The age of 14 was difficult (though probably not any more difficult for me as for anyone else). I'd been taken out of the private school I'd become used to and enrolled in a public high school near my family's home, and though I accepted the reasons for the change, I was resentful. It's likely, being age 14, I could have found anything else to be resentful about, but this huge change was enough.
I knew full well how I came across: my big glasses, already quiet and studious nature, and general awkwardness. My anger at this huge change in my life, coupled with apprehension about the public school experience in general, prompted a fairly aggressive response on my part. I was determined to soldier through, to take no shit from anyone, to keep myself to myself. This largely went according to plan - though routinely harassed, I gave as good as I got, and my mouth got me out of any number of scrapes (though it made me some enemies).
As the months wore on, cracks started to appear in my misanthropy. I was surrounded by too many good people to be totally isolated, and though a couple of people noted that I was a nerd who took no shit, quite a few of my fellow students broke through with little effort. Some of them were attractive females who were able to get my attention with no effort - many others were genuinely friendly individuals, some of whom I'm honored to still call friends.
My 15th birthday, May 5, 1986, saw me emerging from my self-imposed funk. I sometimes think that the very act of turning 15 took me out of that problematic year, but the fact is that the kind of exile I imposed on myself simply couldn't last. I was at a crossroads, not quite sure where I was going next.
A suggestion came via MTV...
Quite an eye-opener from the man behind "Shock the Monkey", a great video and an insanely catchy song. I was jazzed enough that I seized up the album, and wound up listening to it pretty obsessively the rest of May.
The album couldn't have come at a better time. Though my familiarity with Gabriel's work at that point was pretty surface, the album's pointedly upbeat tone wasn't lost on me. Nor was its overriding message of openness, of warmth, of love. It pointed in a number of directions (including musical ones, nudging me toward music by PG's collaborators on the disc, including Stewart Copeland, Bill Laswell, and Laurie Anderson), but the most crucial one was well out of my self-imposed darkness.
To this day the album's opener, Red Rain, gives me chills. Telling the story of emotions left too deeply buried, manifesting themselves as outward, otherworldly trauma, a rain of blood on the houses of the repressed. Every single sound in the track - from the opening tics of Stewart Copeland's hi-hat through Jerry Marotta's just slightly ahead of the beat drumming to Gabriel's stretched-to-the-limit vocals - expresses some tiny image from this emotional, epic story. Today the song serves as a reminder. In 1986, it tore open doors within me for good.
The album turns 25 this week. And perhaps, because of how profoundly it changed who I am, I turn 25 this week as well.