Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stevie Nicks And Her Men: A Tale Of Two Duets

Stevie Nicks got around. Like a record, as Peter's tactless co-worker in Office Space might have put it. For instance, after dating her band mate Lindsay Buckingham for several years, she just turned right around and started having an affair with her other band mate, Mick Fleetwood! Jesus, why not sleep with John McVie while you're at it and just be done with it? At any rate, while bedding her way through the Southern California soft rock phone book, perhaps it was inevitable she would have gotten around to Don Henley. Although it may have seemed like a match made in multi-platinum heaven, apparently Henley accidentally got Nicks pregnant, and then demanded she get an abortion. Well if that ain't love, I don't know what is.

So, as with most things in life, the romance didn't last, but a flickering ember or two must have remained, as they recorded the gentle, countrified "Leather And Lace" for Bella Donna, which hit #6 in 1982, and is unfortunately not a song about a young, aspiring figure skater's exploration of S&M.

But I guess Stevie became bored with the sensitive "nice guy" and suddenly needed the touch of the "bad boy." Actually, as far as I know, she and Tom Petty never had a genuine fling, but in the recording studio, they certainly made sweet arena rock love. The title of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" is a textbook example of synecdoche, where the part represents the whole and vice versa, given that if someone actually dragged a person's heart around, it would quickly pop out of that person's chest and he or she would die. Although it appeared on a Stevie Nicks album and did not appear on the concurrent Tom Petty album (Hard Promises), for all intents and purposes, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" was essentially a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song with Stevie Nicks sprinkled on top; Petty and Mike Campbell wrote it, and the Heartbreakers played on it. All Stevie did was just ... show up! But if anyone can just "show up" and take over a song, it is Stevie. 

Maybe it's just me, but does anybody else hear a hint of "Money For Nothing" in there? I keep half-expecting Sting to come in at any moment with "I want my MTV." But actually, thanks to Weird Al, whenever I hear this song, I'll always think of some poor schlub fruitlessly chasing a tow truck.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Surprise Ascension Of Phil Collins To The Genesis Throne AKA The Chilean Dancer's Unexpected Return

And then one day, Peter Gabriel decided he was all that and a bag of Doritos and he quit Genesis to, in the hilariously clueless but strangely accurate words of Patrick Bateman, "start a lame solo career." I mean whatever happened to that Peter Gabriel guy? Well, best of luck, bon voyage Charlie Brown, so on and so forth, but there was just one problem: who was going to replace him?
The group auditioned reportedly over 400 lead singers to find a replacement for Gabriel. Phil Collins, who had provided backing vocals, coached prospective replacements. When the band was about to record the vocals for the album the members came to the realisation that Gabriel's possible replacement just wasn't the voice they needed. Collins asked the other members if he could give it a try.
And that try, ladies and gentlemen, lasted forty years. I suspect that somewhere back in the recesses of that tortured mind of his, Phil Collins still feels as though his whole career has been suspiciously like an audition. But thus began one of rock's great puzzles: why did he do it? For decades, the secret force that motivated this seemingly meek, unassuming percussionist to step into the harsh glare of the spotlight has been shrouded in mystery - until now. If, from an outsider's perspective, it initially appeared as though Phil was quite hesitant to take on front man duties, almost as if he wasn't terribly excited about it in the first place, such an impression was not entirely baseless. For the disturbing truth is that, for all intents and purposes, Phil Collins hardly had any choice in the matter at all.

He was blackmailed. From In The Air Tonight:
After the 396th audition, we sat around the studio, discussing the merits of the latest batch.

"That last one was a bit frilly, wasn't he?"

"Too much chest hair."

"Isn't chest hair what you need in a front man?"

"Well sure, but not that much chest hair."

"What about the bloke before him? He had a bit of a Greg Lake feel, with maybe a touch of Alice Cooper."

"He wasn't so bad. Couldn't hit the high C though."

"So? Peter couldn't hit the high C either."

"Yeah, but Peter never needed to."

"All right, I think we've seen enough for today."

The others gradually left the studio, but I decided to take a last cup of tea. I looked around the empty building and continued to evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of the auditioning singers in my mind, humming softly to myself, quite confident in my privacy. But I was not alone.


