Listen to this piece by world music enthusiast, soundtrack composer, and sometime pop star Peter Gabriel. It’s his ‘The Feeling Begins”, the studio version of which appears on his soundtrack album Passion, which is comprised of the music featured as the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie the Last Temptation of Christ.
The lead instrument here is a duduk, which is a double-reed wind instrument that is widely used in the Middle-East, as well as being related to a family of instruments that can be found in places as far flung as Armenia and Russia. Its use is said to predate the time of Jesus by a thousand years. And a more mournful use of it I can’t imagine. This piece is truly atmospheric, spooky even, and completely evocative of a stirring feeling that makes you think that there are forces in the world which have been deployed to challenge your mettle. In short, it’s perfect for the story behind which it sets the emotional stage.
Yet, I think too that Gabriel designed this music to be listened to as well as to serve as a soundtrack to the story, so full of (here it comes) passion as it is. And when you really consider a lot of his post-Genesis material, it’s really not too far away from his usual modus operandi in any case.
For instance, the percussion is way up front in this, and on many of the other pieces on the album too. Even if this music is a bit of a departure in other ways, it’s still strongly flavoured with Gabriel’s unique taste for musical fusion cuisine, here throwing in some North African sounds in with those of the Middle East.
Nineteen-Eighty-Eight was an odd year for religion and pop culture. I was in the church when The Last Temptation of Christ film came out, and people were genuinely upset about it, even if many felt as though they should be upset, rather than actually knowing the reasons why they might feel that way. Our pastor at the time prayed that the hand of god would “smite” those involved in making the film. I’m pretty sure he actually used the word ‘smite’ too.
It was also the year that Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses came out, and the Ayatollah Khomeini put out a contract on Rushdie’s life . I was working in a bookstore then, just out of high school, and there were a lot of scared people asking to buy a copy of that book as if they were asking to buy porn. We kept copies in the back, never on display, in order to avoid any incidents. It really was a bit of an eye-opener for many, that to threaten the idea of the divine was to incur the threat of violence.
Ultimately, I think the universality of the subject matter and the extreme reactions it provokes is what lies behind a lot of the drive you hear in the music. There is tons of cultural baggage wrapped up in this story. In some ways, this is every story – ‘will the hero choose his own comfort over that of those he sets out to save? Will he complete his quest, or will he fall?” I think all of Western literature deals with this theme in one way or another, perhaps because it’s a question many people constantly ask of themselves in their own lives. So what an opportunity for Peter Gabriel to put music to such a noble, and very human struggle!
For more of Peter Gabriel’s interest in the promotion of world music, check out the WOMAD site, an organization he helped to found.