Family Snapshot

Album: Peter Gabriel (third, melt) (1980)


  • The story of an assassination told from the perspective of the gunman, Gabriel got the idea for this song after reading Arthur Bremmer's book An Assassins Diary. Bremmer shot Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1972, and what fascinated Gabriel was that he didn't do it for political reasons, but for fame: Bremmer timed the shooting to get as much publicity as possible, making sure he did it in time for the early news.
  • On this album, Gabriel explores the human condition and what makes people act in an extreme manner. In this song, we see that the gunman didn't get attention as a child and had parents that were growing apart. Regarding this flashback at the end of the song, Gabriel explained to Sounds in 1980: "It is a film device, but I don't think I've seen it done in a rock song before. As to the psychology of it, all that I can say is that some clichés are true – patterns of behaviour begun in childhood do carry through, I see that in my own life."

Comments: 21

  • Billy From Philly from Philadelphia PaThis song is Brilliant , it encapsulates the life of this young boy/ man seeking recognition. By feeling the only means to achieve this is I shoot into the light ! I also Love how Peter goes right into And Through the Wire . BRILLIANT he’s what Great song writer’s aspire to be...
  • Lebator from MalaysiaHasn't anyone ever noticed the uncanny facial similarity between Peter Gabriel and Lee Harvey Oswald?
  • Steve from Trinidad, CaAlthough it is based on a true story when so many assassinations are done by conspiracy and political motivation I've always thought this song was a distraction blowing smoke into a more controversial problem of assassination.
  • AnonymousI heard that Gabriel, expressly made I not about the JFK assassination, because he was "convinced" Oswald didn't act alone. That's what I *heard*
  • Karol from Pori, FinlandNo cymbals were used on this track and others from (a.k.a "Melt") S/T album.
  • Tracey from Manchester, United KingdomThis is an amazing song with very powerful lyrics and I have listened to it time and time again, Family Snapshot gives an insight of a young boy who witnesses his parents break up, he is then shunned and isolated by close friends and family members, it also tells the story about the hunter and the hunted. The true meaning is about Arthur Bremner the man who assassinated Governor George Wallace he timed this so that he could see this on the evening news, the assassin needed to commit this criem for him to be a somebody and make himself famous for all the wrong reasons.
  • John from Wigan, United KingdomThe imagination of a only child
  • Erika from Vernon, CtThis song is definately about an attempted assassination of a political figure, but that's actually not the important part of story line-- we're supposed to learn about the inner working of the assassin. WHY he decided to kill someone so high profile (growing up in a broken home). The young boy and the killer are on and the same. At the end of the song, the line "I shoot into the light," I believe describes the shooter committing suicide.
  • Hernan from Buenos Aires, ArgentinaIncredible song. I must have sung this song in my mind 1000 times. I have always thought it was about JFK. Who else could " the man of the hour,
    standing in the limousine..." (...And the governor's was not far behind
    He was not the one he got in mind...") This song -among many others- makes Gabriel a unique composer. Thank u Peter.
  • Bob from Edinburgh, ScotlandThe original line at the top of the page is true. This song IS about Arthur Bremmer and the attempted assasination of presidential candidate George Wallace, or at least his story was the inspiration which caused Gabriel to write the song. I know this is true because I saw Gabriel live last night in London and he told us that was why he wrote the song. He also said that Bremner's story was the inspiration for Scorsese to create the film Taxi Driver
    As some of you have intimated, Gabriel has developed the situation and proposed the scenario of a broken marriage and a young boy desperate for love and attention from his parents who are obviously splitting up. The scenario with the Motorcade and the concealed weapon do indeed reflect the JFK assassination but they could also be applied to some of the many other assassination attempts which litter US history.
    Prior to last night's concert, Gabriel asked his fans who frequent his website to choose a list of ten favourite songs for him to perform at the gig. He explained that since there was no new album to promote he just wanted to know what his fans wanted to hear. Just before he performed 'Family Snapshot' he explained the inspiration for the song, as I have said above, and then told us that it was the song which had received the MOST VOTES. I was surprised by this because I expected songs like 'Sledgehammer'to be the most popular with his fans. He played the following songs (and some more I didn't recognise - Call myself a Gabriel fan! I'm embarrassed to say...):

