Category Archives: Book Review

Neal Preston IS Exhilarating and Yes, just a bit Exhausted

The new book by Neal Preston, Exhilarated and Exhausted, is finally here, available at Amazon, and it is his masterpiece. At 336 pages from Reel Art Press, favoring rich black & white photography on white or black NP_Neal Preston -Exhilarated and Exhausted coverborder, the book is a stunning collection of Neal’s best work taken from the 1960’s through the present day. While the focus is on the classic rock bands on the 1970’s, a few shots from the 80’s and beyond are included (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Guns and Roses, and a few others). That means at least 200 shots from this famous photographer laid out among his stories in this highest quality hardbound keepsake.

What is really key about this collection are musings and recollections of Neal himself. There is absolutely no substitute for having the man who crouched into those pits in front of stages around the world tell his story in first person narrative, full of witty and wise anecdotes gleaned from a life on the road, a hard life, but one that in Neal’s case rewarded then and now, as evidenced by this exceptional book.

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I first met Neal over the phone about three years ago. I had purchased a print of his classic black and white shot of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant between songs on a giant outdoor stage. It’s the one where Robert holds a dove in his right hand, and a beer and cigarette in his left, peaceful smile on his face – you know the one – nearly every kid in high school had a similar (but not Neal’s shot) color printed poster on their wall. We framed it for my wife’s best friend and one of my closest as well. San Francisco Art Exchange passed on my digits, as I wanted to talk to Neal, and was also looking to license some shots for my own book. (by the way a bit of advice he gave me which I regrettably did not use? more B&W shots than color, Doug!)

I will never forget the phone ringing, and Neal on the other end saying something like “yeah, this is Neal, who are you? What is this idea about a book?” He proceeded to regale me honestly and without bluster as to his experiences, cramming in as many stories as he could in what ended up being a 2-hour call with some guy he never met (with numerous protestations that he “had to go, but just one more”). I felt truly lucky, knowing as I did then who Neal was, knowing already about his friendship with Cameron, as I devoured the “extras” on Crowe’s Almost Famous blue-ray release. So yeah, having that kind of time with someone also famous, who shared his passion and introspection without hesitation, was awesome. That’s what this book is, in print, forever.

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At the time of our second meeting, Neal was about to stage a gallery exhibit for the lighting design crowd in Las Vegas. He had done a rare show in Germany with several of the same prints on display, and they printed a book of sorts, with many of those photos. But, there was a paltry few paragraphs written by Neal himself. Too few, I told him directly.

Not so here. We learn that Neal and Cameron met at a Humble Pie show in 72. We learn that Cameron hired Neal as the photographer for his first piece in Rolling Stone, about the band Yes (where are those shots!!!). Then we get a master class from Neal about the art, seat and tears that go into being a professional photographer. Neal writes his many stories in melodious voice, drawing us into his circle, sharing asides that make us feel that we are in the pit or in the first row at least, right beside him, seeing through his eyes. I’ve tried to do this – it’s hard – really, really hard to write with that kind of immediacy and even urgency. Neal nails it here.

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Section titles such as humble musings on being lucky “The Greatest Job in the World,” “The Inner Sanctum,” (It’s a hot zone back there… think Chernobyl with guitars”), “Rock Tour Tension,” and “Bob Dylan Called Me A Leech” frame the stories. Each artist is given a page or more, and maybe some musings, and it’s all very much infectious. For example, when Neal shares his passion for all things Greg Allman, even if you are not a fan, you become one. One of my favorite bits is his advice for aspiring photographers: “I don’t care what kind of pictures you shoot or aspire to shoot…you’re gonna have highs and lows so you have to take the good with the bad.” See, he didn’t have to do that – he did not have to be generous in sharing what he knows and speaking to those of us who relate to what he does. But he does and it works – all of it. As we used to say, “go for it.” My highest recommendation.

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels – How?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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This is the third in a three-part piece about my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels, and I want to answer the question – how did all this come about, for a guy that worked in the tech industry for so many years, and became a writer so late in life?

