Peter Gabriel: Well, I sort of fell into human rights, really. You know, I came from a comfortable background. And then, when I put my calling card in, I think, was when I wrote the song “Biko.” I’ve been interested in what goes on in the world. When Steve Biko was arrested, a lot of people thought that the publicity surrounding his arrest would be enough to protect him. So there was a real sense of shock when we heard that he’d died or been murdered.
I was questioning, at the time, whether this was something that I could do. You know, there was a lot of flack in this country if you come from a middle-class background or a comfortable background. It’s often from middle-class journalists who want working-class heroes. But in the backwater that is Britain, we get very hung up on all this sort of stuff. But it made me question whether I could write an overtly political song and be taken seriously. I was friendly with Tom Robinson, who had been a sort of outwardly very vocal gay activist. He had a song, “Sing If You’re Glad to Be Gay.” And I remember Tom saying to me, “Actually, if you get attention and money going in the right direction, who gives a —” you know? “Let’s just get on with it.” And that was good advice.
But as soon as that song was out, I was asked to do Amnesty things. And U2 were doing a “Conspiracy of Hope” tour in ’86 in America. So Bono wanted me to get out there. And I took over his role in ’88, trying to hustle musicians into doing this “Human Rights Now!” tour with Jackie Lee. And it was a sort of life-changing experience for many of us because, you know, human rights means something you read about, see in the Guardian newspaper. But we hadn’t really met many people around the world that had been tortured or lost loved ones. And suddenly, there they were, and they were talking to us. It’s very hard then, at that point, to walk away. I found it very compelling, and I was also shocked that people could go through some of these experiences and then have their horrors totally denied, buried, and forgotten.