I thought I heard a voice from the break room. It had been a long day. Or perhaps Tony had put something funny in the tea.

"Phil!" In the darkness, I began to make out a figure - a familiar figure. It was none other than our former front man.

"Peter! Peter, what are you ... what are you doing here?"

"The others didn't see me, did they?"

"The others? Oh heavens, I didn't even see you."

"Splendid! Then we're alone."

"Peter, I thought you were starting a solo career."

"Oh I am, Phil, oh I am. But why does that preclude me from taking a keen interest in my replacement?"

"I thought you wanted us to handle it."

"And I can see what a deplorable job you've done, too. Mariachi singers? Lebanese folk dancers? Castratis? Is this what's become of my beloved band?"

"We're trying our best, we really are, but you're a hard act to follow."

"Nonsense. There's only one singer who was meant to take over this band, and we both know who that is."


"Phil Collins."

I let out a terrible gasp. "But ... but I couldn't."

"Don't play coy with me. You've wanted it all along."

"But ... I'm just a drummer. And ... and I'm short!"

"The others are just pretenders, Phil. You have the power to move mountains."

I stared into the distance and nodded my head slowly. "Yes. Yes, I have thought about it now and then. I've entertained these childish fantasies. But that's all they are, Peter. In here, I'm a lead singer. But out there ... they'll never accept it."

"That's just the tea talking."

I took another deep breath. "No. I won't do it. It wouldn't be right."

Peter suddenly turned off all the lights. "I knew you'd hesitate." He walked into the closet and rolled out a cart with a film projector on it. "But I'm afraid you have no choice."

He turned the projector on, and there, flickering against the walls of Studio B, I saw myself in Rio ... with Carmelita. I became ghostly pale.

"How ... how did you get this?"

"We wouldn't want anyone to see this amusing little escapade now, would we?"

"You ... you must destroy this. You don't know what this means."

"What this means? To your precious reputation? Phil Collins, perfect little angel, wouldn't even hurt a fly, eh?"

"I have a family, I have an ... an image to uphold!"

"I agree. Which is why I'll never show this film to another living soul - on one condition: that you become the new lead singer for Genesis."

Standing there, in the dark, the sound of the one-legged Chilean dancer's moans and the clanking of oyster shells echoing throughout the room, I knew my fate was sealed.

"You're a bastard. You're a real bastard, you know that?"

"I'm the bastard? Oh I'm the bastard? I know a little more about Philip D. Collins than the rest of us."

"And what is that?"

"Oh, maybe I've heard something here and there about an incident in a marsh ... with a convict."


"I know all about it. I know about your little hedgehog pal, I know about the Belgian science experiment ... I know everything Phil."

"Lies! Lies, lies, a thousand times lies!"

"Oh, I'll be a liar, all right. I'll go right along and tell the public how shocked I am that Phil decided to handle lead vocals himself. I'll lie and tell people I've never seen you commit a single sin in your entire life. Yes, I'll be a liar."

An icy chill crept through my entire body. I took a long, last sip of tea. Peter rolled the projector back into the closet, grabbed his coat, and walked toward the door.

"But ... why? Why, Peter?"

His lips curled into a mischievous smile. "Because I like you Phil."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Don't You Tell Her About It Instead?

So, maybe the world didn't ask for a Billy Joel Motown homage, but with "Tell Her About It," the world certainly got one.

Although thirty years of department store shopping may have led you to believe that "Uptown Girl" and "The Longest Time" were the most ubiquitous hits from An Innocent Man, at the time, the album's biggest single, in the US at least, was actually "Tell Her About It," which hit #1 in 1983. For my part, I easily remember it as well as the others, since I came to know it as the snappy and energetic closing track on my '80s Tape. After some slower numbers near the end of that tape, such as Kenny Loggins' "Heart To Heart," and Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton's duet "We've Got Tonight," "Tell Her About It" was like a refreshing shot in the arm, sending the cassette out on a zippy high note.

