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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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