Chris McDonnell on The Sand Dunes
I first encountered Light—the real Light—in the halcyon days of SCHISM’s ‘Roses and Thorns’ tour. Not that I could afford to go—I was living in small-town America with nary a SCHISM concert in sight. Rather, I was introduced to Light on videotape in my now ex-girlfriend’s basement. Jen and I spent a lot of time there that summer, trading kisses and lip gloss and gossip about everything queer I had never known. Someone had handed her the videotape at a local flea market alongside some healing crystals and The Lesbian Kama Sutra. I remember the tape was warm from her hand when I took it from her to read the label up close.
Light: Uncensored. SCHISM. Madison, Wisconsin. 8/11/91.
Uncensored. My girlfriend had brought home porn before from that flea market, but it seemed strange that she might bring home porn that was marked with the date and location. The quizzical look I must have given her thankfully inspired her to fill in the gaps for me.
“SCHISM is Peter Lefavre’s band. You know, the guy who used to be in The Sand Dunes.”
I couldn’t visualize what the band looked like in my mind, but I nodded as though I totally understood. Jen took the tape from me and slipped it into the VCR. Together, we watched Light.
Since then, Light: Uncensored has become widely available on the internet. Nowadays, queer teens and twenty-somethings don’t need their own Jen to hand-deliver Peter’s secrets to them. YouTube’s algorithm feeds them hundreds of hours of old SCHISM footage alongside detailed lyrical analysis of Light’s songs. Fifty years after Light’ s release, the album inspires debate over its meaning as intense as if it were released yesterday.
When I first proposed writing about Light, I told the folks at Continuum that I was disinterested in countering any personal meaning fans have found in this music. Nevertheless, conducting my own personal interviews and archival research has imbibed these songs with deeper meaning for myself and the queer people in my life. Here, I intend to present Light the way that I now see it—without claiming that it is the way that Light should be seen.
Consider all of this an optional detour in your own musical journey.
Seeking Some Sunshine
Light opens with ‘Seeking Some Sunshine,’ a summery track that is, by now, an informal anthem for a number of towns on the west coast. Here, Peter continues his mission to breathe life into the iconic all-American image of California. This ever-present delight with the state can be traced back to the Sand Dunes’ first national tour, during which the New Jersey natives visited California for the very first time. Peter, the perpetual outsider looking in, adores everything he sees.
The influence of the Los Angeles music scene cannot be understated. Here: a taste of ‘Be My Baby’ with liberal usage of castanets. There: a call back to their origins as car enthusiasts—I was directionless on route 66. Yet there is something unmistakably new, an addition to the canon as well as a reflection upon it. Peter and co. know that you know the California sound and are eager to synthesize the best of it for you.
Peter’s unique talent for mixing in mono is in full force. The track lists over a dozen instruments, including several bells, whistles, and the laughter of a child—Jacob’s son, James. Like Brian Wilson and Phil Spector both before and alongside him, Peter embraces the wall of sound approach, doubling or tripling instruments on Capitol’s dime. Alongside the typical session musicians—Carol Kaye, as always, is a standout bassist—sound engineer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Thomas and Peter’s now-wife, the percussionist Caitlin Lefavre, fill in on the guitar and drums, respectively.
“‘Seeking Some Sunshine’ was a real ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ track,” says Peter. “We wrote the core of it on a long car ride from New York City to California—Richard, Caitlin, and me in the spring of 1965. Then we recorded instrumentals, neat and tidy, with the Wrecking Crew that summer. Those sessions really made the record what it was. When the Dunes returned from touring in Japan that August, we recorded their vocals in studio. They brought fresh ideas along with their voices so—those got incorporated too.”
These “fresh ideas” were to become a core struggle at the heart of Light. Previously, the bulk of the band’s writing had been subject to everyone’s approval. Now, it seemed, Peter had created an entire album without them. His older brother, Jacob, spearheaded much of this conflict and, unfortunately, passed away in 1999. However, David Lefavre (the youngest of the three brothers) was willing to fill in some of the blanks on the rift between the two members.
