The Music Meme: Day 2

Day 2: A song that helps you clear your head

"Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel 

One thing I like about the structure of this meme is that it's all about A song that does something, not THE song that does it. If, like me, you have both a large musical library and catholic tastes, you're likely to find that no category in life is summed up by only a single song. Moreover, as you age, you find that just about every situation is subtly different, and that therefore the appropriate song for the occasion will vary somewhat as well.

I mention this because the song I'm discussing today is one that I've known for years, but which has become a head-clearer for me only recently: Peter Gabriel's debut single "Solsbury Hill." The song itself is well-known, having turned up in numerous movies and trailers (most infamously, and hilariously, in this parody trailer re-purposing The Shining as a heartwarming comedy), and I think one reason it's become famous is that it addresses a somewhat unusual topic: the need to change jobs.

Okay, that's pretty reductive. Yes, at a basic level, the song is about Gabriel's own job, i.e. being a rock star, and how his membership in Genesis became limiting to him, necessitating his departure for a solo career. That's not up for debate. But the beauty of the metaphor--no, I don't think he is literally visited by a talking eagle--is that it applies to so many other situations for every listener. Regardless of where your career is sitting, or how your love life is going, or how long you've been living in this town, this is a song that holds out the need for consideration and the possibility of change:

So I lived from day to day
Though my life was in a rut
Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut

The narrator this song is not using the eagle the way the narrator of "Free Bird" uses the titular bird. He doesn't come off as the kind of puerile, even cowardly guy who flees all commitment because he "just can't change." No, here change is the the whole point, and the thousand connections holding him to people, places, and things must be considered; some will be severed, inevitably, but it's strongly suggested that others will be preserved. The trick, of course, is deciding.

As I believe I mentioned a few years back, this song was an important one to me as I was approaching one of my life's big decisions: whether to leave Woodberry Forest School. It wasn't a terribly hard choice, in some ways, because no matter how many connections I felt to the place and the people, they paled in comparison to the connection I feel to my wife. For her to work in Richmond, she had to live in Richmond, and there was no way I was going to live where she wasn't. Add to that certainty the fraying over time of some connections to WFS, and the decision became even easier--but it wasn't a decision made without some regrets, and having a musical balm to soothe those regrets was a big help. 

A lot of that balm is specifically musical, as the song's appeal to me is not merely lyrical or thematic. The arpeggiated acoustic guitar riff that underlies the whole track is simply brilliant, and somewhat unexpected given that Gabriel isn't a guitarist. (Steve Hunter should be credited with making it work after Gabriel wrote it on piano.) I'm also very fond of the flute accompaniment, as well as the unusual 7/4 time signature. Heck, I even like the orchestration, supplied by producer Bob Ezrin, whose occasional tendency toward overproduction can in some cases be off-putting. (Gabriel himself has felt that way; he re-recorded "Here Comes the Flood" in a stripped-down near-solo arrangement on Robert Fripp's Exposure LP because he thought the orchestral bombast of his own album's version was too much.)

Basically, this is a song about both feeling and thinking. A lot of songs settle for the former, but "Solsbury Hill" is that rare pop song that asks you to try the latter as well, and that rewards you for doing so. I'm glad to have had it on hand to help serve as my own guide through some challenging times. When illusion spins her net, you need something to help you cut through it.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 7, 2017 8:19 AM.

The Music Meme was the previous entry in this blog.

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