Waking up at 3 am, I find a song playing endlessly in my head. Not just the tune, but some of the words too. It’s one of the most extraordinary popular songs, more potent than anything by Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Peter Gabriel has his own explanation for how it hatched in his mind and ears. See this site. But it has a special significance for me, as I shall relate.
I first heard Solsbury Hill as quiet background music played continuously for more than an hour. My wife and I had come to the Brentford Arts Centre Broadway, one Saturday in December 1985. Our daughter had invited us to attend her rehearsal of a dance-drama by a troupe called the Mudhoppers.
I guess dress rehearsals seldom go smoothly. It was supposed to start at 3pm. Parents were getting impatient. The show was nice, we were proud enough of our Rose. I think she was dressed as a pixie, with pointy crepe paper ears.
But Solsbury Hill stuck in my head, and a strange myth developed in my head, based on an actual encounter in Hampstead Heath, one summer day, ten years earlier.
We’d driven up to this pond so the children could paddle and float their little boats. While J. kept watch on their safety I wandered down Highgate Hill and found a chapel with a sign outside welcoming everyone to come in and find out something which would change their lives. The event was organized by the Divine Light Mission, of which J. and I were members. (Thereby hangs a tale of 30 years, which resulted in her death by overdose at the age of of 47).
the model boating pond, Hampstead
A young man was hanging around nearby, dressed as if he’d been sleeping rough on the Heath*. He asked me what I thought of what was going on inside. I told him, at which he became interested and asked if I’d go in with him, as he was nervous that everyone would look at him with disapproval. So I did, but didn’t stay long as I had to get back to my family. I always wondered afterwards what became of him.
Remembering this years later, I developed a fantasy, that the words of “Solsbury Hill” corresponded exactly to the stages in becoming a devotee who encountered the “Perfect Master” in the early Seventies:
I did not believe the information … I walked right out of the machinery … my friends would think I was a nut … I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant My heart going “Boom-boom-boom””Hey”, I said “You can keep my things, they’ve come to take me home”
—from which I began to cherish the notion that the young man I’d met and introduced to Divine Light was none other than Peter Gabriel himself.
*see this site re Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, of which I have a treasured copy