Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison And Don Henley Essay
Peter Gabriel has earned a worldwide reputation for his innovative work as a musician, writer and video maker. When at school, he CO-founded the band Genesis which he left in 1975. His albums, live performances and videos since then have won him a succession of awards. In 1980, he collected together a group of people to found WOMAD (World of Music, Arts & Dance). In a series of international festivals, each year WOMAD brings together traditional and modern music, arts and dance from every corner of the globe. Peter is currently an advisor on the board of WOMAD. Shortly afterwards, Peter established Real World Studios in Wiltshire, designed as an ideal environment for performance. It also became the base for Real World Records, a label which is dedicated to recording and promoting a wide range of artists from all over the world.
Peter has released 10 solo albums and in 1986 he won his first Grammy with his seventh album, ‘So.’ The videos from this project established him as a leader in video production and included ‘Sledgehammer’ which has won the most music video awards ever, including a No. 1 position in Rolling Stone’s top 100 videos of all time. Peter has been involved in a broad spectrum of human rights and environmental issues. His song, ‘Biko,’ was the first pop song which talked about the effects of apartheid, and in 1988 and 1990 he was involved in the Nelson Mandela concerts at Wembley. In 1988 he also worked with Amnesty International to set up the “Human Rights Now” tour, visiting many countries with Sting, Bruce Springsteen,Tracey Chapman and Youssou N’Dour.
Following this, he initiated the “Witness” programme, which was launched in 1992 in conjunction with the Reebok Foundation in the USA. The organization aims to arm human rights activists from around the world with handheld video cameras and other tools of mass communication. To date, they have supplied hundreds of cameras to over fifty countries, and have also set up a biweekly Witness web broadcast via Macintosh’s Quicktime Channel. In 1989, he visited the USSR to help launch Greenpeace and also contributed to the ‘One World, One Voice’ album — a collaborative project which featured artists from all over the world.
In 1989, Peter composed the soundtrack for Martin Scorcese’s epic film “The Last Temptation of Christ” which was the basis for one of his most experimental and innovative albums,”Passion.” The album, which involved an extraordinary selection of musicians and vocalists, integrated many very different styles of music. A powerful concept, it provided the inspiration behind the BBC’s specialist radio programme, ‘Mixing It.’
Then 1991 saw him open Real World’s doors to a host of international artists and producers for a unique recording project in association with WOMAD and Real World Records. Known as “Recording Week,” the aim was to make the most active and creative use of the studio’s many facilities. The collaboration of musicians from different cultures produced some of the most daring and exciting work. For the release of his tenth solo album,”Us,” in 1992, Peter commissioned 11 visual artists to interpret each of the 11 songs on the album. These works of art were featured at the British Contemporary Art Exhibition in 1993 and also at a special exhibition in Japan. ‘Us’ earned him four Grammy nominations and two MTV awards in the USA, plus awards from BRIT and Q in the UK. The album’s fourth single, ‘Kiss That Frog,’ was the starting point for the creation of the world’s first music and motion ride, entitled “The Mindblender.” Developed in association with Mega in the USA, “The Mindblender” proved to be a popular mix of ride-motion, film and music.
April 1993 was the start of the “Secret World Tour,” Produced by Peter and pioneering Canadian director/designer Robert Lepage the show blended Lepage’s visionary style of theater with Peter’s personal songs focused on relationships. It was seen by over a million fans in five continents and toured for 18 months. In November 1993, the show was filmed and recorded in Modena, Italy, by Francois Girard and in August 1994, Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live” the double live album and video, was released
Also in 1993, Peter set up Real World Multimedia and brought together a team of experts dedicated to developing, producing and publishing innovative CD-ROMs and pushing new technology to its limits. RWMM launched a series of multimedia titles, which went on to win many awards across the world, including the coveted Milia d’Or, two BAFTAS, the 1994 BIMA Award, the Sparky from the Interactive Media Festival and four awards at the Digital Media Awards. Among these titles were “Ceremony of Innocence” and Peter’s CD-ROM’s “XPLORA 1” and “EVE.”
