Lit and Crit
An Apostle's Guide to
A new autobiography available on Amazon
gives the singer and Extab a chance to examine his career
by Kevin Salveson
Perhaps the name alone makes you want to wretch just a little bit. It's a natural biological reflex, a system on guard against viruses or vulnerabilities.
Unbelievably, he wasn't always just a boring mega-star dishing treacle to the masses, I swear. Remember? Well, no, of course not. Nearing 2020, there are few alive who can recall the era, so distant now from our own epoch. The narrative has instead become one of casual dismissal, an easy eye roll of a punch-line. Yet Phil won't go away. He has a new autobiography out which you can buy from Amazon here. Guess it's ripe to pose the question: does his music stands the test of time?
Once, Phil Collins was just a regular person like you or me: a kid with some drums sticks and a dream in the 1970's. Believe me, I was there, I saw it happen in real time. I watched him go from the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway to Buster to busted in the eyes of music consumers over the span of a few glorious decades.
Oddly, I feel compelled to come here now and tell the tale as best I can. I know it may not exactly be urgent, but it's something that my conscience has been nagging at me to finish. I like my stories straight and neat (like my whiskey). Factly, a whole music review and rating system (sprinkled with some special features) is the actually the larger aim. This is not just about Phil Collins or Genesis, it's really my subjective tale about a lifetime of listening to and enjoying music.
To fully understand, you have to go all the way back to the 1970's. I was in my formative years during this time. It was a fairly permissive era, to be sure. Everywhere you looked there were double entendres, sex and cocaine jokes in the variety show skits of Sonny and Cher, Nixon caricatures on camera mugging for laugh tracks, glitter pants shaking from star spangled soundstage risers, and women wearing hand-embroidered denim with sequins sewn all through the seams! There were funky space-age flying saucer riding macho-men sporting gold medallions nestled in the bush of their chest hair (shirt unbuttoned down to the navel), rhinestone cowboys, super-freaks, roller disco, hot mamas and sexy grandmas.
My radio was always on. I enjoyed a portable shiny silver Transistor radio by the pool, then a Walkman in the 1980s. Then there was the bedside clock radio which I fell asleep to each night and woke up to each morning. AM Radio: Admiral Halsey and that Band on The Run. FM Radio: Stairway to Heaven and all those growling guitar gods. This was the soup in which I simmered, the hot long dark black-out block-party night of the soul in which I was braised and raised, steamed & served.
Youth culture which had flourished in the 60's became excessive in the 70s in every way imaginable, from the long plush feathered and flowing hair piled up on the heads of so many men to the pooka shells, OP's and bell bottoms rocked by the kids listening to Aerosmith on the playgrounds. Likewise, the women were flawless, lawless and mostly braless from what I could tell on TV. Satiny Dolphin shorts swished from the hips of the ladies in that epic era, and ample bosoms spilled forth unabashedly from clingy polyester tube-tops. It was downright (almost) European.
I grew up in the "rock era" (as my local station KMET helpfully told me), since that was the music my big brothers blasted from their tape deck car stereos. In 1972 Edgar Winter released the 6 minute epic jam called Frankenstein. I was 4. The speaker stack was as tall as I was! My father bought a Heathkit build-your-own stereo amplifier package and by 1974 we were listening to Hocus Pocus by Focus while I watched the tubes inside it glow and pulse with the amperage it was cranking out. Heady stuff, summers that lasted forever, Mantovani on the hi-fi for the holidays, Pink Floyd and Van Halen at top volume when the parents weren't around. Air guitars were fashioned out of tennis rackets; stadium-sized cavorting on the shag carpet in front of an imaginary crowd of millions commenced.
This was a time when prog rock could actually get radio airplay and score a hit, if you can believe it! Playing in a prog rock band was even seen as a respectable job in some quarters, unlike today. Unkempt facial hair was deemed acceptable as a statement of solidarity with the great unwashed (well, some things never change). Bands such as Yes, The Moody Blues, Rush, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were wrapping synth riffs up in bows while noodling around with classical composers and extended instrumental suites.
Into this fray came the progressive rock band Genesis. It was called prog rock because when it was done with live musicians using the technologies of the time such as synths and guitar effects, it seemed something fresh like progress. It pushed rock to incorporate more challenging musical forms. Onward, into the past!
The instruments were from the kid's rock and roll but the intent was to be intellectually stimulating and capable of true musicianship. Their music permitted the odd purrs, hums, squelches, skronks, and buzzes of the new technology in conjunction with the human. Progress was defined in many ways, of course, but in the end it often involved long solos. Sometimes the English were a bit twee and liked to tell mythological tales or tinkle harpsichords or strum lutes, but it was forgiven since they were generally good musicians and Tolkien books were showing up on everyone's shelf at the time anyway.
Genesis was no different in that regard, fronted as it was by an intellectual named Peter Gabriel. Some of their early work might only be for the purists as the group often managed to mix too much lo-fi echo production in with their English handmade costume theater touches and slightly ponderous orchestral jams. Meanwhile, the newness of the sound was supposedly coming from the synths. Truth be told, the patches Banks used were basically just emulations of strings or woodwinds or brass sounds; they weren't Kraftwerk.There were some interesting time signatures courtesy of drummer Collins, and some of it is even good, but it is an acquired taste.
Nonetheless, by the time the band recorded the landmark album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway they had developed a style which was all their own, wrapped up in double-sided narrative fantasies. They featured stage shows about Foxes and adventures in the New York Subways which included outlandish costumes, makeup, drama and whimsy. They were legendary, even operatic.
Then Gabriel let his on-stage face-paint and insectisoid costumes go to his head. He realized that just like the Burger King jingle popular at the time, he could go solo and have it his way. (In fact, he went on to score multiple hits and carve out a fine body of work on his own, no flies on him).
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