed in very expensive casual clothes -- charcoal slacks, a black windbreaker jacket -- he asked us to give due consideration to the opening act, the name of which I can't recall, and he might have said a few words about Reagan's dirty wars underway in Central America.

These shows were noteworthy at the time because Gabriel would stage dive and be passed around atop the audience for more than ten minutes during "Lay Your Hands on Me." My girlfriend-who-would-be-my-wife excitedly related how at the Greek show she was able to wrap her hands around Gabriel's belly. My brother-in-law at the time, who went to the show with us, marveled at the ease with which someone could stab him.

Listening to the album again all this past week what jumps out is Marotta's drumming. The gated drum sound that defines the 1980s is tweaked and radically improved upon from the introductory experiments of Melt. Listen to "I Have the Touch" (third YouTube from the top) and "Lay Your Hands on Me" (above) to hear a tour de force. My brother-in-law, who was an aspiring prog rock drummer before becoming a history professor, stood gape-mouthed studying Marotta most of the show.

Security is also something of a bon voyage for the big statement rock album. MTV had just gotten off the ground and was rising fast. In fact, the video for "Shock the Monkey," the album's Billboard #1 single, helped establish the new television channel. After that it was all Duran Duran.

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