Sunday, September 7, 2014

Drummer Takes Over Genesis, No One Notices AKA That First Intoxicating Taste Of Horse Tranquilizer

Usually, when a band announces that it will be replacing its departing lead singer with its drummer, that is not a good sign.

When Phil Collins became the new front man for Genesis, I'm sure many had their doubts. "Yeah, right, and why didn't Ringo front the Beatles?" It was a plan so crazy, it just might work. Well, as with Pink Floyd after the loss of Syd Barrett, Genesis not only survived, but thrived: while The Lamb Dies Down On Broadway peaked at #10 in the UK and #41 in the US, A Trick Of The Tail peaked at #3 in the UK and #31 in the US, while Wind & Wuthering peaked at #7 in the UK and #26 in the US. It kind of makes you wonder, besides wearing funny costumes, how much Peter Gabriel actually did. I mean, when the Doors recorded those albums without Jim Morrison, you definitely noticed.

The reason nobody noticed is because Genesis, for a couple of albums at least, sounded exactly the fucking same. It may seem odd to say it (after so many years of solo stardom for each of them), but back then, Phil Collins' voice sounded a lot like Peter Gabriel's. Do a blind taste test, and see if you can tell the difference. And again, I'm not trying to be contrarian, but I think I actually like A Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering more than the Gabriel albums. Seriously! The music sounds more relaxed, more spacious, not quite so busy, not so self-consciously "arty." Yeah, fine, I guess the lyrics aren't quite as "intellectual," but Peter Gabriel can go save his rock operas about Puerto Rican New York street hustlers for someone else; I just want to hear some tasty prog-pop hooks.

Which is not to say that post-Gabriel Genesis didn't have its thematic inspirations. Initially, I assumed the lyrics on Tail and Wind were simply fanciful, fairy tale imagery, but in his disturbingly candid and riveting memoir In The Air Tonight, Collins reveals their surprising origins:
  • "Dance on a Volcano" was actually "Dutch slang for having to take an extra-fiery shit. We used to say, 'Gentlemen, excuse me, I have to go 'dance on a volcano,' if you know what I mean.'"
  • "Entangled" was actually about "a particularly unfortunate bondage session with a 73-year-old deaf woman in Tokyo. See, with S&M, communication is key."
  • "Robbery, Assault & Battery" was "actually about a real robbery, assault & battery. Tony and I were in Jacksonville, huffing Alligator pee, and we robbed a 7-11 with a crowbar and some jumper cables. I beat the daylights out of a clerk with a can of WD-40. Took the two best lawyers in Florida to get us out of that one."
  • "One for the Vine" was about "two little orphan kids my uncle used to keep in a cage in his basement. He'd walk down there and feed them plant food. He used to dangle it from a little dropper, and he'd give a drop to the kids, and then he'd give some to the ivy that was growing all over the wall. So he used to say, 'One for the children, and one for the vine.'"
  • "Your Own Special Way," often referred to as Genesis' first proper love song, was actually an ode to a particularly insatiable groupie with custom-made dentures. "She had her own special way, all right."
  • On the other hand, certain songs with evocative titles were simply products of creative license. "'Blood on the Rooftops,' I didn't get that from anything, I just pulled it out of thin air. No blood, no rooftops."
And so, the little drummer that could became the little front man that could, surprising everyone in the universe, even himself. But if it seems like it was a win-win situation for all concerned, the ugly truth is that the transition came at a price:
Being the drummer was like attending university on a full scholarship. All the perks of adulthood, none of the drawbacks. You could drink all night, shag all day, pound the skins, crash on the floor, and nobody expected any different. Playing with house money. Being the front man was like graduating at 23 and heading straight into a position the bank. The party was over.

Night after endless night, the demands never ceased. "Phil, the equipment's missing!" "Phil, the record label thinks the new album cover is offensive!" "Phil, I'm pregnant with your child, and so is my cousin!" After a while, I just couldn't deal. Like many rock and roll legends before me, I sought out some ... assistance.

