68. Phantom ‘Themes from Doctor Forrest’: My Body is a Cage by Peter Gabriel

No detailed explanation needful as to why this song (originally by the Montreal band Arcade Fire) fits the musical/thematic bill for the Doctor… A little should be said, though, in praise of its interpreter on this version, Peter Gabriel.
Scratch My Back – Gabriel’s 2010 album of cover versions, from whence this comes – spotlights his gifts as a vocalist/interpreter; and Gabriel has always done exceptionally interesting things with his voice and the recording of it, for the sake of drama and feeling and shading of mood. Indeed some of his finest vocal performances have been wordless – chants, groans, ululations, as on his magnificent score for Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. His creativity is restless, questing, ever transforming.
Gabriel has been in music for 40 years, long enough to have worn more than a few cloaks, and in any case it was clear from the get-go that he was especially interested in costume changes – in personae and shape-shifting. The last time I saw Gabriel play live, in 2003, he wore a black ensemble that seemed halfway between the designer garb of a tonsured Japanese monk and the prison uniform of Hannibal Lecter. A few years later it struck me that his learned, kindly and yet profoundly troubled bearing would make him a rather wonderful Doctor Who.
His early fame in Genesis is still an undiscovered mystery to me, as I was too young at the time and have stayed suspicious of the era ever since. But by the early 1980s he was clearly a radical experimental musical force in the Eno/Bowie/Byrne mould, and his fourth solo album, with its special marriage of rhythmic/melodic and lyrical/cerebral qualities, made a huge impression on me as a youngster. Subsequent MTV/pop success didn’t change him: thus the Secret World album in 1992, his finest in my view, conceived and recorded amid five years of therapy, with the avowed intention of exploring his dark and disagreeable side.
It’s maybe easily overlooked now – since the current incarnation of Gabriel cuts such an avuncular figure, the consummate late-career artist-activist, instigator of good works and friend to Nelson Mandela and Mary Robinson – but the Gabriel songbook testifies to a seething quality in him, clearly derived in places from a history of torrid personal relations. As he sings it in Digging in the Dirt: ‘I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes / I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes…’ Clearly he has at times wanted to scare himself, or scare his listeners, or both, while simultaneously wishing to drag into the light the source of that fear – cf. some of the songbook’s eerier entries, Mother of Violence, Intruder, Darkness… And for the listener as evidently for Gabriel himself I believe these songs can offer carthasis – a word that, in its multiple uses and meanings, has been as intriguingly fluid as Gabriel himself.

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