I wouldn't say the song is a rip-off of any one Motown number in particular, although it does seem to lift that choppy rhythm from the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" that everyone from the Jam to Hall & Oates seemed to love so much. I'm also impressed by how Billy managed to reproduce the sloppier, more unpolished backing vocal sound that one can hear on just about every early '60s Motown hit (think the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" or the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Lovin'") - a rougher style of back-up singing from a time when producers didn't seem to care very much about that stuff. In just a few short years, a series of uncoordinated "hey"s would quickly cease to make the grade.

But what "Tell Her About It" really did so well was set the tone for An Innocent Man's music videos: elaborate, winking, unapologetically nostalgic. Question: if you're at the peak of your stardom, and you're making the video for your next single, and you can do whatever the hell you want, what would you do? Well, when you're Billy Joel, the answer is easy: pretend you're on the Ed Sullivan Show:

The date: July 31, 1963. The time: 8:34 PM. The preceding act: Topo Gigio. The band name: B.J. and the Affordables. "Wait a minute," you're saying to yourself. "B.J. and the Affordables ... that wasn't a band." Was it though? Was it? (Also: notice that the Affordables are all black. Just sayin'.) Why, there's B.J. himself, in a slick pink suit and some suave sunglasses. He's got that studio crowd right where he wants them. But forget the studio; B.J. is being blasted all across America! He's in your staid suburban living room! He's in your sexy teenage slumber party! He's in your corporate department store window! He's in your hip black neighborhood bar! He's even in your Soviet spacecraft! (Why do I have the feeling such footage, if authentic, wouldn't be in color? I smell shenanigans.)

In fact, B.J. is not even limited by the laws of space and time, as he eventually appears on the very same street where he's also supposedly airing in the department store window at that exact moment, then he serenades the stuffy old parents in that suburban living room, and he even delivers pizza to the pajama-clad girls in that slumber party! I mean how ... does he do it.

Finally, don't miss the cameo by a certain comedian who doesn't get no respect. If I had a nickel for every time I got screwed over by Patrushka the Dancing Bear, why, I'd be a millionaire.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

She Bops; America Blushes

OK, so she's "bopping." What's the big deal? Wait. You mean to tell me she's talking about ... ?


And so, Cyndi Lauper joined the ranks of the Everly Brothers ("All I Have To Do Is Dream"), the Temptations ("Just My Imagination"), Neil Diamond ("Solitary Man"), and Billy Idol ("Dancing With Myself"), and recorded a hit song about ... that funny thing people do.
We-hell, I see them every night in tight blue jeans
In the pages of a blue boy magazine
Hey I've been thinking of a new sensation
I'm picking up a good vibration
Oop she bop

Do I wanna go out with a lion's roar
Huh, yeah, I wanna go south and get me some more
Hey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine
They say I better stop or I'll go blind
Oop she bop she bop

She bop, he bop, a-we bop
I bop, you bop, a-they bop
Be bop, be bop a-lu bop
I don't even understand
She bop, he bop, a-we bop
I bop, you bop, a-they bop
Be bop, be bop a-lu she bop

Hey, hey, they say I better get a chaperon
Because I can't stop messin' with the danger zone
No, I won't worry, and I won't fret
Ain't no law against it yet
But Cyndi, what are you fretting about? I mean, you wouldn't do anything that could possibly be considered illegal now would you? You're such a good little girl, aren't you? Come here schnoockums, lemme pinch your cheek, lemme pinch your cheek.

"She Bop" is one of those songs that, like the Kinks' "Lola," is just subtle enough, casual listeners might hear it on the radio for years and never quite catch on. Cyndi never comes right out and says, "Hel-lo! I'm talking about masturbation people!" She's a clever one, she is. "I'm picking up a good vibration"? Well, you know, the Beach Boys, those paragons of good Christian white American values, had that song called "Good Vibrations," and the Beach Boys wouldn't sing about masturbation, would they? "I can't stop messin' with the danger zone"? Oh, so now you're gonna tell me Kenny Loggins was talking about masturbation too? Ah, but once it is explained, the listener can never go back again. I love the cosmic shrug of "I don't even understand." Why do people do this? Why do people like doing this? Why are people afraid to talk about doing this? What does it all mean???