In 1996 Radio Real World became the official web site focusing on Real World, WOMAD and Peter. At the end of 1997 Gabriel was invited by Mark Fisher to help create a show for the central space of the London Millennium Dome, 1998 was spent brainstorming ideas on the narrative and visual concept. In 1999, whilst continuing to be involved with the show’s development, Gabriel composed the music. The show was opened on January 1st 2000. An album of this music, entitled OVO, will be released on Real World/Virgin Records on June 12th.
Van Morrison has never fit comfortably in the rock mainstream, and he hasn’t had a Top 40 hit in more than twenty-five years, but he remains one of the most significant and influential artists in pop-music history. A jazz- and R&B-loving Irish mystic with an indescribably soulful voice, he sounds like the love child of Dylan Thomas and Billie Holiday–and everyone from Springsteen to Costello to Bono to head Counting Crow Adam Duritz sounds at least a bit like him.
Born in Belfast in 1945, Morrison dates his first musical memory back to his third year, when he experienced spiritual ecstasy while listening to gospel singer Mahalia Jackson on the family gramophone. For the remainder of his youth, music mollified his natural shyness, as he listened to his father’s records of Leadbelly and Hank Williams and taught himself guitar. Soon thereafter, he formed the Sputniks, the first of many teen combos. Morrison was so committed to music that after he was refused entry into a band of older boys because they already had enough guitar players, he taught himself the saxophone. When he returned three weeks later and demonstrated his new skill, they signed him up.
Morrison eventually landed in Them, a rhythm-and-blues outfit whose intense sound quickly made them a local phenomenon. They cut several singles in the mid-sixties, including a cover of Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Morrison’s own “Here Comes the Night,” both of which made the British Top 10. The group embarked on a semi-successful U.S. tour, and Morrison’s roiling “Gloria” became an inspiration for American garage bands. But after two albums, Morrison was already disillusioned with the music industry; he disbanded Them and returned to Belfast.
Record producer Bert Berns, who had worked with Morrison before, heard of his disenchantment and sent him a plane ticket to New York, encouraging him to record some solo singles. Morrison accepted and recorded his first solo hit, “Brown-Eyed Girl.” But Morrison and Berns soon had a falling-out, and Berns, in an attempt to capitalize on the success of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” released the eight-song album “Blowin’ Your Mind” of Morrison session recordings, packaged with psychedelic cover art. Morrison was outraged, not only because the album was released without his knowledge, but because he considered the songs unfinished. (He also despised the cover art’s implication that he was part of the free love and drugs trend.) To appease his star, Berns suggested they cut a proper album–“The Best of Van Morrison.” Morrison hated the album, saying it was really a “Worst of . . . ” collection. (You can judge for yourself: the complete sessions are now available on the collection “Bang Masters.”)
Morrison got out of his contract with Berns and signed with Warner Brothers. In 1968, he went into the studio with some seasoned jazz musicians and recorded Astral Weeks in just a few days. The album’s surreal, jazzy, and spontaneous feel combined with Morrison’s achingly soulful vocals to establish him as one of the most creative artists of his era, and it is often named on critics’ all-time top-ten lists. It was also considered the essential album for acid-heads, though Morrison denies ever having done L.S.D. (“I didn’t need drugs to have experiences,” Morrison said. “I had always had experiences without drugs, and so anything like that would impair them. Alcohol would impair them. It produces a false ecstasy.”)
“Astral Weeks” was the first of a handful of albums that proved Morrison’s brilliance and versatility: “Moondance” (1970) and “His Band and Street Choir” (1971) brought in R&B horns and female background vocalists, showing off Morrison’s chops as a blue-eyed soul man, while “Tupelo Honey” (1971) and “St. Dominic’s Preview” (1972) added more Irish, folk, and country elements to the mix. Meanwhile, on a personal level, Morrison’s life was steadying–he married Janet Planet, a hippie he met in San Francisco, and settled down in Woodstock, New York, and Marin County, California. Morrison thought of Planet as a spiritual redeemer, and was thrilled by their rural domestic bliss. But she saw things differently. She was much more sociable than Morrison, and yearned to get out of the rustic isolation he treasured. Their marriage crumbled after five years. (Their daughter, Shana, has followed in her father’s footsteps, touring with his band and recording duets with him on recent albums.)
