June 15, 2019

From Gerald R. Lucas

Have you ever just heard a song that had an instant and profound emotional impact? I’m talking about something beyond a rational understanding of the lyrics or musical mechanics — but something in the gestalt of the song that seemed to sound a chord in your — oh god — soul that started you weeping or being enveloped in a maudlin state of mindfulness or nostalgia. The more I write about it, the more it enters into my rational mind and dissipates. I wonder if this is what Wordsworth meant by “recollected in tranquility”? Probably not.

Still, Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” just had that effect on me. Gabriel himself has suggested that the song is about his own spiritual experience that prompted him to make a life transition, and I see the song as a more universal expression of these moments in our lives that require us to make significant choices. Sometimes we understand that we make a significant choice (like Gabriel did), but other times it’s more abstract: we are maybe unconscious of the significance, but there seems to be a frisson that requires us to act at the moment. After all, “Solsbury Hill” was written after Gabriel’s experience, so he had an opportunity to process its significance. This is the stuff of art, but I’m talking about the actual, existential experience. Maybe this is what great art gives us? While it can help with the aftermath, maybe, too, it can be the actual thing that provokes our experience.

I’m not sure if I’m going through a similar transition in my life right now, but “Solsbury Hill” touched me in an important way today, as I was rolling out pizza dough — just thinking about the song. Only two other works of art have done so in my life: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Mozart’s Requiem came close. I’m not prepared to write about these right now; I only mention them to support my thesis here.

Or maybe it’s the beer.