I'm not sure the song would really be all that great if it weren't for the chorus. The rest of the single kind of sounds like a slightly uninspired Devo rip-off. But that chorus! I particularly challenge you not to bop your head along when she gets to that little turnaround section of "I don't even understand." I actually prefer the album version over both the single mix and the video remix, but as long as they keep that chorus in there, they can't really foul this one up. Also, according to Wikipedia, "she recorded the song topless in a dark room and tickled herself under her arms." Well, as long as she didn't tickle herself anywhere else.

Anyway, if sheltered '80s listeners hadn't figure out the song's true topic from the lyrics alone, I think the video would have removed any remaining ambiguity. In a world of fast-food automatons, Cyndi steams up the windows of an automobile while thumbing through a copy of Beefcake magazine. Then she imagines she's a contestant on "Uncle Siggy's Masterbingo" (Uncle Siggy apparently being Sigmund Freud). Then she rides a motorcycle into a cartoon world where she finds herself at a gas station with "self service" (wink wink). Finally, there's the showstopping closer, where after a shameful trial, she finds herself banished to a '30s movie set, wearing sunglasses (because she's "gone blind," nudge nudge). Ah, but from offstage, someone throws her a hat and a cane, and she launches into a terrifically choreographed Busby Berkeley dance routine up an endless staircase! I don't even understand.

Friday, July 11, 2014

There's No Replacing Jane Wiedlin (But The Go-Go's Tried Anyway)

Hey, sometimes it can work. The Rolling Stones replaced Brian Jones. The Velvet Underground replaced John Cale. Roxy Music replaced Brian Eno. The departure of a key founding member doesn't automatically mean a band is on its last legs, right? Right?? But most of the time ... yeah, it's over.

Creedence Clearwater Revival thought they could continue on without Tom Fogerty; they lasted one more album. R.E.M. thought they could continue on without Bill Berry; they lasted five more albums, but come on, does anybody really count those? Or you can be the Who and try to replace your dead drummer, but at that point they probably should have just started calling themselves "Pete Townshend and Friends."
Toward the end of the INXS tour, Jane informed us that she was leaving the group. She said she would stay through the tour's last stop in Texas in October, but then she was going out on her own. When asked why, she said that she'd simply had enough and needed to do her own thing. She had considered leaving before, she said, but stayed through this album and tour out of loyalty to the band.

I had plenty of sympathy for Jane, and I understood if she wanted to sing and write all the material on her own album. My big fear was the future of the Go-Go's, and likewise my future, which was tied to the band ... We'd been together for seven years. All of us had grown up and changed. We weren't kids anymore. Now we had lawyers and business managers ... From our very first two-and-a-half song gig at the Masque, I had performed every Go-Go's show with Jane standing to my left. They amounted to hundreds of shows and many times that number of rehearsals. I couldn't begin to recount all the times she had laughed, frowned, and cursed at me. She had always been there.
You could do it without her, Belinda! You were like Dumbo, and Jane was your magic feather. You didn't need her to fly.

It's quite impressive how well the band managed to hide the inner turmoil as they stumbled to the finish line. For example: this clip from The Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers (while introducing them she gushes, "my daughter Melissa's favorite group!"), where everybody comes off like Best Friends Forever (and yes, the Go-Go's are promoting an album named Talk Show on an actual talk show). Money quote from Rivers: "You're all so good looking, there's not one dog in the group!"

Meanwhile, the party continued unabated:
The Summer Olympics had started on July 28 and the city was filled with athletes and parties. The air crackled with electricity, especially at night. I attended a night of events and a party at the invitation of Tom Hintnaus, an Olympic pole vaulter who was more famous as a Calvin Klein underwear model ... We had a good time together and I liked hanging around the athletes. We played three shows at the Greek Theatre, and each night the front was filled with Olympians from different countries.
Or, as one of Belinda's friends put it, "Which country is she representing tonight?" Footage of the Greek Theatre concerts ended up being released as the Wild At The Greek home video, which is to Totally Go-Go's what Talk Show is to Beauty And The Beat: it may lack the rawness, energy, and distinctiveness of its predecessor, and is overall just smothered in a lot more '80s sauce, but it's still the Go-Go's and therefore it is beyond criticism. Belinda is captured here in her Zsa Zsa Gabor phase, wearing some sort of ruffled pink chiffon (?) top, and with her voice sounding like she just ate a peanut butter and gristle sandwich, it's fair to say that she's taking this concert less seriously than you are. Meanwhile, Jane is continuing to keep every Los Angeles store that sells hair gel in business, Charlotte is, from the looks of it, sporting the same brand of sleeveless sweatshirt that Eddie Murphy wears at the end of Beverly Hills Cop, Kathy just came back from the Cincinnati Bengals' souvenir shop, and Gina is dressed in a Trapper Keeper. Also, Charlotte's eyes are sockets of sheer junkie terror; stare at them too long, and you may lose your soul. The highlight would have to be the clip of "Vacation" where a stray beach ball finds its way onto the stage. Belinda thinks she's taken care of it, but when the menacing little beast returns and finds Kathy's noggin (around 1:05), the lead singer becomes temporarily impotent.