At first, it wasn't a big deal. Tony always had a bottle of uppers he used to carry around, just some run-of-the-mill amphetamines. We had a show in Indianapolis and I was wiped out. I took a couple to get through it. That was all right for a little while. One night in Pittsburgh I cut my skull on a hatchet (during some rougher than usual cos-play with a Mongolian call girl), and I could barely crawl out of bed the next morning. They gave me a dose of lidocaine and some valium and shoved me out there. I couldn't understand why the audience was turning into a bunch of toads and badgers, but Mike told me later I was merely hallucinating. Apparently we played well. Funny, I've never read Wind in the Willows.

But still, I needed something to give me that "jolt" I was really looking for. Whatever I tried, it just didn't have that "kick," that certain "dazzle." There was show in Miami. Due to go on in three hours. I'd gotten into a bout of fisticuffs the night before with the father of a 15-year-old cheerleader (she told me she was 19, there was an ostrich involved, etc. etc.). I felt like eight dog turds stacked on top of each other. I was passed out in the hotel lobby when a janitor tapped me on the arm.

"You OK?"

It was a Cuban fellow, with a gold necklace and a tattoo of a cross on his arm.


"You look malo, man, muy malo."

"Huuh? What do you want? What is it?"

"You in that group, yes? Los Genesis?"

"Yeah. Got a show in two hours."

He let out a laugh. "You? Show in dos horas? Dos horas? You not ready for no show, man." Suddenly he leaned in and whispered to me. "I got something can help."

"Look, pal, I'll handle it. Just stay out of my business."

"You do concert no problem." He then pulled an opaque brown vial out of his pocket. "These little ninos ... like power from los dioses."

"I don't want it."

"Hey man, is your funeral."

I held out my hand, he dropped a few tablets into my palm, and I groggily slid them into my pocket.

"You need more? You look for Julio." And with that, he jiggled his key ring and headed to the storage closet.

"Smartass," I muttered to myself. But after denting the leather seat for another hour, I stumbled to the bathroom and wiped my face over the sink. I stared into those sunken drummer eyes. "What the hell." I popped two tablets into my mouth and stuck my lips under the faucet.

We were doing a sound check. Just as I began to sing a snippet of "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," it ... hit me. This feeling. It was like ... an electricity and gasoline blood transfusion. It was like if sex and death went to college together - and studied the same major. My eyes became laser beams, my arms became jackhammers, my legs became pistons. I thought to myself, "Dear God, I am not a praying man, but I will do whatever you ask, pay any price, suffer any burden, as long as you let me feel this way for the rest of my life."

They say it was one of the greatest Genesis concerts of all time. We played a 96-minute version of "Supper's Ready" - 28 of those minutes consisting of my drum solo. Over the years, at least five different couples have confessed to me that after they returned home from that concert, they conceived a child. From the first note to the last, magic was in the air.

The next morning, I rushed down to the lobby. Where was that blasted janitor? Suddenly I heard a whistling in the hallway.

"Ah, Senior Collins! You do a good show last night! I never see drumming like this, not even in Cuba."

I pulled him into an open closet. ""What is it?" I demanded.

"What is what? Why you whisper, man?"

"What is it?"

"Ah, you mean my little helper friends." He slowly grinned.

"Don't play games, just tell me what it is!"

"As long as it works, why you care?"

"Fine, I don't care, just give me some more."

"Maybe I run out, maybe I don't have no more."

"You've got a boatload of that shit, do I look like an idiot?"

"I no answer that question. But no more freebies, Senior Collins."

"Yeah, OK, whatever you want, we'll figure something out."

In the back of my mind, I still couldn't shake my curiosity. Was it some kind of amphetamine, maybe laced with a narcotic, touched off with a hallucinogen?

"Seriously Julio, where did you get this stuff?"

"You ever go racing?"

"What, like car racing?"

"No, horse racing."

"Once or twice. Why?"

"I have connections, at the race track. My pequeña helper friends ... they not made for people."

Suddenly Julio held his hands out in the air, as if he were holding on to two reins, tilted his head back, and made a whinnying sound.

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