“Hero”: Peter Gabriel tells the story of his friendship with Jimmy Carter

“Hero”: Peter Gabriel tells the story of his friendship with Jimmy Carter

Peter Gabriel first heard about former US President Jimmy Carter thanks to A rolling stone. He doesn’t remember the exact date, but it’s likely that’s what caught his eye 1975 article on the Allman Brothers Band’s support for Carter’s presidential campaign. “As someone who has always been interested in American politics, I was interested to read that the Allmans were instrumental in finding the first funding for this ‘ethical peanut farmer'”, recalls Gabriel in relation to Zoom from his Real World Studio. , England.

In the photo accompanying the article, taken in Washington DC on August 14, 1975, Carter smiled into several microphones as he announced his eligibility for federal funding. The next day, in London, 25-year-old Gabriel also made an announcement: in an open letter, he left Genesis to take care of his daughter, to make new experiences and not get into trouble in the past.

Since then, both have come a long way. Carter became the President of the United States, founded the Carter Center with his wife Rosalynn, won the Nobel Peace Prize, visited more than 145 countries. Gabriel has written megahits, introduced world music to the West and the Womad festival, created a citizen journalism project and A witnesshas been appointed A Man of Peace and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

None of them thought they would meet. And instead it happened. In the summer of 2006, Gabriel and Virgin Records founder Richard Branson convinced the former chairman, then 81 years old, to leave his farm home in Plains, Georgia for a cabin on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. “He was immediately included in the shortlist,” explains Gabriel of Carter’s inclusion in the group of Elders, elders, a council of former heads of state that he and Branson had gathered with the blessing of Nelson Mandela to promote peace. and solve the country’s problems in crisis.

“We planned the first meeting in the shade of a palm tree,” Gabriel says today of the Caribbean retreat. “He thought it wouldn’t work. He thought, like Mandela, that this was a group of veterans trying unsuccessfully to exert influence at the moment. It seemed to him a weak idea.’

“However, instead of criticizing the project, Carter tried with Archbishop Tutu to improve it,” explains Richard Branson in an email. “I remember I tried to record their conversation so that I wouldn’t miss a single word. We hung a microphone from a tree, but when we picked up the record we could only hear the birds chirping. Tutu laughed, saying it must have been God’s intervention.”

Gabriel says he and Branson tried teach Tutu to swim in one of the pools of the infinite island and unite to convince Carter and others that a meeting of wise elders can have political power in the “global village” by helping to resolve conflicts in a world that was losing faith in institutions.

Gabriel laughs at the thought that Carter’s reluctance in the early days of the retreat was due to the fact that he thought he would have to endure swimming lessons. Perhaps Carter, like other leaders, sought strength in unity, says Gabriel. “Being with like-minded people: I think that’s what led him to change his mind.” In an earlier interview, Branson said that Carter finally “realized that they could do things that were probably beyond the reach of the United Nations.”

“The conversation about giving a voice to the voiceless is at least part of what attracted Elders,” Gabriel says. “Jimmy has always been on the side of the underdog, in terms of the incredible work he did on diseases that the big pharmaceutical companies didn’t deal with for economic reasons.”

Branson says that among his greatest memories are the trips to Brazil and Egypt with Carter and the impact that the former president (who he calls a “moral giant”) had on the people he met. Gabriel says the group’s original members, including Carter, Mandela, Tutu, Kofi Annan, former South African and Mozambican first lady Graca Machel and former Irish president Mary Robinson, met regularly and Carter “intervened frequently for times” in the discussion. . “When I got to know him better, he became a hero to me,” explains Gabriel. “I have never met a man as devoted to others as he is and with such strong morals as him.”

This group was officially launched in 2007 in Johannesburg, at the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday. Carter became Elder Emeritus in 2016 and continued his work at the Carter Center until, at the age of 98, he began hospice care at his home in Georgia in early 2023.

Before the two met through the project, there was another important event that somehow brought them together, which happened during Carter’s presidency. Five weeks after the inauguration of the new president of the United States, Gabriel released his first single on January 20, 1977. At that time there were few of his political songs. Things changed on 12 September 1977, when South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko died after being brutally beaten by prison guards in Pretoria.