We played our last show together in San Antonio. A story headlined "Go-Go's to Go On" appeared the next day in the Los Angeles Times. Jane followed with a letter to fans that asked for "understanding about [her] departure." She called her years with the band the best in her life, adding, "The other girls have been great about it and I wish them all the future success and happiness in the world. I hope that we will all look at this as a positive step towards more good music for everyone."

I hoped so, too. But after we returned to Los Angeles and began talking with our management about replacing Jane and preparing for our next gig, a spot in January's massive, multiday Rock in Rio festival, I didn't know if it would be possible to carry on. I didn't know whether we could sell the new Go-Go's to the fans - or if we could sell it to ourselves.

Hmm, I wonder where she's going with this. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Jane Wiedlin, who actually played an instrument, wrote songs, and deliberately chose to go solo, didn't end up being nearly as successful as Belinda Carlisle, who played nothing, could barely write six lines of lyrics, and didn't even want to leave the Go-Go's! Ah, but if the story of Belinda Carlisle actually made any sense, then what fun would Adventures With Belinda Carlisle be?
... as we dealt with Jane's departure, Kathy, Gina, Charlotte and I decided that Kathy would switch from bass to guitar, her original instrument, and we would look for a new bassist. Word went out, and more than two hundred hopefuls applied for the job, including high school girls and moms. They sent in demo tapes, photos, letters, and videos telling us why they would make a perfect Go-Go.

We had a blast going through the material and watching the tapes. Some of the demos were downright awful, and others were hysterically funny; thinking back, they remind me of American Idol's early audition rounds. After rehearsing with the ten best, we brought back three or four finalists. One girl was patently wrong; with big, puffy lips and long legs, we joked she looked too much like a supermodel. Then there was Paula Jean Brown, who not only played well enough, she matched in every other way.

"She looks like she could be one of us," I said.

"She doesn't act like it," Kathy said, meaning Paula seemed like a straight arrow.

"Give her a couple of months," Gina added.

"Yeah, we'll corrupt her," Kathy said.
No Paula! Don't do it!!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The White Winged Dove Needed A Thesaurus

Sings a song sounds like she's singing, "Ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh"? Not much of a song is it? I mean, if I were a white winged dove, I'd sure have a better song to sing than that.

Seriously, that chorus is like something you would make up in your living room at 3:00 in the morning and then revise at some point later on when you realized you were actually going to put it on a record. First of all, there are too many variations of the word "sing" in one sentence, and secondly, after such a portentous build-up, it all culminates in a meaningless stream of infantile gobbledygook. It is ridiculous. It is a chorus so ridiculous, in fact, that it only could have worked ... in the '80s.

The human race may not know a bigger fan of Fleetwood Mac than yours truly, but does that mean I'm a fan of "Stevie Nicks"? Consequently, is there anybody who's a fan of Stevie Nicks but not Fleetwood Mac? "Yeah, those other people were annoying, they just got in the way of all the potions and capes and things." I'm pretty sure there are even some casual music fans, God help them, who think that Fleetwood Mac is Stevie Nicks. Well, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, and Peter Green would like a word with you. Saying Stevie Nicks is Fleetwood Mac is like saying that Daniel Craig is James Bond. You may think you've just demonstrated that you know what you're talking about, but all you've done is instantly given yourself away.

