Did you hear? Peter Gabriel is touring North America to mark the 25th anniversary of his great album So. Naturally I am stoked to see my favorite singer in concert for a fourth time, because I am hip and trendy and down with the kids; but I am double-stoked because 2012 is actually a personal anniversary in my relationship with So.
People who had the misfortune to know me when I was in my teens could tell you that my defining characteristic as an adolescent was my deep, borderline-obsessive love for Peter Gabriel. (Like I said: hip, trendy, etc.) The wall above my bed was completely obscured by posters, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles relating to PG, as I abbreviated him; I faithfully wore my PG T-shirt and baseball cap every weekend; I traded bootlegs online (yes, children, once upon a time we used to trade bootlegs, via snail mail); I was consistently in the top five posters on a certain PG fan forum.
At its best, being a teenager is very dull – a stretch of life you just have to wait out so you can get to the good parts. You have to latch onto something to get you through it: casual sex, illegal drugs, chess club. I was really, really into Peter Gabriel.
One of the reasons is simple timing. After a decade of soundtrack albums and thumb-twiddling, PG dropped Up, his first proper record since 1992's Us, on September 24, 2002 – which happened to be about six weeks after my family relocated from Kenya to Scotland.
I had, of course, known that summer 2002 would be our last summer in Kenya. I was careful to commit it to memory: all the safaris, bumping along dusty roads on the roof-rack of the car, dutifully penciling down every critter we saw; blissed-out days spent reading voraciously beside the pool of a coastal villa; swearing eternal loyalty to the friends I still wasn't really used to having. Plus, Peter Gabriel. That school year I had been very into the Who, Pink Floyd, Rush, and Gong, so maybe it was toward the summer that PG fever struck me. I can remember sitting in my parents' car, listening to “Big Time” on headphones, and thinking: I am IN LOVE with this album.
Acclimatizing to life in the UK from Kenya is really, really hard, even if you're not 13. Peter Gabriel's music helped me get through a rotten time in my life. My prog-rock childhood had convinced me that good music was over; but the release of a new record from my favorite musician was like a little island of sanity in the midst of that chaotic combination of culture shock and adolescence. So was something from Kenya. Up was something from Britain. Peter Gabriel offered a way of exploring new territory while still being in touch with my past.
I love So. I've listened to it probably eighty billion gazillion times in the past decade, but to my ears it still hums with the echoes of a very different part of my life – a part that ended ten years ago. It feels very weird to be ten years out of Kenya, and weirder still to be ten years removed from the profoundly, awesomely ignorant little oddball I was when I was 13. Here are five things I wish I could go back in time and tell my 13-year-old self, to ease those troublesome years of high school:
1. Read this. Try not to be a douche about your shiny megatons of privilege.
2. Gender theory, sex-pos feminism, and QUILTBAG awareness. UK sex ed in the early-to-mid-2000s is entirely contraception-centric, with the admirable goal of reducing unwanted teen pregnancy, but you will not get any of the sex and gender education you so desperately need. You'll be much happier once you deconstruct the dominant cultural framing of all sexual activity as teleological toward PIV. Learn not to worry whether you're “normal” re: gender identity or sexuality.
3. It's okay to feel things and want things. You don't have to empty it all into your fiction, and you don't have to let other people dictate who you can be. Life will never be easy, but I promise you it will one day be a million times more interesting than it is right now.
4. Mother is right more often than you think, and she is wrong more often than you think. If that sounds contradictory, welcome to having a Jewish mother. You'll never get used to it.
5. Most of all: EVERYONE IS FAKING IT. ALL THE TIME.