Peter Gabriel Hits the Big Time

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That backward flop into the audience has been a staple of Gabriel's live shows for years, and it gets riskier as his audience gets bigger. But he insists on keeping it in the show – a decision, says everyone around him, that's completely in character for a guy who simply isn't changed by fame and fortune.

"My lifestyle hasn't really changed," Gabriel says, shrugging. "I've lived comfortably for five to seven years now, but I still look to save a few pennies here and there, because that's a very hard habit to get out of." He has no plans, he says, to move out of the quiet English community in the Cotswolds where he lives. Nobody there makes a fuss about the resident pop star unless he's on Top of the Pops.

But he does want new video equipment and an upgraded studio, and he wants the time to experiment by making videos for all the So tunes not yet turned into clips. He would like to mount a performance-art piece and tour smaller halls next summer. And he's still interested in the idea of an alternative park that would be "a mixture of amusement park, art gallery, university and holiday camp." It combines many of his current fascinations: high technology, behavioral research, environmental and interactive art. Plus some old-fashioned thrills, courtesy of the author and psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who has talked with Gabriel about a Ride of Fears, in which the most common phobias would be presented with increasing intensity until the rider conquers them all or pushes a panic button.

And would Gabriel make it through without pushing that button?

"I don't know," Gabriel says, laughing. He once learned to control a fear of snakes with the help of a friendly python. On the other hand, he says, "when I was skiing, I got to the edge of a cliff and experienced vertigo, went to jelly."

The mixture of science and entertainment seems typical of Gabriel, who's certainly got the only rock & roll tour program that includes an Anne Sexton poem, a conversation with a signing gorilla, photos of artwork done by mental patients, a child's letter to God and pitches for Amnesty International and the University for Peace (a Costa Rica-based organization for which Gabriel and Little Steven Van Zandt organized recent benefit concerts in Japan).

Near the front of the program, there's a picture of Gabriel making a funny face and a caption that reads, "How did I get this far?" But now, as he heads to Los Angeles for the final two nights of his most triumphant American tour ever, he seems satisfied rather than surprised.

"People can put it down to luck, or good fortune, or..." He trails off, his face barely visible in the darkness of the cabin. "But I don't think you succeed by accident."

Ahead, Los Angeles is waiting for Peter Gabriel: there, the fans will pass him above their heads until he's halfway back in the huge hall, farther than any other audience has done on the tour; there, Sting and U2 have been calling for tickets to the shows; there, Joni Mitchell and Don Henley and Robbie Robertson will show up at the Forum, outside Los Angeles, and later at a party for Gabriel thrown at a trendy West Hollywood restaurant.

It sounds like a line from Gabriel's new single: "I'll be a big noise with all the big boys." This is Peter Gabriel's big time, and for a minute the way he introduces the song onstage sounds more appropriate than ironic. "Once upon a time there was a man from a small town," he says. "But he had big, big, big ideas."

This story is from the January 29th, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone.

The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Peter Gabriel's 'So'
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