It’s frankly amazing how many of these September Songs have been on mix tapes of mine. Doubly amazing considering I haven’t listened to cassette tapes for years now, not to mention the fact that cassette tapes themselves are nearly as much of a dinosaur as I am.

My good friend Jim has made me a number of mix tapes over the years. He always discovered musical artists before I did. We don’t always have similar tastes, but he’s had a good feel for the type of music that I respond to. On one such tape were three songs by a singer-songwriter I had never heard of. Everyone else had heard of him, of course; he was one of the most popular artists of 1986, apparently, but I was a babe in the woods, pop music-wise.

The three songs were all from Peter Gabriel’s fifth album, So. I’ve heard it’s been hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time. I’ve never heard why it was called So; that too is probably common knowledge that I never discovered. Oh well.

looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams made real . . .

nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day

there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone

dreaming of mercy st.
where you’re inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy’s arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
‘swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy’s arms

Apparently So has become an oracle of sorts. Listeners wishing to consult Peter (though why they thought to do so in the first place is beyond me) will ask a question before starting the album, and then listen to the whole thing to receive an answer. Citing the vague, suggestive lyrics and the mystic cover, fans claim (despire his protestations to the contrary) that this was Gabriel’s intention all along. The ritual was even referred to on an episode of Seinfeld.

“Red Rain” refers to a old, recurring dream Gabriel had where he swam through red water. This developed (earlier in his solo career) into an idea for a movie, Mozo, in which villagers were punished for their sins with a blood red rain. According to the liner notes from the remastered version of So, it’s also a reference to acid rain.

I’ve read that the third song Jim chose for me, “In Your Eyes,” was a #1 hit in the U.S. Like many of his songs, “In Your Eyes” contains significant African influences, even more so when performed live (on the So tour) as an extended vocal duet with Youssou N’Dour:

The album ends with a pictorial and meditative piece titled “This is the Picture (Excellent Birds),” which features vocals with co-writer Laurie Anderson. Anderson had previously recorded a different arrangement of the song entitled “Excellent Birds” for her 1984 album, Mister Heartbreak, which also featured vocals by Gabriel. She performs the song in her concert film, Home of the Brave, released around the same time as So.

This fan video uses images by M.C. Escher, and is presented as “imaginings on the duality of life: Birds and Bats, White and Black, Ying and Yang, Good and Evil”:

flying birds
excellent birds
watch them fly, there they go
falling snow
excellent snow
here it comes. watch it fall

long words
excellent words
I can hear them now . . .

I see pictures of people, rising up
pictures of people, falling down
I see pictures of people
they’re standing on their heads, they’re ready


~ by Craig R. Smith on 22 September 2007.

One Response to “So.”

  1. I have never heard of that oracle stuff. It’s funny, really.

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