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San Jacinto by Peter Gabriel

Album: SecurityReleased: 1982
  • The San Jacinto Mountain range in California runs along Palm Springs, a very exclusive resort community. When Peter Gabriel did some climbing there, he spotted some ribbons that he thought were part of a Native American ritual, which gave him the impetus for the song.
  • This song explores the contrast between the artificial world of Palm Springs and the Indian communities on the other side of the San Jacinto Mountains who have spiritual ties to the land. Gabriel told Uncut magazine April 2014 the song was written, "about the culture clash between Native America and present-day America."
  • Gabriel was influenced by an Apache Indian he met when he was on tour in the American midwest. This man worked at the motel where the band was staying for the night. He and Gabriel started talking, and he casually explained that his apartment was on fire, and that he was worried about his cat. He had no way to get there, so Gabriel drove him.

    Gabriel was struck by how the man was only concerned for the cat (which was fine), not his material possessions. They spent most of the night talking, and the man explained the traditional Apache ritual he performed when he 14. Before he could be deemed a Brave, every boy goes with a Medicine Man into the mountains, where a rattlesnake is allowed to bite him. The Medicine Man leaves, and the boy must either find his way down the mountain or die.

    This story got Gabriel thinking about how many cultures had rituals where young men are forced to face death, which can teach courage and foster an appreciation for life.
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Comments: 19

Hello dear San Jacinto lovers. It might be nice to know that the mesmerizing theme from SJ comes of a 1974 composition by Steve Reich "Variations of Winds, Strings and Keyboards. A very powerful piece of music in it's own right.Ulco Wesselink - Netherlands
The native American lyric in this song is Lakotan and it is, "Hyena wakan tanka". This is a reference or a call to the Great Spirit, the sacred, the devine. Essentially, the term refers to God and is used by the Medicine man during rituals. Sioux Alternate spellings: Wakantanka.Chuck Baker - Anaheim, Ca
I've always found powerful symbolism in this song and I have no native American background. Unfortunately, many views of (and from) Mt. San Jacinto have been ruined by giant wind turbines. The desert in general is under assault from "green" land-grabs like the Ivanpah & Desert Sunlight solar plants. Many Spiritual aspects of the landscape are being lost to gigantic energy projects in areas that shallow drones consider wasted space. We ought to ditch the big machines and focus on solar panels on existing roofs. Constantly expanding outward and destroying ancient vistas is not progress.Jim - Usa
I think we are missing the point of the song, this is about a people decimated, still hanging on to cultural traditions spite all of the popular culture mockery and commercial expoltaion of their own. Peter paints a pitcure of while the Geronimo's diso and Sit n Bull steak house exist. Their are still Native Americans "holding the line" this is a reference to, not letting go of your culture. It is a life line. He states at the end of this song, separately for emphasize "We will walk on the land We will breathe of the air We drink from the stream we will live Hold the line.Luey Grimm - Atlanta, Ga
So what if Gabriel skirtted around the Native American facts of the area, the emotion and spirtual content of the song still shines through. Don't let technicallities cloud the soulful meaning...enjoy it all the same.Julie - Niagara Falls, On
"Hold the line..." In ancient mythology, common to many tribal cultures, was the belief that a heavenly chord/rope/line descended from heaven which allowed communication with the divine. This chord/line was tragically lost due to some human accident/stupidity. The message of the song is that the ancient wisdom is also being lost due to the blunders/ignorance of modern man--like at San Jacinto--but it is still attainable if you reach out for it as the ancestors did. He who grabs hold of the line is pulled up to the higher place of existence. That's why PG flashes the torch light around into the audience during the song--its symbolic of the heavenly line appearing for anyone who can still see it to grab hold..Steve - Kansas City, Ks
One of Gabriel's most powerful pieces. Sycamore, there's no mention of Apache or Buffalo, just Buffalo robe. I see no reason a buffalo hide couldn't be traded down into the southwest. Having spent some time in my youth both in Palm Springs and in Idyllwild, this song always evokes vivid imagery. Good for the Indian folks there. They are using a casino as a bridge to the time when they may once again live with their land, when our Cargo culture fades...Craig - Missoula, Mt
The first time I heard this song, I was wondering where San Jacinto could be. It was obviosly a place. Then, when I looked on Google Maps, both results were roads, one in Texas, and the other in Cuba. I geusse they missed the moutains.

