Peter Gabriel: Father, Son and Yogi

How a super rock star used yoga to mend relationships and spark a creative fire.

Peter Gabriel has put himself through all kinds of contortions in both his personal and professional lives, from quitting his rock band, Genesis, just as they reached superstar status to surviving divorce from his first wife and launching a solo career and world music record label. But he had never fully embraced the twists and turns of yoga, at least not until he was faced with the realization that his father, Ralph, was getting old, and the two of them didn’t know each other as well as he’d like.

As Ralph Gabriel had been practicing yoga for a very long time, it seemed only natural to schedule a yoga retreat with him, so Peter took a hotel room in the Moors in the English countryside and hired an instructor to join them. ‘It is now 40 years that he has done yoga,’ Peter said of his father, ‘and I thought that it would be a good way to get together.’

The teacher had father and son practice a tandem style of yoga, where two people work together in close proximity. ‘You use the power of all the weight of pulling up someone else’s body,’ Gabriel explained. ‘So there is a lot of physical contact, which is very un-English!’

It was a highly moving and emotional experience and, naturally, Gabriel later used it as the basis for a song, the moving ‘Father, Son’, a paean to filial affection expressed and enhanced through the shared practice of yoga. The song was initially featured on Ovo (Peter’s soundtrack album for the Millennium Dome project in London), and also became a highlight of his recent Growing Up Live world tour, where Peter performed it backed only by himself on piano and Tony Levin on bass.

Father, son / Locked as one / In this empty room / Spine against spine / Yours against mine / Till the warmth comes through

Dogs, plows and bows / We move through each pose / Struggling in our separate ways / Mantras and hymns / Unfolding limbs / Looking for release through the pain

‘One day, suddenly, in the middle of doing some pulling and stretching we couldn’t hold it anymore, and we burst into tears,’ Peter remembered. ‘And then we hugged each other for the very first time in many, many years.’

Can you recall / How you took me to school / We couldn’t talk much at all / It’s been so many years / And now these tears

And how did Ralph Gabriel like the song? ‘I played it to him on the piano,’ Peter said, ‘but I think he hadn’t heard any of the words properly. Now he has the record, and he probably listened to it better, and he phoned to say he liked the song.’

Peter, who had studied dance and movement while contemplating an acting career many years back, had done some yoga in the past. ‘In the 90s, when we were touring,’ recalls bassist Levin, ‘[Indian violinist] Shankar was in the band, and we all had him show us some yoga stretches.’

Peter did attend yoga classes regularly for a while after the sessions with his father, according to his assistant, Annie Parsons. While he wasn’t able to continue the lessons due to the demands of recording, rehearsing and touring, Parsons says he still practices yoga on his own from time to time.

Levin has seen indirect evidence of that: ‘Peter’s son, Isaac, when he was only a year old, knew how to join in on floor stretches with the band when he wandered into our room. He must’ve picked it up somewhere!’

And in the future? Perhaps Peter’s own children – two daughters from his first marriage and the new infant son from his second – will someday book a yoga getaway for the four of them.

Chris Rubin, FitYoga magazine, August 2004, All Rights Reserved

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