The years following his divorce from Planet sent Morrison on a spiritual and philosophical odyssey, and his art suffered the consequences. “Hard Nose the Highway” (1973) was a critical and commercial flop that contained none of the spark of his best work, while 1974’s moody, introspective “Veedon Fleece” failed to find an audience despite some breathtaking moments. Following these relative failures, he took three years off, and returned in 1977 with a tentative album whose title, “A Period of Transition,” seemed to confirm his general state of confusion. He began to regain his footing with “Wavelength” (1978), but it was on 1979’s “Into the Music” that he made a full-fledged comeback. A deeply spiritual and soulful album, it was released the same year as Bob Dylan’s born-again diatribe “Slow Train Coming,” but preached a far more forgiving and openhearted gospel.
Spirituality has continued to play an important part in Morrison’s music throughout the eighties and nineties. His religious explorations have included Scientology (which helped inspire 1983’s “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart”), and he has described himself as a “Christian mystic” (check out 1989’s “Avalon Sunset”). His best work, though, has continued to fuse the ethereal and the earthly, especially on 1986’s “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher,” and 1990’s “Enlightenment.” He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 1995 he turned fifty, but Morrison shows no signs of slowing down: in March of 1997 he released “The Healing Game,” his best work since “Enlightenment,” and his fifteenth new album in as many years.
“Inside Job” is the Warner Bros. Records debut of Don Henley and his first new release since 1989s multi-platinum “The End Of The Innocence.” Written and produced by Henley, in collaboration with Stan Lynch (formerly of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), “Inside Job” features 13 new songs, including the single Taking You Home, and comprises, according to the artist, a diary of sorts – a chronicle of the past eleven years.
While the Texas-born singer and songwriter may have been absent from the recording studio during the past decade (a greatest hits album, “Actual Miles” was released on the Geffen label in 1995), he was not resting on his laurels. When asked why it has been so long between albums for him, Henley answers, After a couple of decades of being a public figure, a person grows tired of his own face, his own voice. If this malaise is allowed to continue unchecked, it can deteriorate into something that my pals and I call Death By Show Business. This doesnt refer to literal death – although that is sometimes the case – but more to a loss of enthusiasm and a withering of creativity – a sort of atrophy of the spirit. One day you wake up and youre wearing the pathetic clown suit. Although I always tried to lead a varied life that included charitable work, I had reached a point where I wanted to do something proactive – something that wasnt completely me oriented. So, in the decade of the 90s – which Henley describes as Mr. Toads Wild Ride – he took a few detours.
In 1990, between touring stints in support of “The End Of The Innocence” album, Henley managed to found “The Walden Woods Project,” which has gone on to become one of the most successful preservation/education endeavors in America. Henleys “Thoreau Institute,” a later addition to the Walden Woods Project, is known and respected throughout the world as a facility that combines the best of history with state-of-the-art, cyber-learning techniques. In 1991, Henley, in addition to organizing benefit concerts, compiled and co-edited, with writer Dave Marsh, a book of environmental essays, the proceeds of which went to support the fledgling Walden Woods Project.
In 1992, he toured to promote the book and did more benefit concerts. In 1993, Henley brought his musical and environmental concerns together when he spearheaded “Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles,” an all-star, country music tribute that generated over 3 million dollars for the Walden Woods Project and went on to be named 1994s Album of the Year by the Country Music Association.
In January of 94, Henleys Los Angeles home, which he painstakingly designed and built, was destroyed by the now infamous Northridge earthquake. About a month later, he attended a summit meeting in Aspen, Colorado with Eagles partners Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and manager Irving Azoff, where it was decided that The Eagles would reunite for an album and a tour. Preparations for the tour commenced in March and The Eagles MTV concert was filmed in late April. Having no livable domicile in California, Henley encamped in a Los Angeles hotel and made arrangements for those belongings that were not destroyed in the quake to either be put in storage or shipped back to Texas. He had decided, for various reasons, to move to his native turf and did so in the late spring.
In June of 1994, when The Eagles tour alighted in San Francisco, Henley became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Sharon Summerall, of Dallas. They were wed in May of 1995, shortly after the tour was completed. Setting up a home in Dallas was followed by the birth of a daughter and, two years later, a son. The two-year construction of Samain Sound, his own personal recording facility, began in February 1997. With all these things going on, the real question is how Don Henley found the time and energy to create an album like “Inside Job.”
