*REWRITE ALERT* This SongWithoutWhich was first blogged April 24 2004.
The death of a man can hardly have been reported on with such dignity, yet with such a sense of indictment and outrage as here. Steven Biko was an activist and lawyer in South Africa during the apartheid era, who was killed in police custody. His death sparked much of the anger and outrage that swept the rest of the world. Peter Gabriel was among the first to react to Biko's death, and there can be few more thrilling, yet dignified tributes to a man's life and death than this.
The segue from "Nkosi Sikelele Africa" into the intro is totally compelling. The threat of the fuzzed guitar, the inevitability of the funeral drumbeat, the gentle, hoarse reminder where this happened. And the lyrics: so simple, so effective: "September 77/Port Elizabeth, weather fine/It was business as usual/In police room 619." It's fascinating to listen to the various ways in which politically-active artists demonstrate their anger or commitment: listen to this, and then play Little Steven's "Sun City". Peter Gabriel doesn't need to sloganise; he lets the song's images do the talking, while Little Steven has to keep reminding us that he "ain't gonna play Sun City". Which works better?