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Music aficionados usually have an answer, always at hand. If they are asked “Who do you listen to?” they can usually easily respond with a list of their favorite artists without much reflection. They reel off names of musicians and bands they have been listening to for years. It’s easy. If I were asked who I listen to, I would most likely quickly list Bruce Springsteen, The Band, The Beatles, Lyle Lovett and Bob Dylan. Maybe Los Lobos, too.

I would take a breath, and then most likely I would think to myself, Wait a minute, there are others, and I would also share names like Macy Gray, John Prine, John Hiatt, Nanci Griffith, Roseanne Cash and Michael Franti. The list would go on. Different artists, different genres, different times. Names are sometimes added to the list, sometimes names are removed. Wait…I forgot about Neil Young, Mavis Staples, Otis Redding and Randy Newman. The list can go on and on.

One of the names that, for whatever reason, is never on the list for me is Peter Gabriel. Honestly, I am not sure why he never makes my list. I love Peter Gabriel, a true creative force in the history of rock and roll. A brilliant song writer, and a wonderfully clunky dancer with a sincere, yearning voice, Peter Gabriel has always been successfully, tremendously creative. Throughout his career he has merged different musical traditions in different settings, always finding ways to share something new, something innovative.

After Gabriel quit the band Genesis in 1975, he embarked on a solo career achieving his biggest success with his fifth album, the blockbuster So, in 1986. The album was filled with monster hits. “Sledgehammer“, “Big Time” and “In Your Eyes” were the songs of my early college years. They were on the radio all the time, and their rich, complex videos played on MTV non-stop. These songs were everywhere, but there were other songs as well.

This week, during these long days when so many of us are still reeling from the news of 11 people who were murdered in while celebrating Shabbat morning worship at their synagogue in Pittsburgh, I again heard the pristine, lovely “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel, a duet with Kate Bush, and I was reminded once again, Peter Gabriel should be on my list.

“Don’t Give Up” is a timeless story of a husband being comforted and supported by his wife during difficult times. Inspired by the depression era photos of Dorothea Lange, Gabriel tells a story that is all of us. The song begins with some light percussion, and fluid, deep bass of Tony Levin. Gabriel sings.

“In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my name, I’ve changed my face
But no one wants you when you lose”

Gabriel is earnest in his singing. Sincere. He is telling a deeply felt story of pain and anguish. HIs wife, voiced by the ethereal and lovely Kate Bush, tells him everything will be alright. Simply. Honestly.

“Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good”

Sometimes, all we need is someone to say something to us a little corny and hokey to make us feel like everything is going to be better. Like The Beach Boys singing “Don’t Worry Baby“, or The Beatles singing “It’s getting better all the time.” Even during the most difficult of times, we just want someone to say exactly what we want to hear.

“Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turnDrove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground”

Every concern voiced, every complaint made, every word of sadness expressed is answered tenderly with the same words, the same sentiment.

“Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up
We don’t need much of anything
Don’t give up
‘Cause somewhere there’s a place
Where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
It’s going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don’t give up
Please don’t give up”

The music stays sparse, because when a song has these two voices, the voices are all song needs. The story continues. They move to a new town to try to find a new life for themselves, but the same hopelessness greets them again, and again she is there. Don’t give up.”

Right now, as I write this silly blog post about a 30 year old love song, a colleague of mine writes in our Yammer network about the difficult time she is having trying to cope with the news of the Pittsburgh shooting. Working in the Jewish community, so many of us felt the effects of this horrific event particularly deeply. We all know someone who knows someone. We all are helping process the event. We are teaching and we are learning. We are trying to get by, day by day. To my colleagues, to my friends, to my family, to my community I offer you this prayer. I offer you these words. I offer you my support.

Don’t give up.
When times are tough
You can fall back on us.
Don’t give up.
Please don’t give up.


“Don’t Give Up”
Written by Peter Gabriel
Performed by Peter Gabriel
Released October 1986

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