We started pre-production in the fall of 1997, explains Henley, whose creative team included the above-mentioned Stan Lynch, engineer Rob Jacobs, assistant engineer and computer technician Stuart Brawley, with special studio guests Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Glenn Frey, Jai Winding, the Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, along with guitarists Jimmie Vaughn, Dean Parks, Frank Simes and many others.
My approach is to let the material evolve; to try to achieve a balance of tempos, textures, subject matter, emotions, etc. I had a good, long gestation period and, after a while, these things start kicking around in your gut and they have to come out. I just do it and hope that its more focused, more mature than it was before. Its a bit like sending your kid off to school and hoping that hes understood and accepted to some degree. Since todays musical climate seems to fluctuate between bubble gum and unintelligible ranting, I would like to think that theres a place out there for my stuff.
Recorded at various studios in Los Angeles (plus Henleys own), and including material cut in Dallas in the summer of 1998, “Inside Job” is distinguished musically by what Henley calls, some stylistic stretching.
While Im primarily concerned with lyrics and melodies, I was after something specific with the sound of this album, he remarks. I wanted to take advantage of all the technological advances in the state of the art, but at the same time integrate those advances with the sound of natural instruments and voices. Some of the equipment in my studio is the newest available and then some is vintage, such as certain microphones, limiters and the console itself, which is an old API model 515 that I nabbed about twenty years ago when the owners of the Record Plant in Sausalito decided to remodel. I had it completely rebuilt and its a beauty. I only wish it could talk. Anyway, it was fun to combine the new technology with the old and the result, I think, is sonically interesting. We recorded in both the analog and digital formats, depending on what was being recorded and what kind of texture we were looking for at the moment.
“Inside Job”, in short, is of the same lineage as each of its predecessors, while simultaneously finding the artist at significant new crossroads, personally and professionally. When I moved back to Texas, he explains, I discovered something remarkable about my hometown and its environs. I have found documentation which shows that legendary blues guitarist T-Bone Walker and renowned ragtime composer Scott Joplin were both born on the outskirts of Linden, Texas, the little community where I was raised. I dont think that any of the townsfolk were even remotely aware of this until recently. Growing up, we always thought that nothing ever happened around there, but evidently that isnt true. Oh, some local guy did invent the windsock, but thats been more or less lost to history. Im anxious to do more research on both Walker and Joplin when I can find the time.
More remarkable things were yet to happen in that sleepy, little town than the young Henley could have imagined. Because of its geographical and cultural location, all sorts of music wafted through that particular corner of East Texas. The Louisiana Hayride, a legendary radio program akin to Nashvilles Grand Ole Opry, broadcast live musical performances across 28 states from powerhouse station KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana throughout the 1950s. In 1954, this program was the first radio broadcast performance of the young Elvis Presley. Henleys father tuned in religiously and he and his young son would listen intently to the likes of Red Foley, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Faron Young and Patsy Cline. There were the summer vacations in the Ozarks where Don was exposed to bluegrass music and, of course, there was always the Western Swing of groups like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys which drifted east from Dallas and Fort Worth. There was a rich variety of blues and gospel music from both the black and white communities with veins running deep in the East Texas soil. Henley has often recounted the story of the African-American baptisms he witnessed as a young boy while hiding in the weeds beside a pond which was located in the woods near his home. They would wade out into that muddy water with their arms stretched toward the sky. I remember the women being all dressed in white. The singing was unforgettable. At first, the whole thing was a little frightening, but the longer I watched the more I started to get into it. Underneath the fervor, there was a sincerity and openness about it – an expression of faith and longing like I had never heard before. That experience stays with me, not necessarily in terms of its religious connotations, but in terms of its humanity.