“Peter and Jacob either shared the same brain or they didn’t as writers. A lot of the time, Jacob viewed Peter’s exploration of the unfamiliar as his attempt to wrest control of the writing away from him. On ‘Seeking Some Sunshine,’ Jacob felt like he was in familiar territory. They had a lot of fun on that one and played off of each other. Some of the other tracks…not so much. And since Jacob sang lead most of the time and had the best range of all of us, he could boycott creative choices very effectively, and even stall entire days of production if he really wanted to.”
Save the conflict for later. Naïve, uncomplicated joy is palpable in ‘Seeking Some Sunshine.’ Lyrically, it reflects contrasting themes of old settings and new beginnings. The narrator desires to go home even while hungry for new faces and new friends. One can’t help but wonder what the Sand Dunes thought when Peter urged them to sing with feeling about losing three and gaining two.
“Personally, I thought Peter might have lost his mind,” says David.
‘Left Unsaid’ is a deceptively simple track in comparison to the record’s strong opener. The listener is pulled into a state of contemplation—the sea as an entity of melancholy. Here, we catch a glimpse of the flip side of ‘Sunshine’s joy. The narrator is intimidated by their new beginnings and frightened of their own vulnerability and visceral humanity. They connect with the silent grief of nature—the loss of the tide and the waning of the moon. Yet there is comfort in this shared knowledge of the things left unsaid.
The standout of ‘Left Unsaid’s instrumentation is its use of percussion. Here, there is a level of calculation in the noisemaking, a reverence for the subtle sounds of nature. The wash of the tide and the pitter-patter of rain flow under the song’s vocals. By the end of the song, the crest of the ocean nearly overpowers them before it trails away, dragging the song’s melancholy along with it.
In contrast to the blended sound of the opening track, ‘Left Unsaid’ primarily belongs to Jacob. He shows off his range—an impressive three octaves, at that point—by starting low and ending high. Today, the song (when played live) is pushed towards the end by the soprano of Peter’s wife, Caitlin.
“It just seemed like the natural progression,” says Peter “Caitlin sang on the demo because I could barely hit those notes when the song was written. When SCHISM toured Light in ’91 for the 25th anniversary, it didn’t even cross my mind that she wouldn’t sing on it again. I think the song has a certain femininity to it that comes through better with her voice than it does in Jacob’s recording anyway. Though, of course, I think he did a good job for what it was.”
An article in NME dating to 1991, “New Beginnings? How Peter Lefavre’s SCHISM Tour is Redefining the Re-release,” interviewed Caitlin Lefavre about the change.
“It was really groovy getting into rehearsals and looking at all this old music. When we started to play—Peter, Rich, Laci, Jerry, and me—there was a lot of talk about the demos, the original release, and then us + the new blood. You can hear a lot of that on Left Unsaid and other songs too. There’s a mixture of masculine and feminine in both the original demo and in the band we ended up creating together. Everything old feels new again.”
Pretty (I See You) [alt title: Pretty for You]
‘Pretty (I See You)’ is, in layman’s terms, a bop. It was first demoed as ‘Sha-La-La’ for 1963’s Golden State Summer before ultimately being scrapped during a rather heated Sand Dunes recording session in late 1962. Left to his own devices, Peter pulled the song back out of the vault. Richard recalls operating as a sounding board for ‘Pretty (I See You)’ as well as numerous other songs on Light.
“Peter and I both came to California with notebooks of songs that, for whatever reason, weren’t working. Sometimes we’d talk them through when we were hitting a wall with new stuff. With ‘Sha-La-La,’ Peter said that he’d never been happy with the lyrics, which made it hard to fight for the song once conflict about it came up in the studio. So, we tried to find lyrics that matched how passionate he felt about the song,” says Richard.
Peter’s first attempt at a total rewrite, demoed as ‘Pretty for You,’ far improves upon ‘Sha-La-La’s lyrics. Originally a song about teenage love and pining, ‘Pretty for You’ becomes a manifesto about transforming oneself for a lover. The narrator’s object of affection is de-gendered but the narrator is very much not. Lines like fell for someone just like me / he she ours we and wanna be pretty for you speak powerfully to queer desire in a way that is surprisingly explicit, even in the present day.
