Thursday, January 13, 2005

book: “Turn It On Again – Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins & Genesis”

“Turn It On Again – Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins & Genesis” by Dave Thompson.
Backbeat Books, San Francisco, 2005.

Until their apparent demise in the late ‘90s, Genesis were one of the longest running, most successful music acts in the world, having debuted in 1967. Dave Thompson’s new book covers every decade of their existence, as well as the careers of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, the two frontmen who went on to enjoy equally massive success as solo artists.

Billed as the first book to cover the complete history of Genesis, Thompson’s book is probably the most comprehensive. I haven’t read Robin Platts’ “Genesis: Inside and Out (1967 – 2000)”, which, at 184 pages, can’t be seen as the definitive overview to date.

Thompson truly starts at the beginning, telling the stories about how future members of Genesis met at Charterhouse, an old, exclusive public boarding school, in 1963. Here, kids are taught to feel superior to the common folk and are not just educated, but trained to become leaders. Until 1965, the school’s most famous alumnus was Baden Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement. Jonathan King managed to score a massive world-wide hit with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” which caused some of the students to dream about being pop stars. In a return visit to Charterhouse, he was presented with a demo by an unnamed band and enjoyed the vocals of the lead singer, Peter Gabriel. To christen the start of his career as a music producer, he dubbed the unnamed band Genesis.

keyboardist Tony Banks

There is a mention of how few people thought Peter Gabriel was born to be a performer but instead saw him making a go in fashion. Gabriel found an old hat in his grandfather’s attic, had a manufacturer run off several copies, and sold them in London boutiques. Pop star Marianne Faithful bought one and became a regular customer of his.

The stories behind the albums are all here. Stories behind session albums are also here, including the work Phil Collins did for Pete Townshend and how he asked the Who guitarist if he could replace the Keith Moon, who passed away in 1978. The recording Invisible Touch became the first new rock album to be released simultaneously in vinyl, cassette and CD formats.

Is Genesis finished or on hiatus? It’s seems unlikely that they will record new material again, especially after the disappointment of 1997’s Calling All Stations. It’s not a terrible album, but just not the right album for them, or for vocalist Ray Wilson. Near the end of the book, some of the members ponder getting back together. The author notes that the closest the band came to a reunion of sorts lately was when Phil Collins appeared as best man at Peter Gabriel’s second marriage in 2002. I suspect the unrealistically high expectations that a reunion would generate will be enough to keep them from getting back together in any truly significant way as Genesis. They have nothing left to prove and almost certainly can’t relive the magic that made them seem fresh, inventive and engrossing.

Turn It On Again” is exhaustive in detail, perhaps too much so for the average fan. Surprisingly, the index, while a fair size, is not as appointed as it could have been. The book gives you a terrific overview of the careers of Collins and Gabriel, though, as well as a massive discography.

If you want to loose yourself in a rich, definitive book about Genesis, and the characters behind every incarnation, for now, “Turn It On Again” is the book to buy. You’ll also learn, if you haven’t done so already, that keyboardist Tony Banks is the person most responsible for Genesis.

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