Saturday, February 27, 2010

Song: Family Snapshot

My colleague Kevin Courrier's analysis of Harry Chapin's "Sniper" put me in mind of Peter Gabriel's assassin song, "Family Snapshot", from his Peter Gabriel 3 LP; also known as the 'Melting Face' album. Where Chapin's song was an examination of sniper Charles Whitman, Gabriel's song, Family Snapshot is loosely based upon Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate presidential candidate, George Wallace in May 1972. Gabriel was inspired to write the song after he read the published version of Bremer's diary, An Assassin's Diary (1973). Starting with a low-key piano and synth line, Gabriel sings:

The streets are lined with camera crews/
Everywhere he goes is news/
Today is different/
Today is not the same

Letting the assassin narrate the song, Gabriel quietly, almost despairingly sings these opening lines. What follows are the words of a man who thinks he no longer has a choice. Bremer was always a loner from a highly dysfunctional family, and Gabriel sings the song as a man desperate for attention:

IIII've been waiting for this/
IIII've been waiting for this/
All you people in TV land/
I will wake up your empty shows/
Peek time viewing blown in a flash/
I will burn into your memory cells/
Cuz IIIIIIII I'm alive

As the adrenalin of the action within the song builds, the music and singing changes from low-key to a full-bore thumping rock track.

Gabriel sings:

I don't really hate you/
I don't care what you do/
We were made for each other, me and you
I wanted to be somebody/
You were like that too/
When you don't get given, you learn to take/
And I will take you.

After he 'let's the bullets fly', the low-key piano and synth returns, accompanied by a soft bass line. The song concludes with a brief look at the origins of this twisted man.

Come back Mum and Dad/
You're growing apart/
You know that I'm growing up sad/
I need some attention/
I shoot into the light

The irony of both Chapin's and Gabriel's songs is that one of the reasons these shooters took their deranged roads was because they thought it was the only way they would ever be remembered. Due to these songs, musicals such as Stephen Sondheim's Assassins and films like JFK, these lonely, pathetic, hated and ignored men are ignored no more.

Gabriel's song is chilling and yet also strangely moving. We come away from "Family Snapshot" understanding the Bremers of the world's desire to be remembered and still be completely horrified by their actions. The only unfortunate thing about all this? We have now given them want they wanted: infamy.

Hear the song here

and a live version from 1986 here

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

1 comment:

  1. Well done David...Time for an article on film noir matches with wine, such as pinot noir or baco noir.