Unfortunately, the Sand Dunes took issue with the unearthing of ‘Sha-La-La’ from the collective vault upon their return from Japan. Jacob was the partial author of ‘Sha-La-La’s original lyrics, and he disliked the erasure of his contributions to the song.
In a controversial 2001 interview with NME, Sand Dunes keyboardist Michael Thomas discussed the past and present of the highly-contested tune.
“Jacob thought Peter might have turned ‘Sha-La-La’ into ‘Pretty’ out of spite. He accused Peter in studio of doing it to laugh at him which killed a whole day of recording time. In the end, they spent a long weekend in Peter’s basement, going through Light’s lyrics and, you know, cleaning some of them up to make them less funny. We had to re-record a handful of songs after that long weekend but it was worth it because after those sessions the songs were a lot better. It’s weird to me now that Peter seems to be performing changed-up lyrics at his concerts because I prefer the official ones, honestly,” said Michael.
It’s true that the censored lyrics aren’t necessarily inferior. 1966’s ‘Pretty (I See You)’ is not devoid of ambiguity, the queer ‘je ne sais quoi’ at the heart of many of Peter’s songs with the Sand Dunes. The narrator becomes fixated on their lover, amazed by her fluidity and grace. Feminine imagery pervades the text – the draw of a sweet summer dress, the scent of a daisy behind your ear, the distant longing of pretty…I see you. The question of whether the narrator is entranced with the girl or her femininity—or, perhaps, both—is not answered.
Sonically, the song is incredibly similar to the original ‘Sha-La-La’ though the Wrecking Crew’s expertise outstrips the 1962’s instrumentation by a mile. Hal Blaine takes lead in primary percussion so that Caitlin Lefavre can augment it with a sharp whap! whap! whap! on the tambourine. Tommy Tedesco takes lead on electric guitar with Richard Thomas playing acoustic underneath, keeping the feverish pace. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, but one can’t help but feel as though the jaunty beat is hiding the deep undercurrent of queer longing that Peter wished to share with the world.
“I really like that song—all the versions of it,” says Peter. “Would I say it has some sort of dark undercurrent…well, it’s a song about desire, which is always a bit primal, when it comes down to it. The feeling of wanting—it’s buried deep in your brain. However people want to interpret that is up to them.”
Because You Want It
In contrast to ‘Pretty (I See You),’ the album’s fourth track, ‘Because You Want It’ pulls the listener in with its slow pace. The narrator’s anxiety, ever-present in the first three tracks, gives way to acceptance of the unknown. There is a power deference to a presumed greater knowledge of a lover with the song trailing off into a litany—because you want it…because you want it…because you want it. Themes of self-discovery pervade—though notably, ‘Because You Want It’ was never censored. One gets the feeling that the song holds back not out of fear, but privacy. The sensuality here is sacred, and thus it is partly concealed.
Jacob leads again on this track, allowing the melody to glide across his bright vocals. His vocals are doubled brilliantly, Jacob enunciating different syllables on each take to produce a more complex sound. Behind him, Peter, Michael, and David’s vocals ebb and flow. Crucially, the song operates in two keys, the bass guitar and baritone vocals at odds with the overlay of tack piano, guitar, and a lovely, jazzy saxophone. One cannot help but notice that it is Peter’s raspy baritone humming alongside Jacob’s bass guitar, itself an insistence based around the idea that, as a band, they should play their own instruments. There is obvious tension here, a wrestle for control baked into the text.
‘Because You Want It’ was retooled for 1991’s ‘Roses and Thorns’ tour and has stuck to that version ever since. Little has changed, save for its more simplistic arrangement and the pronoun changes in each verse. The song is no longer only aimed at ‘she/hers/herself’ but a ‘he/him/himself’ as well. It suggests an equitable polyamorous situation rather than a love triangle. Debate has raged ever since about who, exactly, this polycule includes.