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Doug & Steve Hackett

In earlier posts, I established that I am a die-hard fan of classic and progressive rock from the 1970s and beyond. I saw almost every one of the 36 artists in the book in Los Angeles (the City of Angels) in the 1970s. But my first written piece on a rock concert was inspired by seeing Rick Wakeman live in London in 2009 with orchestra, choir, and Brian Blessed telling the stories of the six wives of Henry the VIIIth:
https://diegospadeproductions.com/2009/05/16/six-wives-live-live/

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Doug more recently in 2016 with Rick Wakeman and band

From this meager beginning my friend Jeff Melton, a writer for Expose magazine, helped me get the article accepted and into print. On that basis, I contacted several zines, determined to write about these concerts as they came along, and maybe about new and legacy record releases. Jonathan Downes at Gonzo Multimedia liked what he saw and picked me up as staff writer for his magazine: http://www.gonzoweekly.com

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Doug’s Review of Phil Collins’ Bio

After years writing for Gonzo, and also contributing to SomethingElse! I put a pause on my tech career and started the process of writing the book that is about to be shipped. It was a long two year process of incorporating to become a self publisher, locating photos, completing the manuscript, getting editors (Mike Edison, Courtney Lee Adams), a musicologist (Tim Smolko), and a designer (Tilman Reitzle) and others to take the journey with me.

One of the best aspects of the effort was the nearly two years I spent looking for photographs and memorabilia to illuminate the manuscript. I searched through thousands of slides in the basement of a photo agency in London, housed in the same building that was a workhouse, which inspired Charles Dickens’ portrayal of David Copperfield. I trolled websites figuring out how to find photographers from the day, Neal Preston, Richard E. Aaron, Neil Zlowzower, Lisa Tanner, some purely by accident, some who had photos already placed inside album sleeves and music magazines, others carried by agencies like Getty and Rex Features.

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Neal Preston

I will never forget the 2 hours Neal Preston spent with me on the phone talking about his experiences in the day following Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many classic bands around the country as part of their posse and at times with best friend Cameron Crowe. He had never met me, but nonetheless was generous and enthusiastic on the phone. Also, I was lucky to find and connect with Italian photojournalist Armando Gallo, someone whose work I revere back to the days when his shots

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Armando Gallo

were the only way to see what Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was all about. I never expected the chance to visit both of these artists at their home studios, working together to pick out slides for this book, so many of which are theirs. 

Working with the fine purveyors of rare rock photography at the San Francisco Art Exchange, I was able to connect with many photographers, and one of their special clients Roger Dean, the artist who painted so many Yes album covers among many other achievements. Through this connection, it came to pass that Roger invited my wife and I over to his studios in Essex England while we were in London on vacation. Visiting this studio and meeting Roger and his brother Martyn (who worked with me to select his shots of Yes on tour in 1976) is now a cherished memory.

Doug at Roger Dean's Studio
Doug with Roger Dean

To top that off, I was able to work directly with musical heroes of mine from Ambrosia and Happy The Man to unearth ’70s photographs from their private collections. This we did, and I was also able to interview band members and document their fantastic stories. For Ambrosia, we focused on their classic Somewhere I Never Travelled, https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/01/28/ambrosias-early-travels/

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and for Happy the Man, their famous Arista releases, the self titled debut, and the followup Crafty Hands https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/04/02/happy-the-man/

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Another somewhat tougher climb, the five-month, seven-person introduction effort it took to find one photo of Camel in concert on the night they recorded The Snow Goose live with the London Symphony Orchestra. Oh, elusive photo….

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I could go on, but should stop here. It’s been a terrific ride, and here’s hoping that everyone who comes across this book sees the devotion that went into it, and loves what they see and read… Doug

Rockin’ the City of Angels…Why?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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My first book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, is off the presses and at the warehouse. It will be shipping starting Tuesday, December 27!

Yesterday I was asked why I wrote the book…it’s worth a moment of reflection:

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Freddie Mercury of Queen, the stunning photo (c) Lisa Tanner

When I was a teenager (way way back in the 1970s), I was lucky to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Rock music had become increasingly relevant to my life, and I was drawn to complex works and the challenging, sometimes fantastical elements of the genre known as “progressive rock.” My collection of records and collection of concert cite stubs grew to include prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, along with some of the more creative harder rocking contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen, as well as bands from North America like Kansas, Styx, and Heart. My youthful fascination grew into a lifelong passion for music in general, and for progressive or classical rock music in particular. My enthusiasm was stoked by seeing these bands live in concert, where increasingly elaborate theatrical productions dramatized the themes of many of these concept albums. These concerts were almost religion to my growing list of fellow concertgoers.