Although Fleetwood Mac didn't break up in the '80s - they released two hit albums in fact - they didn't really become part of the '80s. Stevie Nicks, on the other hand, became part of the '80s. The enchantress embraced it: the sleaze, the raunch, the neon, the hairspray, the drugs, etc. Let's just admit it, her '80s sound owed more to Pat Benatar and Bonnie Tyler than it ever did to Joni Mitchell and Carole King. In short, Fleetwood Mac were more like a '70s band that hung around in the '80s. But solo Stevie Nicks? She was a Woman Who Rocked ... In The '80s.

Of course the most rocking, and most '80s, Stevie Nicks song is that one about the dove and the wings and the white and the edging and the singing and the coming away and the whoo-wooing. And no, it is not called "Just Like the White Winged Dove," nor is it called "Just Like the Wild One Does" or "Just Like The One-Winged Dove" or whatever else your brain seems to hear. And what the hell is she talking about, anyway? For 34 years, the casual listener has probably assumed this song was just a bunch of mystical Wiccan nonsense. But according to Stevie Nicks, it was actually a eulogy of sorts to two people who died within a week of each other: her uncle and John Lennon (!).

First, there's that bewildering title. Apparently is was accidentally inspired by a conversation Nicks was having with Tom Petty's wife Jane:
She was telling me about Tom, about when she met him, and she has an incredible Southern accent...and she said that she met him at the age of seventeen, but I thought she said 'edge,' and she said 'no ... age' and I said, 'Jane, forget it, it's got to be 'edge.' The 'Edge of Seventeen' is perfect.
To quote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Then a pair of tumultuous events gave her new inspiration:
Although Nicks had originally planned to use the title for a song about Tom and Jane Petty, the deaths of both her uncle Jonathan and John Lennon during the same week of December 1980 inspired a new song for which Nicks used the title. Nicks's producer and friend, Jimmy Iovine, was a close friend of Lennon, and Nicks felt helpless to comfort him. Soon after, she flew home to Phoenix, Arizona, to be with her uncle Jonathan, who was dying of cancer. She remained with her uncle and his family until his death.
OK. Raise your hand if you caught any of that from these lyrics. I wonder if it's just a story Nicks made up in retrospect. Well, this part does seem to be about visiting her uncle in the hospital:
Well then suddenly
There was no one left standing
In the hall
In a flood of tears
That no one really ever heard fall at all
When I went searchin' for an answer
Up the stairs and down the hall
Not to find an answer
Just to hear the call
Of a nightbird singin'
(Come away)
(Come away)
But where's the part about John Lennon? "But the moment that I first laid eyes on him/All alone on the edge of seventeen"? Well, Nicks would have only been about fifteen when Beatlemania hit, but hey, close enough. "With the words of a poet/And a voice from a choir/And a melody/ Nothing else mattered"? John Lennon didn't have a voice like a choir. He had a voice like a juvenile delinquent. A soulful and sensitive juvenile delinquent, sure, but a juvenile delinquent nonetheless. Whatever. I'll just take her word for it.

Then there's that guitar riff, which her band member Waddy Wachtel claims to have lifted from The Police's Regatta de Blanc album track "Bring On The Night." Apparently, Stevie did not know this until shortly after the song's release, and when she finally heard the Police song, she freaked out, went up to Wachtel and said something along the lines of, "Don't ever do that again!" What, don't ever craft the insistent guitar riff for your signature song again? Taken care of.

Also, I know that Lindsey Buckingham isn't singing backing vocals, but the guy she found to sing backing vocals sounds just like Lindsey Buckingham. Is this just a subconscious thing that happens with all these solo performers? Don Henley finds a guy who sounds just like Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks finds a guy who sounds just like Lindsey Buckingham ... I'll say one thing: for better or worse, at least no one could have mistaken Yoko or Linda for either Paul or John.

Even the drummer in this live clip looks just like Mick Fleetwood, but it's not Mick Fleetwood. Also, check out the intense moment at 3:34 where Stevie starts speaking in tongues, and also the last minute or so where she wanders across the stage clutching bouquets of flowers, like an exhausted beauty pageant contestant, as well as a Snoopy stuffed animal (whom she promptly thanks). He's a beagle, not a dove, but close enough.

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.