    No Self Control
    Blood of Eden
    Solsbury Hill
    Family Snapshot (of course)
    Lay Your Hands on Me
    Steam (Brilliant crowd rouser)
    I Don't Remember
    Sledgehammer (1st encore)
    In Your Eyes (2nd encore)


  • Patrick from Ny, NyThe story of the song most resembles the JFK assasination but don't write that off as being the only objective of the lyrics. Gov. Wallace is part of it also. Gabriel is really illustrating the fanatical assasin's personality disorder which leads him to this disasterous event. Gabriel offers the explanation- the murderer's deep sense of emptiness and neglect as a result of his upbringing; and how his childhood was so deprived of attention and affection, that a personality was created who only saw the world from the outside looking in. The assasin needed this crime, be it on a political figure or celebrity, to make himself exist in a world he never felt a part of. To think some people write songs about holding hands.
  • Jackie from Virginia Beach, VaLonely child the assassin remembering his past in one of those "in focus" moments after the shot.
  • Jenny from Chicago, IlThe song ends where the story begins. This man was a lost child. For whatever reason he was shunned. Even by his parents. This is what made him need his existence on this earth to be recognized.
  • Mike from Alexandria, VaI agree it's the JFK assasination, though it can also be generic, referring to "all the lone-gunman/nut jobs of the last half century." Looking at the lyrics, it says "And the governor's car is not far behind," but it doesn't say it's a seperate car than "then one I've got in mind."
    Not that I want to take it too seriously...
  • Ji from Las Vegas, NvWhile inspired by the Bremmer book, it is certaily about JFK. The Governor's car is right behind the bikers to the front. But to make rhymes and to "talk in pictures not in words" any songwriter has the liberty to alter a story to fit the needs of the composition. So for literalists don't take it so seriously and for symbolists, stay real.
  • Steven from Conyers, United StatesI always thought that this was about JFK...
    Govs. car behind ( althought Gov. was in car with JFK. Motorcycles out in front...
    as I recal Oswald did have a radio..
    but it does refer to a moving target... Wallace was standing..
    Could be a mixture too... Great sad song about what family breakups can do to kids...
    so... make damn sure you are ready to marry and have kids
  • Jana from Lee, NhThis is a striking, powerful song. I love it, the lyrics and music are just amazing. WOW, PETER :) !!!
  • Archie from Tyne, United StatesRight this song is phenomenal. The lyrics and structure of the sound. Have you realised when the Assassin is plotting his advantage point the musics soft and quiet, but when the govener arrives the music builds up to the point in which the bullet is fired "And let the bullet fly" This has all been written from the perspective of the killer.
    The lyric "As i burn in to your memory cells" is brilliant. I believe its the idea that this is going to be so catastrophic your never going to gorget it all will know about it.
    Also when he sings "I dont really hate you, i dont care what you do, we were made for each other me and you, i want to be somebody you were like that too" I think thats so perfect. The idea that this assassin believes this killing will make him into someone with very little knowledge of who this person is or what he is like.
    The end of this song confuses me when Gabriel talks about the small boy. I thought that this could be about the children of the victim, now alone and without a father but i cant put a meaning on the idea of a toy gun maybe its trying to represent that this child is young.
    I also thought that it could be the asassing crying out for support. Maybe his parents or family died. "I shoot into the light" This also seems to be the idea that the asassin has left the scene or has killed himself in order to be with his family.

    These are just some thoughts i had on the song.
  • Tobes from Uk, Iom, Englandhey matey...thats the beauty of the song...u think it is a JFK thing...but it is a little boy who doesnt want his family to split !!!!!!

    I have listened to it now for all my life..

    No song has ever made an impact like this in my life
  • Justin from Felts Mills, NySad song, but a beautiful lyrical work nonetheless.
  • Josh from Dover, OhIt seems to me that this song could also apply to the JFK assasination. The lyrics refer to cavalcades, distance, a sniper setting, and the fact that the governor was in the cavalcade also, and the "shooter" didn't want to shoot the governor, he wanted to shoot "the Man of the Hour", which also points to JFK. Any info is appreciated.
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