In the four weeks that I was the choreographer for Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ tour in 1986 I didn’t make any choreography. My time with Peter was spent driving around in his car talking to him about the divorce he was going through.
Here’s how it worked.
At the end of a show, Peter would be joined onstage by Youssou N’Dour – The Lion of Senegal. Together they would perform Peter’s big hit “Biko”. Half way through, Peter would face backward, stretch his arms out and fall into a crowd of eighteen thousand rabid fans who would pass him around for 10 minutes while the band vamped. Some nights they would pass him back. Some nights they wouldn’t……….in which case roadies would wade into the crowd, pry him loose and return him to the stage – often with his clothes torn off. Peter would sing a final verse, now wearing a cape, then exit stage left where I would join him. As the band continued playing, body guards hustled us to a sub-basement parking lot. When we got there, screaming fans, who had somehow snuck in, would appear from nowhere and sprint directly at us. The body guards covered our heads, picked us off the ground and we surged forward mowing down teen aged girls. Faces taught in ecstasy, they would beg for an autograph before being flattened by our flying wedge. We would get folded into our car and make an exit.
Peter liked to drive around and talk after a show. The combination of noise, chaos and dope smoke got me so high that I couldn’t sleep, but none of this seemed to have any effect on him. He would calmly sip from his thermos while he drove us around town talking about his divorce which was not going well. I was keen to discuss the show and to make something together, but we never rehearsed and other than these chats about his personal life, I spent my days being paid an enormous amount to sit idly at the hotel.
After two weeks with the tour, Peter’s manager instructed me to find Vinnie and get paid. I took the elevator to the penthouse floor of the Boston Four Seasons where we were staying and walked up to room 475. The door was wide open revealing two large beds. On the bed farthest from the door was a pile of hundred dollar bills four feet thick. On the bed closest to the door was an over-sized nickle plated revolver. Soft humming came from the steamy bathroom and a deep smokers voice said – ‘ You must be Cholie’ pronouncing my name without an r so it rhymed with Olie… Vinnie came out of the bathroom wearing a towel and heavy gold chains. ”How much do you get paid Cholie?” he asked without looking at me. I knew guys like Vinnie who ran numbers in my neighborhood in Little Italy. I knew he knew exactly how much I got paid. I told him my day rate. He nodded his chin toward the bed. “Count it out ” he said. The idea of touching any of this money seemed clearly dangerous. “Count it out” he said again, letting me know there would be no argument. I picked up a stack of bills and carefully peeled off my fee, checked it three times and put it on the floor. Without looking up Vinnie said ‘Give yourself a tip” and splashed himself with aftershave. The idea of this seemed truly preposterous. What did Vinnie think was a good tip? 20%. I peeled off additional notes and placed them carefully next to my pile. Vinnie gave my stack a desultory glance, said “You’re a good kid Cholie.” nodded to the door and I left.
In my subsequent weeks with Peter Gabriel nothing happened. It seemed more important for him to have a choreographer around than to have choreography. When we played Madison Square Garden, backstage was aflutter with sports stars and intelligentsia. John McEnroe came to numerous shows as did Nicholas Negroponte and his crew from MIT. Laurie Anderson took the stage to sing along.
Peter Gabriel surrounded himself with interesting people but wasn’t particularly interesting.
This may have been the secret to his success.