It was a crisp spring afternoon in the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and I was biking back from the gym after a workout. I put my headphones on, and for the first time in my life, was treated to the sound the world would come to know as Genesis in it’s “Peter Gabriel Years.” The sound was intoxicating. After being recently inundated with pop music and it’s pristine lines, clean instrumental differentiation and highly segmented EQing, the beautiful, layered, crowded cacophony that was Genesis made my heart race. It also may have been that I was on a bike and going up a hill that made my heart race, but my heart tells me that it was Peter Gabriel Genesis (henceforward PG Genesis).
I remember the whole experience like it was yesterday. Because it was earlier today. March, 2016.
So here’s the thing, I LIKE Peter Gabriel. I liked him ever since I was 7 and he used claymation in a video about having your face smashed in by a sledgehammer. I like BRITISH THINGS, tea is great, coastlines, hats – the best. I EVEN LIKE MUSIC. I play music, I listen to it, sometimes I eat to it, I usually dance to it, I occasionally make love to it, and I ALWAYS sledgeham to it.
And I’ve HEARD about Genesis for years, I grew up listening to THEM too. And though they were under the Phil Collins tenure for my entire humanoid life, I heard repeatedly, and from myriad sources, that the Peter Gabriel years were much, much better. And I believe almost EVERYTHING other people tell me about music when the theme is “this older thing is better than this newer thing.” (Caveat – I never believe it when rock n’ roll musicians like Eric Clapton and The Rollings Stones talk about how much they love blues that was played by a guy with one string and no hands. All that old blues sucks dick, and the recordings are unlistenable. I think they just do it because as White guys making money on Black music they feel guilty. I’m sure the heirs of Robert Johnson think it makes it all alright.)
This all brings us to the big question – why did it take me to the age of 35 to listen to music which I was pretty sure I would enjoy?! And now that I think I enjoy it, what do I need to know about Genesis? And how can I make YOU understand that YOU probably need to go back and listen to them to?
Let’s start with this – I’ve hired a person on Fiverr.com who’s 2nd (3rd? 4th?) language is English to research the band Genesis and write a book report on the transition from Peter Gabriel to Phil Collins. Let’s all enjoy this together:
The early era of Genesis was fronted by Peter Gabriel. With some people, there’s just no getting around that fact and are completely loyal to early Genesis. They see later versions of the band just as bastardizations of what was once a great band. The band was led by Peter Gabriel without Phil Collins from 1965 until 1971, when Phil Collins and Steve Hackett joined. The band’s recording up until this point differ greatly from their later music – their sound was a mixture of rock and progressive and was characterized by several very long tracks.
Ironically, the death of early Genesis may have been caused by the birth of Gabriel’s first child. Gabriel felt that after having a child that his priorities had changed and that the other members of the band, none of whom had children at the point, couldn’t relate to what Gabriel was going through. As with many bands that find themselves in a position of super fame, there were disagreements within the band on the direction they wanted to take with their music. Gabriel is quoted as saying “there was all this big time stuff happening with long tours being planned way in the future, and I just felt I was getting to be part of a machine. I felt I was becoming a sort of stereotype, sort of ‘rock star,’ or falling into wanting that ego gratification. I didn’t like myself, I didn’t like the situation, and I didn’t feel free.”
Many believe that Phil Collins brought accessibility to the band, and under his leadership, Genesis indeed did bring their music to a wider audience. The band transitioned from very technical, progressive compositions to catchy pop tunes under Phil Collins. The Phil Collins era of Genesis was very much more pop oriented than earlier manifestations of the group. But there still semblances of the older Genesis. They still wrote various songs that were lengthy progressive pieces. Even though the music did drastically change in many ways, it’s unfair to characterize the two versions of the same band so differently.
What the fuck?! I hired this dude to make something I could make fun of, instead he gives me a coherent write-up about the band? Dammit. That was a gold mine of a joke waiting to happen and it blew up in my face. Anyway…
Okay, everyone caught up? The complicated truth is that, no matter how hard we try to understand the inner workings of a band, it’s nearly impossible. I say nearly, because we did one time make a video that maybe helps clear it up:
Did that help?
So now that we’ve tackled the first question – namely, knowing at least what is unknowable, we can move on to the more pressing question which is – why do humans avoid things that they suspect they will like.
I love space. I love disaster movies. I didn’t see Gravity.
I enjoy the music of Ray Charles. Didn’t see Ray.
I enjoy the music of Johnny Cash, but it would have been racist for me to see Walk The Line When I hadn’t seen Ray, so I missed that too.
For heaven’s sakes, I didn’t try plums until I was in my early 20s. And I LOVE prunes. LOVE THEM. From their taste to the way they affect my bowels, to the way their juice was always available at my great-grandmother’s nursing home. And if you like the DRIED version of a fruit, of COURSE you’re going to like the wet version. And yet – two decades without plums.
But reading through the above quote it seems to me that this is exactly what Peter Gabriel went through when he quit the band! They were becoming rock stars! That’s an awesome thing (like a plum!) Which is why he presumably joined a rock band in the first place, and why he presumably kept writing rock music and making rock videos and touring the rock country (okay that last thing isn’t a thing, but still…) So the fact that they were approaching the kind of delicious success that is the purpose of a rock band in the first place, and then he ran away before fully enjoying the success that would have seemed to have been the part that he would have enjoyed most. IT’S THE SAME AS ME AVOIDING PLUMS.
The amazing truth is, that by avoiding the Peter Gabriel years of Genesis even though I knew I would like them, I may just be embracing the path created by Peter Gabriel himself. I guess what I’m trying to say is – PG Genesis is so amazing that I’m going to honor it’s legacy by doing the only thing I can – never listening to it again.