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25 octobre 2005

Peter Gabriel: From Genesis to midfield impresario


By Steve James

NEW YORK (Reuters) - He was a progressive rock star in the '70s, an MTV video icon in the '80s and a world music guru for the new millennium. He's also a record producer, songwriter, political activist and musical talent scout. A kind of multi-media artist-rebel -- with many causes. Now Peter Gabriel has a new title -- director of really big sporting extravaganzas.

The world soccer body FIFA has tapped the English musician to organise the opening ceremony for next year's World Cup finals in Germany. The man who only recently became a fan of the game and European champions Liverpool is working on songs for the show in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

"It's like owning a big playpen and someone else is going to pay for it," Gabriel told Reuters in a recent interview. "I'm not going to be playing (soccer)!" he laughed. "But I was asked to get involved. We're writing some of the music and getting involved in some crazy ideas."

Crazy ideas like the seminal 1987 video "Sledgehammer" that rocketed him to international fame? The video, which won 9 MTV awards, featuring a real-life Gabriel singing his funky homage to the Stax record label, amid a wild 3-D animation landscape of steam trains, bumper cars and singing fruit?


"Well I did have this idea," he said mischievously. "A red curtain across the goal and that would grow to a skirt and we'd attach little tails to footballs so they become like sperm...

"But I don't know if this is an idea that is going to fly!" he grinned, when reminded that NBC fended off complaints last year about the broadcast of the Athens Olympics opening ceremony featuring ancient Greek gods in various stages of undress and simulating naughty acts.

Not to mention the flak CBS took over Janet Jackson's peek-a-boo nipple during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show.

The full-length show the night before the finals begin will be a first for the World Cup, similar to past Olympic extravaganzas, said Gabriel, who is coordinating the event with a French choreographer and a German producer.

"It's a show that anyone who ever won the World Cup is going to be invited to. All the players, (including England's 1966 star) Bobby Charlton, hopefully. Another key element, he said, is that it's in Berlin, "the same stadium where Hitler had the '36 Olympics.


"It looks different now, but we've had lots of discussions about how much to refer to that," said Gabriel. By "that," he meant Jesse Owens winning four gold medals, Hitler being less than pleased and the foreboding images of Nazi exuberance captured in Leni Riefenstahl's documentary "Olympia."

"I think FIFA just want (to say), 'Anything the Olympics can do, we can do better.' It's a pretty big audience."

Thirty years removed from the gaunt dark-haired singer with the band Genesis, Gabriel, 55, is Yoda-like now, head shaved with a pointy white goatee and piercing blue eyes. Dressed entirely in black, he is sipping tea in a Manhattan hotel suite with his filmmaker daughter Anna, 31.

They are promoting two DVDs: "Still Growing Up -- Peter Gabriel Live and Unwrapped," with songs and behind-the-scenes images from his 2003 European tour and documentary footage that Anna shot and edited. Another daughter, Melanie, 25, was a backup singer on the tour.

Gabriel also talks about another DVD he's releasing: "Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling," featuring the concert he organised in July in Cornwall, England as part of the Live 8 campaign to end poverty, especially in Africa. The concert was made up entirely of African performers.

But Gabriel was a bit peeved with Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof. "We loved the initiative and the whole Live 8 thing, however, it did feel a little bit like having a party for people and not inviting them," he said of other concerts held around the world with Western rock, pop and hip-hop artists.


"We felt there should be more African artists and I called Bob about it and his point was that the principal job was to get the message across to the TV people and the TV eyes watching and any unfamiliar acts, wherever they came from, would mean people switching off."

Gabriel disagreed: "When they had (Nelson) Mandela shows in London the bill was really mixed and I don't think we lost any viewers as a result. African artists are strong, charismatic and compelling, and I think they hold people's attention."

So Gabriel, who marches to his own drummer, organised "Africa Calling" without help or funding from Live 8. Two months later, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed on debt relief for the world's poorest nations.

"(But) There's still a lot to do," said the singer.

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