In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter discussed speculation about his love life in relation to his music:
“It’s always a bit weird when people are clamoring to know exactly who a song is about. When you’re writing a song, there’s a lot of self-absorption there, because you spend so much time with it and spend so much money on it in the studio. So to claim, ‘Oh, this song is about someone else,’ isn’t really the whole truth. The song you end up making is always ultimately about yourself, with maybe a bit of universal truth slipped in if you can pull back and see outside of the limited perspective it takes to write an album from start to finish.”
Whether or not this answer is satisfactory is up to the reader to decide. At the time of this writing, nobody is spilling the beans so…pick the take that suits you and toss out the rest.
Adam Eve & the Tree [alt title: Adam, Eve, the Snake, & the Tree]
‘Adam Eve & the Tree’ is Peter’s first foray into psychedelic rock—one of many songs about hallucinogen use in his long career. As previously shown, Peter is notoriously cagey about giving exact answers to the meaning behind his songs. However, he has been very open about incorporating mushrooms and LSD into his creative process, both as a creative suggestion and as a warning about potential overuse or abuse.
“I’ve seen a lot of people gain so much from the use of drugs for creativity,” says Peter. “I’ve also seen people fall into the deepest holes of their lives from overuse. Balance, I think, is important. Having friends who don’t talk you into using too much. I’ve been very lucky to always have friends like that.”
As discussed by other music historians (most authoritatively in 1999’s The Sand Dunes Anthology), Peter’s usage of the word “always” may be doing some heavy lifting depending upon whether or not one considers alcohol a drug. Nevertheless, Peter’s first time being exposed specifically to mushrooms occurred midway through the initial writing sessions with Richard Thomas and Caitlin Lefavre in 1965. Many of the scribbled notes of these sessions were taken by Caitlin Lefavre, who was considered to have the best handwriting.
Adam and Eve, the rib of a woman from the man, put it back and what do you get, something in between. Did the snake come before this could happen, to steal this transformation away. Is this the true origin of shame, the separation without reunion into one flesh.
But then why is it even Adam and Eve, where is the origin of that, would there be temptation to even eat fruit if there were—you know. Maybe another Adam, another Eve. Or someone in between to join them.
Violin—triplet of high G, then descend in an arpeggio.
Ravi Shankar should play sitar, is he in town?
Cowbell. Beat—eighth eighth eighth eighth. Figure out time signature later.
The original track, dubbed ‘Adam, Eve, the Snake, & the Tree’ is reflective of these transgressive ideas. It is a smorgasbord of queer themes—the rough arms of Adam round my chest , the apple-red lipstick smeared up to my cheek , a smooth croon on your bones in my body/I feel you there . A range of unorthodox instruments blend together on the track – sitar, sleigh bells, flicked plastic bottles, and traditional electric guitar among many others. Even devoid of the Sand Dunes’ harmonies, the demo is gorgeous. It also was quite obviously never built to last. Such a transgressive song was a guaranteed career death sentence, a fact that the Sand Dunes reminded Peter of upon their return.
In a candid 1992 interview with GQ, Jacob Lefavre discussed his perspective on Peter’s drug use during the production of Light as well as the censorship of ‘Adam, Eve, the Snake, & the Tree.’
“In Peter’s last tour with us before leaving to go make Light, he was very judgmental about anyone using any substances—weed, alcohol, everything. Had recently gotten out of the partying lifestyle and thought everyone else should too. Caused a lot of tension, honestly. We were all shocked to find he’d gotten into mushrooms while we were away. And on top of that he was using them to write the most ridiculous, obscene lyrics we’d ever heard. I can barely believe he’s touring them now,” he said.
It is an undeniable fact that the original lyrics to what would become ‘Adam, Eve, and the Tree’ are superior to the bowdlerized version. At every turn, the song is censored. Adam becomes Eve; lipstick is on her cheek; her body is in my body. The final version is nevertheless gorgeous, voices overlapping, swelling into deep crescendos before pulling back into sharp decrescendos.
Whether a completed arrangement was worth it if it meant sacrificing the true meaning of the song is up for each listener to decide.