In his teens, Henley listened far into the night to powerful station WNOE in New Orleans, which broadcast the exotic sounds of that city northward, out across the still, Texas countryside. Southeastward from Tennessee came the deep, resonant voice of the famous “John R” (John Richborg), a white deejay who sounded black. His historic radio program was broadcast from WLAC in Nashville, a 50,000 watt, clear channel station that beamed its way, during the 50s and 60s, across a wide swath of Americas heartland – and at night, when atmospheric conditions were just right – into Henleys little world. Also within range was KOMA in Oklahoma City and, last but not least, the legendary Wolfman Jack, whose nocturnal howls reached all the way from the Texas-Mexico border – some 600 miles – to Henleys tiny, transistor radio as he pressed it against his ear under the bedcovers until the wee hours of the morning. For a while, Elvis led the parade which included Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Bobby Freeman, Chuck Willis, Bobby Blue Bland, etc. Then, in the early 60s came The Beatles and Henleys life was changed forever.
In high school, he formed his first band, The Four Speeds, with friends Richard Bowden and Jerry Surratt. This band eventually morphed into Shiloh which included Jim Ed Norman (currently President of Warner/Reprise Nashville), who Henley had met at the University of North Texas.
The group relocated to Los Angeles in 1970 where they recorded an album for the independent Amos Records, whose roster also included a young guitarist/songwriter by the name of Glenn Frey (who was half of a duo with John David Souther). Henley and Frey became friends, striking up a creative partnership during their tenure with Linda Ronstadt, with whom they toured and recorded.
In the fall of 1971, they formed The Eagles, a group that pioneered and personified a uniquely American musical style blending country, folk, R&B, rock and pop sensibilities. The Eagles would go on to become one of the most creatively and commercially successful bands of all time, selling over 100 million albums worldwide. In the course of their decade-long career, the group won four Grammy awards, topped the album charts five times and became one of the top concert draws of the era. They were the first band in history to rack up domestic unit sales of over 10 million for two separate albums -Hotel California (15 million and counting) and Eagles – Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (which, at 26 million copies, surpasses Michael Jacksons Thriller as the best selling album of all time in the U.S.).
The facts and figures of Henleys subsequent solo career are also impressive. In 1982, his much anticipated debut album, “I Cant Stand Still,” featuring the hit single Dirty Laundry, established a creative direction that would make him one of the most relevant, and resonant, musical voices of our time – with a gift for melody and lyric in the service of passionate conviction and incisive, socio-political observation. 1984s “Building The Perfect Beast” yielded four more hit singles: The Boys Of Summer, All She Wants To Do Is Dance, Sunset Grill and Not Enough Love In The World. That year, Henley garnered Grammy nominations for Record, Song and Producer of the Year and won the award for Best Rock Vocal (Male) for The Boys Of Summer.
The artists notable track record continued unabated with 1989s “The End Of The Innocence,” which yielded three more Henley hits: The Heart Of The Matter, The Last Worthless Evening and the title track, which brought with it another Best Rock Vocal Grammy. At last count, “The End Of The Innocence” had racked up sales of over six million in the U.S. alone.
Henleys career as a musician and an activist continues to roll on. To date, The Walden Woods Project has raised over 22 million dollars – most of which has gone toward the purchase of environmentally sensitive and historically significant acres in the Walden Pond environs. The Thoreau Institute, an archive and research facility continues to expand its educational programs. In November of 1999, Thoreaus voice came to life again almost 150 years after his death with the publication of Wild Fruits, a new work published by W.W. Norton & Company. Bradley Dean, Ph.D., leading Thoreau scholar and Media Center Director at the Thoreau Institute, succeeded where many others had failed in painstakingly transcribing Thoreaus almost illegible handwriting from his final manuscripts. Dean, after four-and-a-half years of diligent effort, has given the world an important book that Thoreau was not able to complete and publish in his lifetime. He has also given Henley credit for making it possible.
Other causes to which Henley has lent his name and talents: the passage of clean water legislation in California; the preservation of wildlife habitat and open space in Los Angeles Santa Monica Mountains; the establishment of a wetland science research institute and numerous environmental education programs, both in the public school system and in colleges and universities in his native East Texas. He has also participated in numerous other fundraising efforts including Farm Aid, The Race to Erase MS, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation and The Rainforest Foundation, to name a few.
Inside Job is my view of the world from this particular time and place, concludes Henley. My marriage and the birth of my children have had a profound effect. Despite all the sham and selfishness, life is still good. Children constantly rekindle hope and appreciation – and they have excellent bullsh*t detectors. Its a wonderful thing.
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