Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Early '70s Prog-Rock Heyday Of Genesis AKA Phil Collins: Sex Fiend

Once upon a time, Phil Collins was just a drummer. And all the continents used to be scrunched together. So they tell me. It's kind of weird to think of Phil Collins as "just" a member of a band, and not even a very important member at that. I mean, he didn't even join Genesis until their third album!

Here's a little context: imagine it's the early '70s, and someone tells you that King Crimson's Michael Giles, the Moody Blues' Graeme Edge, Yes' Bill Bruford, or even Pink Floyd's Nick Mason are one day going to become an '80s Top 40 Singer/Songwriter/Superstar. You'd tell them to go perform a 21-minute drum solo and get the fuck out of here. "And who's the president? Ronald Reagan? Yeah, right, future boy."

But the joke was on all of us, although the punchline wouldn't arrive for years, decades, centuries even. Perhaps the punchline of the Phil Collins saga has yet to truly arrive at all.

Phil Collins singing lead vocals - in 1971! Thought they'd throw the new guy a bone, eh? Little did they realize, they were opening Pandora's Box...

The conventional wisdom is that early Genesis is artistically superior to later Genesis, and that Peter Gabriel is artistically superior to Phil Collins, but as Hall & Oates once sang, I can't go for that. First of all, I'm already halfway inclined to roll my eyes at early '70s progressive rock, despite the fact that I actually like it. The eight minute-long songs, the ostentatious album covers, the adolescent, pseudo-Tolkien lyrics - we all know how this was going to turn out. The most rewarding feature of prog rock is its supposed instrumental and compositional complexity, but given that I am not a musician and I possess essentially zero understanding of music theory, that selling point doesn't go very far with me. In other words, I don't mind if a song is eight minutes long and the musicians are playing something absurdly challenging, as long as it's catchy.

So, Peter Gabriel. I just think he's kind of boring. His lyrics on the early Genesis albums seem vaguely interesting without ever being truly gripping. He paints a lot of pictures, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what any of the songs are actually about. He's got plenty of imagination, but I never feel any sort of intimacy or sense of personal connection. It's like if John Lennon only wrote "I am the Walrus" or "Mean Mr. Mustard" but didn't bother to also write songs like "In My Life" or "Julia." Peter Gabriel could only do the surreal, indirect, mythological thing. And the same goes for the music! There's a lot of stuff happening, but rarely does anything genuinely register. Every time I sneeze I hear a keyboard solo. You know, Pink Floyd also wrote side-long suites that shifted between distinct musical segments, but ... they always had the hooks. Those killer, killer hooks. Early Genesis albums are the kind of albums where, when I'm listening to them, I feel like they'll grow on me with repeated listens. Except I've listened to them four or five times now. I don't know if I'm willing to go so far as to say that later Genesis is "better" than early Genesis, but personally, I don't know if it's any worse. Maybe I'm just a little contrarian bastard, but I don't mind post-Gabriel Genesis, because I was never really in love Gabriel-era Genesis to begin with. Go climb up Solsbury Hill and be done with it already.

At any rate, apparently Phil was the band's secret weapon, because regardless of what I think, according to most rock critics, Genesis hit its artistic stride once he stepped behind that fateful kit. From 1971 to 1974, Genesis released one album per year, and only one of those albums currently receives less than five stars on AMG. Honestly, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Dies Down On Broadway all pretty much sound the same to me, but what do I know? The point is, the band didn't just score with the critics, but the public as well. After Foxtrot, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and - in his own humble, percussionist way - Phil Collins, became stars.

Fame, of course, changes a person. One minute you're just a naive little lad from London, the next minute you're a veritable deity of rock and roll eminence. The benefits kick in: the money, the limos, the clothing, the all-you-can-eat buffets. But along with the benefits come ... the temptations. Perhaps they're one and the same? On the surface, it seems like Phil Collins was one of those rare rock stars who managed to steer clear of the standard showbiz sins. Quite the contrary - particularly in regards to the ladies.

While Phil may have been quite ignorant in the ways of women when he first joined Genesis, he proved a quick study:
I'd had a few awkward, fumbling encounters before - timid public school creatures who'd never pulled their socks down past their ankles, daughters of china shop owners who giggled at the slightest mention of knickers. So, my first tour with Genesis was quite the "initiation," shall we say. It all started with Phyllis and Virginie, otherwise known as the Killer Diller Sisters. The Killer Diller Sisters were actually half-sisters: Phyllis was Jamaican, and Virginie was Jamaican and French-Canadian, but anyway, they were really into doing things with condiments. Phyllis was into mustard, and Virginie was into relish. She "relished" it, if you will. I'll never forget that one night in Munich with a porcupine and an electric screwdriver. Oh Jesus. I went into that tour a boy, but I came back a man.

Yet nothing could have prepared me for the Australian tour with Dandelion. Dandelion was an absolute fiend. Her father was a former KGB agent and she had a thing for torture. After a show in Melbourne, well ... I don't want to incriminate anybody, but let's just say I'll never think of an egg beater the same way again. Not to mention those poor aborigine girls covered in Worcester sauce. I'm pretty sure that would have been illegal in most NATO countries. There was a night with a clamp where Dandelion went a little too far and I broke my toe. I had to take a week off from drumming. I told the press I accidentally fell down the stairs. Looks like they bought it.

Then there was Carmelita. I'd heard Carmelita was bad news, but once you get going with this stuff, it's difficult to stop, you know what I mean? Carmelita was a one-legged Chilean dancer with a fetish for sea creatures. So, we were supposed to fly out to Buenos Aires on Friday, but a storm shut down the airport, Mike and I started drinking some tequila shots, a couple of dares were made, one thing led to another, and before you know it, you're tied to a bedpost with a one-legged Chilean dancer wearing sea anemonies on her breasts. It should have ended there - I mean, a couple of band mates and a drunken late-night escapade in Buenos Aires, no harm, no foul, right? And it would have - if Peter hadn't snuck in with a hand-held Super 8 and filmed the whole nonsense. Silly me, flying out of Buenos Aires the next morning, the odor of mollusks in my hair, thinking I'd never have to worry about Carmelita again. But that sweet, sweet nymph of the tide pools would quickly come back to haunt me.

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