IMHO Installment #20: I'm Not Buying Peter Gabriel's Drama

29 Mar 2007

IMHO: Peter Gabriel; I don't like him.

I sort of feel bad for not liking the guy, though. After all, he hasn't aged well, and he did give that rather poignant performance of the "that'll do, pig" song at the Oscars a while back. But, I just simply always found his lyrics pretentious, even if most women I know (my wife included) totally swoon over "Your Eyes" and such.

In othe words, I dislike him because of the relative let-down quality of his lyrics. Musically, passionately, and vocally, he's great. I'll concede that much. But, then those lyrics just fizzle out for me. For example ...

Did you ever ask yourself, "I wonder how many times Peter Gabriel says 'red rain' in the song 'Red Rain'"? Well, I counted. The answer is 28. Here's the annotated text, with the rest edited out using ellipses:

Red rain (1) is coming down
Red rain (2)
Red rain (3) is pouring down
...
Red rain (4) is coming down
Red rain (5)
Red rain (6) is pouring down
...
Red rain (7) is coming down
Red rain (8)
Red rain (9) is pouring down
...
Red rain (10)
...
Just let the red rain (11) splash you
...
Red rain (12) is coming down
Red rain (13)
Red rain (14) is pouring down
...
Red rain (15) is coming down
Red rain (16) is pouring down
Red rain (17) is coming down all over me
...
Red rain (18) is coming down
Red rain (19) is pouring down
Red rain (20) is coming down all over me
...
Red rain (21) coming down
Red rain (22) is coming down
Red rain (23) is coming down all over me
...
Red rain (24) coming down
Red rain (25) coming down
Red rain (26) coming down
Red rain (27) coming down
...
Red rain (28)

I was thinking it was more like 250, but turns out it was only 28. I'm not sure whether, during my rather intense study of poetry back in the early 1990s, we dwelled very long on the notion of repetition for dramatic effect. The wonder-Wiki covers it pretty good, offering some devices and figures of speech that probably apply here:

Anaphora: "repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of several consecutive sentences or verses to emphasize an image or a concept"
Ploce: "a figure of speech in which a word is separated or repeated by way of emphasis"
Epizeuxis: "the repetition of words with no others between, for vehemence or emphasis" (doesn't seem to apply, technically, to phrases)

There are a handful of other devices that involve various repetition.

People like repetition, of course. And, popular music (verse, chorus/refrain, verse, chorus/refrain, etc.) provides the best example of this. Why we love refrain, though, I don't know for sure. (But, there are no doubt books on it.) Surely, it's psychological / comforting, similar to how certain poetic meters ( e.g., iambic pentameter) are said to mimic or subtly remind us of things within our lives (e.g., a heartbeat).

I've employed many of these devices myself from time to time, but I suppose my threshold for believability (which surely is a subjective thing) is considerably lower than Gabriel's (and most of his fans, apparently). By, oh, #13 or #14, I'm ready to pull a Sam Jackson on his ass -- Say "Red Rain" again! Say - "Red Rain" - again! I dare you! I double-dare you motherfucker! Say "Red Rain" one more goddamn time!

For others, though, Gabriel's meaning just gets deeper and deeper with each iteration. What's your take? Are you driven to tears or to a rage by a 28-iteration anaphoric lyric?

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