It is a great song.
Ben - Pelham, On
I have listened to these lyrics over and over again and, notwithstanding the purported origins of the song from Gabriel himself, the line " I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear" can only be interpreted to be part of a battle. The aspiration of the first person storyteller can only be to not fail his comrades by breaking the line. I too am confused be the references to Southwest Indians and buffalo which were only hunted by the northern plains Indians, and held in especially high esteem by the Sioux. Poison rituals were often part of pre-battle preparations as medicine men would take poison (i.e. potent and deadly natural drugs) to see visions and help in planning for an auspicious outcome to the forthcoming battle. So Gabriel's lyrics are unclear as to what he is extolling, the virtue of bravery in battle or the triumph of willpower over fear and poison.Bear - Gainesville, Fl
I live in San Jacinto, California. Palm Springs is on the other side of the mountain. the Indians have a reservation at the base of the mountain, with a large Casino and are quite rich, they dont care about spirits, I know because I have many friends in the tribe.Steven - San Jacinto, Ca
I saw an interview where Peter tells the story of meeting an elderly, Apache Indian in the midwest.
The man's home had caught fire and he was concerned if his cat was still alive.
Peter got the man there and they managed to save the cat. Peter tells how he spent hours talking with the Apache. The man told him about an old Indian right he had gone through. He was brought to a mountain top, had a snake laid on him and was bitten by the snake. The Indian is left there, poisoned and hallucinating. The reason for this is to show when an Indian is brave. He he comes down from the mountain, he is brave.
If he dies up there, I guess he is considered weak.
That is what this song is about.
Cool, huh?
Sue - Tampa, Fl
I was at Brussels and guess who joined the Summer Festival? Mr. Gabriel himself and all his wonderfull crew. In french, he told the story of this song, differs from the version here. Will have to look for it further on Still Growing Up Unwrapped Tour DVD by mr. Hamilton.Natan - Herzylia, Israel
I heard first time San Jacinto in Peter´s concert in Madrid (1986 ,I thinK) ,in a very complicated moment of my life and I remember this special song that shows the infinite human capacity to superate the most adverse conditions.
I´m Family Physician ("Medicine Man")in my country,I figth for health of my people as I have chronic illness ,and I think San Jacinto´s spirit stays with me since that magical moment in 1986.
¡You may think this is not true!...but ,thank you very much Peter .
Isidro - Alcalá De Henares, Spain
Well, this has me confused. San Jacinto for the average American certainly refers to the battle at San Jacinto that followed the Alamo. Gabriel's lyrics suggest a battle, but the First Nation people were not involved in that battle as far as I know.
It would appear that the lyrics refer to San Jacinto, CA. The juxtapositions implied are typical of Gabriel's powerful lyrics. Powerful song.
Anyone who is intrigued by Gabriel's lyrics, listen to "Fourteen Black Paintings" on the 'Us" album.
Vic, IL
Vic - Chicago, Il
I really do love this song. I just wish I knew what the Apache(I think) lyrics were. Sounds kinda like "Heyna Wandi Tanka"Dan - Australia, United States
I just watched a live version of this song on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9J0yppewrvg). Peter Gabriel states that he learned the story from an Apache man in the Midwestern United States. I don't know why San Jacinto is the name used. Having just spent four days in the San Jacinto mountains and having lived in the Southwest for my childhood I can say with some certainty that the Apache are a not a Californian people and that Buffalo didn't live in the California deserts or mountains around San Jacinto. I don't think that Apache hunted Buffalo, either. Perhaps Peter Gabriel, a Brit, doesn't know his geography or his American First Nation peoples too well? Sounds like he's blending together a lot of peoples with the images and words he chooses. Read about where Apache lived/live at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache. It's still a good song--just not a good source for history, anthropology, or geography!Sycamore - Aliso Viejo, Ca
This song also explores the boundary between traditional First Nation and European culture. The Euros appropriating First Nation images, but not understanding the depth of First Nation spirituality.
It's also about one person's initiation into First Nation spirituality and its impact on their worldview.
Really deep stuff. This song can be earthshattering under the right conditions.
"Yellow eagle flies down from the sun" Almost a perfect description of a solar ritual initiation experience.
Eric - Lake Forest, Ca
Poster stated "Explores the contrast between the artificial world of Palm Springs and the Indian communities on the other side of the San Jacinto Mountains who have spiritual ties to the land"-adjacent to the city of San Jacinto, they now a casino-Soboba Springs Casino-their cash cow.
another poster stated "wasnt san jancito the city where the mexican forces of Santa Anna..." etc this is probably the San Jacinto in Texas.
wasnt san jancito the city where the mexican forces of Santa Anna were stopped shortly after the fight at the Alamo? lol I had a test over this today and I didnt study so i just guessed ooopsAndrew - Springfield, Mo
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