Posted by: Lister | November 2, 2007

Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel

There’s quite a bit on the internet about what this song might mean. Some of it talks of spiritual revelation. That kind of interpretation requires pronouns to be used as replacements for actors not referenced. Who has come to take Gabriel home in the first two verses? The only actor in common is his heart.

Gabriel’s heart tells him “Grab your things”.
But he doesn’t need them, he has his smile. So he says, “Keep my things — they’ve come to take me home.” Gabriel doesn’t want his things to take hime home. He’s trying to go some place new.

That’s my take, anyway.
I found this short essay Solsbury Hill: What does it mean? A great line from it: “The listener has veto power.” The song clearly means different things to different people.

The essay also gives a quote of Peter Gabriel:

Okay, the unsatisfying short version is Gabriel said that “It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get, or what you are for what you might be. It’s about letting go.”

The break up from Genesis may have been an inspiration. And there’s a rumour that the eagle represents Bruce Springsteen.
Lyrics:

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night

He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice

I did not believe the information
just had to trust imagination

My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”

To keepin’ silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut

So I went from day to day
Tho’ my life was in a rut
‘Till I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut

I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery

My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”

When illusions spin a net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free

Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me

Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant

My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
they’ve come to take me home.”

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Responses

  1. I have no idea what its about, never have. But its laden with memories for me from my student days. Its a feel good song, thats for sure.
    Rhyming silhouettes and etiquette- nice!

  2. It’s definitely a great song.
    One of my all time favourites.

  3. This has always been one of my favorite songs. In fact, I am listening to it right now, and feeling my own heart going boom boom boom.

    Yeah, I don’t know what was in his mind when he wrote this but I will take a stab at what the song means to me.

    There are obvious religious allusions (climbing a hill get revelation, turning water into wine)
    But I think they have to do more with the speaker’s own faith to follow his own path, the path that will set him free.

    When the Eagle speaks to him he presents the speaker with a new path, which is really an old path. The Eagle has come to guide him home to what he really knows is true. The speaker says “take” but it is really his choice to follow.

    So he fights with what he has known, what is safe, and he resigns. I don’t think resigning is quitting what he is doing though, I think he resigns to what is safe for a while, “So I went from day to day, Tho my life was in a rut”. Because he is scared what his friends and associates would think, “open doors would soon be shut,” if he chose the path of faith, to go the way the Eagle has shown, down the path of faith, “turning water into wine.”

    It is obvious that his new life would take faith, “Did not believe the information/just had to trust the information,” and it scares him and fills him with wonder, “My heart going boom boom boom.”

    “When illusions spin a net
    I’m never where I want to be
    And liberty she pirouette
    When I think that I am free”

    In the context of the song I think the illusions he is referring to is his current life. He is not free and it is all illusion, a safety net of sorts. Liberty is pirouetting, rapidly turning all around him and he is made to sit and watch.

    And he is watched himself and surrounded by silhouettes:
    “Watched by empty silhouettes
    Who close their eyes but still can see
    No one taught them etiquette
    I will show another me”

    I’m not sure I know what it means when it says they can see with their eyes closed, but maybe it means that there is nothing to see, that he is not being true or real to himself, so he “will show another me.”

    And he decides that he is not afraid to tell them he is ready to turn water into wine. He doesn’t need his things anymore. He is ready to follow in faith and perform miracles:
    “Today I don’t need a replacement
    I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant

    My heart going boom boom boom
    “Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
    they’ve come to take me home.”

    This is a beatiful song and maybe it is about leaving Genesis. But regardless it can be applied to any turning point in our own lives.

  4. I tie the “water into wine” part to “my friends would think I was a nut”. ie: he kept quiet because he didn’t want his friends to think he had a Messiah complex. Some might think that Gabriel believed he was the talent in Genesis. Going solo would be big-headed in that light.

    But if there was only one way to understand the song, then I’m sure it would be less popular. I’m definitely not saying a more spiritual interpretation is wrong.

    And I do think that other Gabriel songs are spiritual. “Cloudless” has a spiritual vibe to it — though I don’t know if the vocals count as lyrics. Are those words in another language, or made up sounds?

    “The rhythm of the heat” sounds spiritual to me — though in a pagan way.

    I still like them, atheist that I am.

  5. great song…lots of melody but I have always felt that the expression Son…grab things…going home as a deeply spiritual one implying God calling the listener to leave the earth and go up to heaven.
    I am not a deeply religious person and I certainly do not imply this song is one encouraging suicide. Its just the feelings that have been aroused in me every time I have listened to the song: the spiritual release of the soul from the constrictions of the body and the confines of our earthly existence.


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