The death of the activist convinced Gabriel to get involved with human rights and write Bikowhich at that time was used to support the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. Gabriel sang a cappella song in the presentation of the Elderly project in 2007 and in 2021 he participated in a cover recorded in the Playing for Change project.

Biko’s death also affected Carter. On November 4, 1977, the United Nations voted to impose a forced arms embargo on South Africa. And heated debates about economic exclusion and anti-apartheid protests erupted in Atlanta, Carter’s home state. Carter befriended Mandela in Ethiopia in 1990 with the belief that South Africa’s war against apartheid, along with the United States, would not be resolved quickly.

According to Gabriel, it was Carter who expanded the meaning of the term racism with his 2007 book. Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid on peace solutions in the Middle East. In 2009 and 2010, Carter and other Elders traveled to the region to meet with civil society representatives during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “It is one of the topics that is very close to my heart,” says Gabriel. “Carter has never been afraid to use the word racism. I appreciate his courage.”

Jibril also admires him for his strong views on religion, even though they contradict his views. They found common ground in religious music, especially hymns. “We had a conversation once about church music,” Gabriel says. “It’s clear that Carter’s Christian faith is a big part of his life, but I’m not a religious person at all. Still religious music had an influence, and still has an influence, on my musicĀ».

Although Gabriel and Carter’s schedules prevented them from sharing the music stage, Carter often joined Willie Nelson in singing. Amazing gracehe quoted Bob Dylan and, like Martin Luther King Jr., cited Mahalia Jackson as one of his favorite songs of the 1960s. He hugged Charles Mingus at the White House ceremony in 1978 where he did so Salted Peanuts with Dizzy Gillespie, two moments that made him popular with black voters.

Their childhoods were decades and thousands of miles apart, but Gabriel’s taste for African rhythms and Carter’s love for gospel music allowed them to connect with people from other cultures, as well as form their own progressive views. “Carter, in many ways, grew up immersed in black culture as well,” Gabriel says. “And so I think he didn’t feel the kind of natural anxiety that many white people experience.”

In 1982 Gabriel organized the World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) festival with musicians from Nigeria, Jamaica, India and China. But it was the success of his collaboration with the Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour for In Your Eyesfrom I know of the year 1986, to put him in the front line in the fight against racism and in confirming the need for international citizenship in the human rights movement.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the relationship between music and philanthropy became closer, and both Gabriel and Carter worked to emphasize the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. In December 1978, Carter celebrated the anniversary thirty of the Resolution to issue a summons. Americans committed to creating a “common standard for people of all nations”. In later years, at the Carter Center, he asked staff to think of the Declaration as the secular equivalent of the Bible.

In 1986, Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour brought Gabriel to the King Center in Atlanta. Two years later, the 40th anniversary of the Declaration was celebrated with the Human Rights Now concerts. Gabriel and Jack Healey, heads of Amnesty at the time, enlisted the director of the video Sledgehammer, Stephen R. Johnson, brought 30 articles of the Declaration to life in a 20-minute animated film directed by Debra Winger and Jeff Bridges and scored by, among others, Mark Mothersbaugh, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne. “I believed in the importance of the Declaration and the need to make it more known”, explains Gabriel, “because many of the countries that had signed it were not the same”.

Carter remained committed to promoting human rights. According to Gabriel, he has “raised the bar of past presidents” with his years of humanitarian work, building houses for Habitat for Humanity and using his “sharp mind.” “It’s a privilege to be lucky enough to hang out with him for a while.” So he is happy to honor the Carters in his keynote speech in one of the last events that the former president attended before the Covid-19 pandemic: he appeared on video in 2018 at the Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Forum, a meeting of activists from 25 countries.

“This is where your work is honored and celebrated,” Gabriel said near the end of his speech. “This is a true family of human rights … and the mother and father who made up this family have been an inspiration to me for many years: Jimmy and Rosalynn, thank you so much for what you have done and for bringing a powerful light to an increasingly dark world.

When Gabriel finished, Carter flashed a big smile like the one in the campaign photo that appeared on the pages of A rolling stonealmost half a century earlier. “As you can see,” he said without a touch of pride, “Peter Gabriel is my friend.”

From Rolling Stone USA.