Few other one-word descriptors suffice to explain the energy of ‘Stay, Baby’ except horny. ‘Stay, Baby’ is so confident in its unabashed horny energy that one may wonder if Peter believed he invented the concept of horniness with this song. In contrast to the softly sensual ‘Because You Want It,’ ‘Stay, Baby’ is unafraid of its own sexuality. Stay, baby, the night with me / one, two, three. Still, Peter resists the urge to get too explicit. This is not a play-by-play of sexual acts, but an invitation to four minutes of raw desire.
Deliciously, the music fills in the horny gaps where the lyrics don’t reach. Saxophones and trumpets whine with lust. Hal Blaine bangs an enormous drum, the rhythm reminiscent of a heartbeat. David Lefavre takes the lead, inhaling sharp breaths here and there. His voice carries the song all on its own.
“I actually fought for that one to stay as it was,” says David. “Peter showed it to me before anyone else, saying that I would be singing on the lead. When Jacob and Peter came back from their rewrite session, I said, ‘Why did you rewrite this?’ Because the original version really wasn’t bad in comparison to the other songs that got rewritten. Jacob got in sort of a stormy mood over that one but by that point he had noticed the bill going up every day we were stalling in studio so…we kept it as it was.”
On tour, Laci Chapman makes use of her electric keyboard to replicate the brass section found in the original song. Peter’s voice, always prone to a rock-and-roll growl, turns the song rougher just by virtue of being himself. Other than this, little has changed for tour—an obvious departure from the norm.
“We love this one!” said Peter in a 2001 recording. “If you know the words—please, love it with us tonight.”
‘Light’ opens the B-side of Light, setting the tone for the entire back half of the album. It sits in clear contrast to the A-side opener, ‘Seeking Some Sunshine,’ whose ideas about sunshine and connection and home now seem small in comparison to new lyrics about the transcendent awesomeness of love. Light has given the listener plenty of information as to what led to this utter revelation—and yet hearing the outcome only makes the listener want to know more about what inspired this piece of music. Naturally, ‘Light’ has been analyzed so thoroughly by musicians, fans, pop culture scholars, and conspiracy theorists that it’s difficult to summarize it in a way that adds anything to the discourse.
“When we were writing ‘Light’, we weren’t thinking—‘oh, in fifty years people are going to be talking about what this means.’ We made the music we wanted to hear, and sometimes it just sounded like that,” says Peter.
The way it sounds can only be described as a ray of light bursting through the clouds. Peter, David, Jacob, and Michael fall into four-part harmonies, the sound of which has been fattened by subsequent recordings of the same harmonies. They are eventually joined by strings, woodwinds, and some spare percussion before the track fades out, almost embarrassed of how much it has shown its own hand.
To date, three authorized versions of ‘Light’ exist—the 1965 demo, the 1966 release, and the version performed live by SCHISM since the year 2000. SCHISM significantly retooled the song prior to 2000’s ‘Traveling SCHISM’ tour, interspersing 1966’s recorded harmonies with a more acoustic, mixed-voice arrangement that included new lyrics. Fortunately, the first reveal of this arrangement of ‘Light’ was caught on tape.
“I just want everyone in this room to feel okay,” Peter says shakily into the microphone. The room goes silent—a rarity at Peter’s concerts. He gives off a little smile, seeming both encouraged by and scared of the crowd’s reverence. “This song…it’s about feeling okay for the first time. If you haven’t been there, I hope this can get you there for a little while.”
2000’s version of ‘Light’ is more explicit than 1966’s, throwing in a ‘fucking’ and a ‘fuck’ that crack against his voice on each recording. Here: and I’m wearing my dress versus the censored demo’s and I’m wearing your dress and the original release’s and I’m feeling the best. There: and he’s in my bed // and he’s in my head // and she’s in my head.
“Richard and I worked a lot on this track—the original and the retooling of it,” says Caitlin Lefavre. “We always tried, even when we couldn’t say exactly what we wanted, to never tell a lie in the music. So, when the time came to fix it up for a new tour, we all agreed that we were ready to tell the whole truth.”
The rewrite wasn’t only lyrical. 2000’s ‘Light’ extended its run time to allow each member of the band time to shine—an obvious embrace of each member’s unique skill set and intense fan base. Peter’s chosen family is as talented as his original studio team, and he wants you to know that he thinks so.
