October 25, 2005
Peter Gabriel: From Genesis to midfield impresario
By Steve James
NEW YORK (Reuters) - He was a progressive rock star in the
'70s, an MTV video icon in the '80s and a world music guru for
the new millennium.
He's also a record producer, songwriter, political activist
and musical talent scout. A kind of multi-media artist-rebel --
with many causes.
Now Peter Gabriel has a new title -- director of really big
The world soccer body FIFA has tapped the English musician
to organize the opening ceremony for next year's World Cup
finals in Germany. The man who only recently became a fan of
the game and European champions Liverpool is working on songs
for the show in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
"It's like owning a big playpen and someone else is going
to pay for it," Gabriel told Reuters in a recent interview.
"I'm not going to be playing (soccer)!" he laughed. "But I was
asked to get involved. We're writing some of the music and
getting involved in some crazy ideas."
Crazy ideas like the seminal 1987 video "Sledgehammer" that
rocketed him to international fame? The video, which won 9 MTV
awards, featuring a real-life Gabriel singing his funky homage
to the Stax record label, amid a wild 3-D animation landscape
of steam trains, bumper cars and singing fruit?
BIG TIME, BIG AUDIENCE
"Well I did have this idea," he said mischievously. "A red
curtain across the goal and that would grow to a skirt and we'd
attach little tails to footballs so they become like sperm...
"But I don't know if this is an idea that is going to fly!"
he grinned, when reminded that NBC fended off complaints last
year about the broadcast of the Athens Olympics opening
ceremony featuring ancient Greek gods in various stages of
undress and simulating naughty acts.
Not to mention the flak CBS took over Janet Jackson's
peek-a-boo nipple during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show.
The full-length show the night before the finals begin will
be a first for the World Cup, similar to past Olympic
extravaganzas, said Gabriel, who is coordinating the event with
a French choreographer and a German producer.
"It's a show that anyone who ever won the World Cup is
going to be invited to. All the players, (including England's
1966 star) Bobby Charlton, hopefully.
Another key element, he said, is that it's in Berlin, "the
same stadium where Hitler had the '36 Olympics.
THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY
"It looks different now, but we've had lots of discussions
about how much to refer to that," said Gabriel. By "that," he
meant Jesse Owens winning four gold medals, Hitler being less
than pleased and the foreboding images of Nazi exuberance
captured in Leni Riefenstahl's documentary "Olympia."
"I think FIFA just want (to say), 'Anything the Olympics
can do, we can do better.' It's a pretty big audience."
Thirty years removed from the gaunt dark-haired singer with
the band Genesis, Gabriel, 55, is Yoda-like now, head shaved
with a pointy white goatee and piercing blue eyes. Dressed
entirely in black, he is sipping tea in a Manhattan hotel suite
with his filmmaker daughter Anna, 31.
They are promoting two DVDs: "Still Growing Up -- Peter
Gabriel Live and Unwrapped," with songs and behind-the-scenes
images from his 2003 European tour and documentary footage that
Anna shot and edited. Another daughter, Melanie, 25, was a
backup singer on the tour.
Gabriel also talks about another DVD he's releasing: "Live
8 at Eden: Africa Calling," featuring the concert he organized
in July in Cornwall, England as part of the Live 8 campaign to
end poverty, especially in Africa. The concert was made up
entirely of African performers.
But Gabriel was a bit peeved with Live 8 organizer Bob
Geldoff. "We loved the initiative and the whole Live 8 thing,
however, it did feel a little bit like having a party for
people and not inviting them," he said of other concerts held
around the world with Western rock, pop and hip-hop artists.
GAMES WITHOUT FRONTIERS, WAR WITHOUT TEARS
"We felt there should be more African artists and I called
Bob about it and his point was that the principal job was to
get the message across to the TV people and the TV eyes
watching and any unfamiliar acts, wherever they came from,
would mean people switching off."
Gabriel disagreed: "When they had (Nelson) Mandela shows in
London the bill was really mixed and I don't think we lost any
viewers as a result. African artists are strong, charismatic
and compelling, and I think they hold people's attention."
So Gabriel, who marches to his own drummer, organized
"Africa Calling" without help or funding from Live 8. Two
months later, the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund agreed on debt relief for the world's poorest nations.
"(But) There's still a lot to do," said the singer.