Peters the Great

Thanks to the extensive and sometimes unwelcome education offered me in elementary and middle school, I've heard pretty much every possible phallic joke about my first name.  I've long since come to terms with it, but there's no question that it was somewhat easier to do because I met some other guys named Peter along the way.  Maybe it's just that misery loves company, or maybe it's that these guys were so obviously worthy individuals.  In reverse chronological order:

5. Peter Gabriel

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I didn't encounter him until he'd left Genesis and released his first solo albums, but immediately upon hearing "Solsbury Hill," I knew this guy's music was worth exploring.  It was my adolescent fondness for prog-rock that drew me toward his first album (as well as his Genesis material), but it was my burgeoning early-80s fondness for new wave that pulled me toward the third (titled, as all of his first solo albums were, simply Peter Gabriel).  I loved it all, the threatening pulse of "Intruder," the orchestral sweep of "Humdrum," the anthemic wailing of "Biko," the neo-classical majesty of "The Cinema Show."  To this day, I associate Genesis' Selling England by the Pound with one of the happiest trips of my life, my 1984 spring break trip from Manchester through Scotland, and I'll never forget seeing Gabriel on the Security tour, where during "Lay Your Hands On Me" he did something I'd never heard of a performer doing:  he backed to the edge of the stage at the Meriweather Post Pavilion and leaned back--and the crowd caught him.  We passed him up from the stage to the top of the stands and back, electrified by the chance to lay hands on our idol and the simultaneous community responsibility to keep him safe.  A spectacular show, and one that made me a PG fan for life.

4. Pete Townshend

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When you're sixteen years old and you see The Kids Are Alright, you're going to end up a Who fan.  I certainly did.  And it didn't take me long to recognize that Pete Townshend was the engine driving the band.  It helped that I was becoming more aware of the band at the time Pete was releasing his best solo album, Empty Glass, allowing me to simultaneously explore his back catalogue and revel in his contemporary stuff.  FM radio had of course long since made much of Who's Next familiar to me, and I'd started listening to Tommy some years before, thanks to its overture having been played on Chapel Hill's own AM station, WCHL, but it took a full dose of Townshend's guitar-smashing spectacle to knock the scales from my eyes and let me appreciate the poetry of his work.  By the time I was seventeen, I was fully immersed in Quadrophenia and ready to believe, as I still do, that the Who was The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World.





3. Peter Schickele

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My first concert wasn't a rock concert, but a trip to UNC's Memorial Hall to hear the work of PDQ Bach performed.  By the time I was about fourteen, I was already a fan of PDQ (right) and his creator, "Professor" Peter Schickele (left).  I had been exposed to PDQ's work by my Aunt Patty, whose recordings of the "Concerto for Horn & Hardart" and especially "Iphigenia in Brooklyn" had afforded me great amusement (and taught me nearly everything I knew about classical music) even when I didn't understand all the jokes.  But thanks to tunes like the "Quodlibet," I began to catch on to the fact that some of the themes being played were swiped from other classical pieces.  If not for PDQ, I would probably never have had enough interest in classical music to explore the works of Beethoven and Mozart, and I also would have missed out on one of the funniest books ever written:  The Definitive Biography of PDQ Bach, which is hilarious even if you're utterly tone-deaf.  I'll never stop being amused at the Professor's boundless creativity, nor at the fact that he's now managed to stretch one joke out for nearly forty years.  Bravo!


2. Peter and the Wolf

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Thanks to Leonard Bernstein (pictured), I was able to figure out before first grade something that many people take years to learn:  French horns are scary.  Lenny's devotion to musical education led him to record Prokofiev's most popular work and to add his own musical quiz to the performance--a quiz which taught me (and thousands of other kids, no doubt) what each instrument sounded like.  To this day, when I hear the Wolf's theme, there's a part of me that wants to pull my feet up onto my chair so that the Wolf (which is doubtless crouching unseen below me) can't get at them.  The strings' theme for Peter is similarly burned into my memory, but it doesn't have the same kind of effect on my hindbrain.  Would I have wanted to listen to the piece if it hadn't been named after me?  Maybe.  But there's no question that my appreciation for music has been enhanced by Prokofiev's choice of name.




1. Peter in The Snowy Day

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One of the first books I can recall was Ezra Jack Keats' masterpiece, and it's one I still love dearly.  It was important to me because it was my first encounter with another person named Peter, and it remains important to me to this day because it shows such an important lesson: that what people share is far more meaningful than what separates them.  Peter may be black, and he may live in a big city, and he may even be fictional, but that doesn't matter; he and I knew then, and know to this day, that footprints in the snow are endlessly fascinating, there's nothing in this world that's better than making snow angels, and that Mom will take care of you when you come inside.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 7, 2009 1:01 PM.

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