“I really liked that we added a guitar solo. That was pretty groovy,” says Richard Thomas.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
After the intensity of ‘Light,’ Peter wisely tosses in a cover to allow the audience to breathe. This is a throughline throughout side B of the album. Peter intuits the more intense songs on side B need to be broken up by tracks that require a little less thought in order to let the material breathe. This notoriously good pacing on Peter’s records has been a topic of discussion since the 70s, when rock tastemakers decided he was an artist worth taking seriously. Peter laid out his decision-making process in a 1972 chat with Rolling Stone:
“A good album should behave like a gentle tide. You have to pay attention to where it crests and where it falls so that people can really process what they’ve heard. Best to strike a happy medium by contrasting the songs against one another, if you want to be an albums artist rather than just producing and compiling singles.”
The Sand Dunes, themselves singles artists at this point, took this as deliberate provocation. The next month, an “anonymous” letter to the editor (later revealed to be Jacob Lefavre) appeared in Rolling Stone.
It is apaling [sic] what counts for music journalism these days. Allowing a high-profile artist like Peter Lefavre to denecrate [sic] the work of hardworking musicians when he can barely put out an album every 3 years is sickening. He has allowed fame to get to his head and seems to have forgotten where he came from. A whole band full of singles writers. Proffitting [sic] off the backs of many other people. Shame on him for what he said and shame on you for printing it.
– Frustrated in California
Peter, to his credit, never responded negatively to the provocation:
“I was never trying to insult them. They’re all great musicians who put out really good songs after we split. I felt like the industry was moving in a different direction—not just for the Dunes, but for all of the American groups who were putting out compilation albums of their singles. It was fine with me that they seemed to disagree. If they wanted to go back to recording the way we did on our first two albums, that’s their decision. Who am I to judge?”
‘Apple’ is a curious song in that it’s not totally accurate to call it a ‘song.’ Rather, it is an entirely instrumental track—the only one on Light without vocals. Richard Thomas, ever the multi-instrumentalist, had a large hand in making this track what it was.
“Sometimes I just get a sort of feeling and suddenly I can just hear…everything,” he says. “With Apple, all I could think of was the wind in my hair while driving. I had these chimes outside of the condo I was renting when we were in California and they’d make noise when the wind blew. It seemed like they knew just how I felt.”
The result is a wholly lovely track that perfectly reflects the feeling of a summer day without a care in the world. Summer love radiates out of every instrument, producing a heady, romantic feeling. Unusually, Richard himself plays numerous instruments on the released track.
“Nobody else could play it like he played it. His demos really were—and still are—just that good,” says Peter.
Que Sera Sera
It is a curious quirk of history that the Sand Dunes’ cover of Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera Sera’ was the single that was ultimately released from Light. It’s unclear whether the original intent was to make the song masculine for audience consumption or if Peter intended to be transgressive by not changing the pronouns at all. Regardless, the choice to gender the song masculine was made before the Sand Dunes returned from Japan. It is up for debate whether or not this had anything to do with a phone call Peter received around this point in time alerting him of their imminent return.
The cover, of course, is gorgeous. It is far more complex than the original, splitting into four-part harmonies with different boys taking the lead throughout the song. Peter utilizes woodwinds— particularly the piccolo and flute—to infuse the song with a femininity absent from the lyrics.
On tour, Peter never changes the pronouns.
Our Little World (Under the Moon)
The final song on light, ‘Under the Moon,’ is as intense as the opener of side B. As the song opens with electrifying, futuristic sounds, one becomes glad for the covers and instrumentals that cushion the place between ‘Light’ and ‘Under the Moon.’ There is a radical hopefulness here that takes the listener aback. Here: hope the future accepts us / the way that we deserve. There: one day I see us / outside our little world / under the moon. The lyrics don’t reference a specific queerness, and yet queer hope and longing is infused into every note of the song. At the end of the narrator’s journey, there is a new beginning.
‘Under the Moon’ heavily utilizes the electro-theremin as well as whispered words to give the song an extraterrestrial feel. Knowledge of this instrument can be sourced back to Richard, a connoisseur of rare synth instruments at the time.
