Posted by: Ed Deiss | June 25, 2012

Finding your Solsbury Hill

A song that I can’t live without, and with which I identify is ‘Solsbury Hill’ by Peter Gabriel.  In fact, ask me what are the few songs I would need to have on my iPhone (or record player, ha ha) on a deserted island and it will be one of them.  Would even listen to it while getting through coconut husks; it would be appropriate.  As for some of the other songs I would need to have, the clue is the only Irish I have in me.

Where is Solsbury Hill?  It is above the village of Batheaston in Somerset, England. It gives impressive views of the city of Bath and the surrounding area and is in the scenic area of the Cotswolds. Though I have never been, sounds like a place where you can think freely and creatively without distractions, and reflect.

My Solsbury Hill this past weekend on the Shenandoah River

A more pertinent question is, where is Solsbury Hill for you?  Does not necessarily need to be on a hill.  This past weekend I spent time with my son on the Shenandoah river and it is a great place to be to think without distractions and reflect on what is important.  Also got to use an iFish.
Music lyrics are quite meaningful and powerful. When Peter Gabriel wrote the song, it was about his leaving the band Genesis and going out  on his own.  It was his first solo single and was written at a trying time in his life.  Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in 1975, which stunned fans of the group and left many commentators wondering if the band could survive, was the result of a number of factors.  However the breaking point came with the difficult pregnancy of his wife, Jill, and the subsequent birth of their first child, Anna-Marie. When he opted to stay with his sick daughter and wife, rather than record and tour, the resentment from the rest of the band led Gabriel to conclude that he had to leave the group.  With the benefit of hindsight, both Peter Gabriel and Genesis moved on and have done quite well.

The lyrics of the song stress an uncertainty of a future without his former bandmates and transitions into excitement towards what lies ahead (e.g. his heart’s “boom boom boom”).  Gives me goose bumps every time.

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
I had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I 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 keep in 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
Though my life was in a rut
Till I thought of what I’d say
And 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
Son, he said, grab your things I’ve come to take you home

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
So 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
Songs have various nuances and meanings among people.  For Gabriel he  has said about the song 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.”
Based on what was going on in his life when he wrote it, Solsbury Hill speaks to turning points in lives.
Turning points result in changes, often through trials and tribulations.  Those can come in many shapes and forms.  In dealing, and coming to terms, with those turning points and changes I have learned that it is essential to decide what to keep and what to let go.  As the song speaks to ‘When the Eagle flew out of the night…he listened as he had no choice.’  What he decided to do was up to him, he certainly did not believe it, however just had to trust what was ahead of him.  Depending on when the turning point occurs, you will probably fight with what you have known up to that point, and want to resign to what is safe for a while.   Life is not meant to be lived as an illusion, pirouetting around while sitting and watching.   Rather be true to yourself and better to tell them what the smile on your face means.
There is fear in letting go, and it is natural, however can’t let it keep you from pressing on.  As Peter Gabriel encouraged through writing this song based on the turning points in his life, do not to lose sight of who you are and have the belief, which will turn into faith (turning water into wine), with your heart going ‘boom boom boom’ of what lies ahead.  Faith motivates to act upon belief.  For Peter Gabriel to embark on his new life, he had the faith to follow.  It scared him and filled him with wonder at the same time.
Probably does not take too much of a leap of faith to see how I relate to being on Solsbury Hill; many times it was in the South China Sea getting through coconut husks.  I’m sure others reading this can relate to it as well and have unique experiences to share.
What is also being conveyed is the importance of being comfortable in your own skin.  If you watch him sing, it is obvious that he is.  As you find your bearings and the fog lifts as you move through these turning points and changes, you will get there too.
My favorite performance of this song performed live in Medina, Italy in 1993.  Enjoy.

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Responses

  1. One of my most favorite songs of all time. And you are right, it tells a great story and has a wonderful message.

    Coincidences of life: When I was 10 years old (1980 – just after leaving Singapore for the first time) my parents and I moved to Bath, and we lived across the valley from Little Solisbury Hill for more than a year. I saw it out our dining room window every day, and a friend and I used to play in the fields facing the hill almost every afternoon. At the time I didn’t know who Peter Gabriel was, but as I moved on into my teens I discovered early Genesis and stumbled upon “Solisbury Hill”. Only when I went back to Bath to visit, years later, did I make the connection. It IS a special place, for a lot of reasons… at least for me.

    I guess I’m not really sure where my own personal Solisbury Hill is. It’s like… where is “home”? Is it where I think it is, or someplace completely different? And can it be a few places at once?

  2. Great story and living near the real place! Like many TCKs, answering the question “Where are you from” can seem unsettling.

    Your own Solsbury Hill could be anything from 30 meters below exploring the ocean, to familiar places in Singapore, to competing in a Gigathlon; to in fact the real Solsbury Hill as you lived there and made the connection years later.

  3. Wonderful stuff Ed! This excerpt rings true for me today

    “Turning points result in changes, often through trials and tribulations. Those can come in many shapes and forms. In dealing, and coming to terms, with those turning points and changes I have learned that it is essential to decide what to keep and what to let go. As the song speaks to ‘When the Eagle flew out of the night…he listened as he had no choice.’ What he decided to do was up to him, he certainly did not believe it, however just had to trust what was ahead of him. Depending on when the turning point occurs, you will probably fight with what you have known up to that point, and want to resign to what is safe for a while. Life is not meant to be lived as an illusion, pirouetting around while sitting and watching. Rather be true to yourself and better to tell them what the smile on your face means.”

    Many thanks.

    Your friend and cousin,
    Gil


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