“A friend of mine introduced me to Dr. Paul Tanner, the creator of the electro-theremin, and I brought news of it back to Peter. When Peter saw it, he went wild for it. We didn’t know what track we would use it for at first, but it wasn’t long into the writing process of ‘Our Little World’ that it became clear we should use it there. Something that sounded a little alien seemed to fit the themes of the song.”
Presumably, Richard is referring to the theme of alienation inherent in this radical hopefulness. Perhaps the narrator and their companions may be accepted in the future, but they aren’t accepted now. This is the eternal queer compromise in hope for a better future—finding pride in one’s isolation, and hoping every day that one might not be isolated anymore.
To represent these conflicted feelings, the song starts off in a minor key, switches to major in the middle, and falls back into minor at the end. Peter takes lead vocals, pouring his heart out in one of his best ever vocal performances. The other boys pop in and out here and there, echoing Peter rather than adding anything of their own.
Unsurprisingly, the queerness that infused the piece sent Jacob into a tizzy. Peter recalls fighting (and winning) his version of the piece in his writing sessions with Jacob.
“We were sat next to each other and I remember him pointing his pencil at the title. He said, ‘We need to change this. There’s something wrong with this one.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ even though I did. He knew that I did and I remember—he crossed out the title. He said ‘All of this is wrong. We can’t do any of it. It’s obscene.’ I said ‘What’s so obscene about it? You can’t find anything wrong, so what’s the problem?’ He didn’t have a clear answer for me so…he circled it, grumbling, and said it could stay. But he never recorded on that track—not a single note. Never toured it either when he was alive—not once. A shame because it really is a crowd favorite. But…that was his business, not mine.”
Any song-by-song analysis of an album is inherently limiting. Though the rest of this book obviously contains information on the more technical aspects of Light, it will never be enough to encapsulate the experience of actually listening to Light for the first time as a queer person. So, I close with another anecdote of my own personal experience.
Long after my relationship with Jen ended, in 2012, I found myself stuck with a persistent feeling that something undefinable was undeniably wrong about my life. I was nearing 40, married to a man, and had children with him. He was (and is) a wonderful partner to me—and yet something was missing. I found myself watching and rewatching old VHS tapes of Light that I had saved for so many years that they were in very poor condition.
There was a certain kinship that I felt with Peter that I couldn’t put my finger on. I started to clock dozens of hours on Sand Dunes forums, striking up several friendships with queer and trans folks I met there. One day, a dear friend took me aside and said—have you ever considered you might be a queer trans man? At that moment, a light went off inside of my head. From then on, it was like looking through the glass rather than watching a screen. I knew I needed to see Peter perform at least one more time before he passed on, so when he came to my town, I bought a ticket right away. I also called Jen for the first time in five years and I said—do you want to go? Together, we went.
Peter was old, but still lively, in 2012—just as he is now. He draped himself with rainbow flags like he had since 2000, though he could no longer run around with them and had to sit down a few times. We weren’t in the front row, so he couldn’t see us. I couldn’t bear the thought of him seeing me, of him knowing how much of a hand he had in my own self-discovery. It felt too intimate, too precious, and I didn’t want what we had to break.
Several songs before the end of the set, Peter paused to speak to the audience. He toyed around with the front row, bending down and complaining about his back. Then, he spoke.
“There are a lot of people who need love tonight. Who need to be understood. One of the most wonderful things in life is true human connection.”
Jen squeezed my hand.
“I don’t know what your life is like outside of this room. But in here, I want you to know that I love you. I want you to feel the love in this room tonight—not just mine, but each other’s. In here, there is love and understanding—that you give me and that you give each other. Thank you for giving love. It is all we have, in the end.”
Then, Peter segued into ‘Our Little World (Under the Moon).’ At the first note of the electro-theremin, happy tears welled up in my eyes. For the first time in ages, I didn’t feel confused or scared about my future. All I felt was hope.
Grayson Cabarle is a full time civil service worker and part time cat enthusiast hailing from New York City. He has previously been published in Euphony Journal and co-hosts the podcast We Blame Harry Styles.