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Yes Relayer/Solos Tour

I wrote this book as homage to rock music of the ‘70s—in concert and on film. It tells the story of three-dozen key concert performances from this era; illuminating the genius of the best progressive and classical rock acts whose concerts I attended. I spent two years tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from those unforgettable events, taking me to agency basements, file drawers brimming with slides, to band member and photographers homes, to collections both organized, and out of control! In the process, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the talented photojournalists of the era, including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Jorgen Angel, Neil Zlozower, Lisa Tanner, Jim Summaria, and many others. Many thanks go out to these artists, who captured these consummate rock musicians in their prime, frozen in time in arresting images.

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David Bowie; Station to Station Tour – One of my favorite photos in the book!

In addition, I’ve combed through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting
home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films that cooperalice_dvdcover_3x4_72dpifeatured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings at the local cinema, flicking lighters and hollering at the screen. Now, just about every major band of the era can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to the dedicated teams at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive and to introduce the power and majesty of this adventurous music to new generations.

Although some of these bands are still touring, their time is waning, and soon these films will be the only way to recapture their extraordinary live performances. I believe these films are important documents of rock music performance in our life times. Those of us who were there found more than just good times at these concerts. Those shows brought us together to share profound, even life-changing experiences that bonded us forever.

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Fleetwood Mac’s incomparable Stevie Nicks

That’s what led me to write this book, and work for months on end with my designer Tilman Reitzle to render these photos and my recollections into a stunning tome. Check it out…. as we would have said… it’s bitchin’

Mountains Come Out of the Sky: Reviewed

Book Review: Mountains Come Out of the Sky, The Illustrated History of Prog Rock, by Will Romano
Backbeat Books, Hal Leonard Corporation, Milwaukee © 2010 by Will Romano
ISBN 978-0-87930-991-6

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As I prepare a manuscript for my own book for next year, I’ve been doing some research on other works that cover progressive, classic and space rock music genres. There is quite a mix out there as anyone interested in music journalism knows. Most of the books I’ve found are about specific bands, such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin and many others. My favorite of these, I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo, long time Genesis biographer was covered in an earlier article. I’ve found a few books that focus on very specific works by those bands, the most excellent of which is Tim Smolko’s Jethro Tull’s Thick and a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs. Some are by photographers or artists and the best of these is Roger & Martyn Dean’s Magnetic Storm which chronicles Roger’s art and architectural design as well as Martyn’s work creating the fantastic staging Yes deployed during their early years.

Many rock music books make an attempt to cover the entire genre or specifically the progressive rock music genre and these books can be the most difficult to assemble. There is the encyclopedic The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music by Bradley Smith, Progressive Rock Reconsidered by Kevin Holm-Hudson and one that ties prog to the counterculture of the times called Rocking The Classics by Edward Mecan, among others. Often these books end up being for reference only (Billboard Guide) or a bit more academic and stuffy. The best of the books I’ve found that delve into the progressive rock genre and its practitioners is Will Romano’s Mountains Come Out of the Sky.

Spectacular Book Design
Spectacular Book Design

Romano’s book, reportedly the result of three years of effort, is an excellent, thoroughly researched document that includes interviews with the artists, essays, and vibrant color photos that include album covers, portraits of the artists and live shots. After a nice forward by Bill Bruford, the book begins with the ever-important question “What is Prog?” This is answered quite well in a short essay that includes Romano’s own position on the subject, peppered with quotes from Greg Lake (ELP), Ian McDonald & John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes) and others who present a clear and simple definition. The script moves directly into a study of prog’s early history, and first practitioners including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa while charting the impact of the Mellotron and Moog keyboards on the sound of the emerging bands in the scene.

The story continues with chapters devoted to the six largest acts in the genre, starting with Pink Floyd, and continuing with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. Each group’s chapter is well researched and composed, including many direct quotes from Romano’s own interviews with band members, producers, engineers, and peers. The material is factual and engaging, detailing the origins of the bands, descriptions of the music and observations as to where it fits in history from today’s perspective. Follow-up chapters cover some other major bands, primarily from the 1970’s. These include groups that were part of the Canterbury scene, some who delivered a sort of Prog Folk sound, bands hailing from American, Italy and Germany, and an additional set of key acts including Camel, Gentle Giant, Marillion. Some of these chapters are lighter on content, particularly when the bands hail from outside the U.K. But Romano makes a defensible case that the birthplace and origin of progressive rock is Britain, and this focus keeps the book from becoming yet another encyclopedic reference, instead allowing him to tell the complete story of the most important acts without becoming ponderous.

Well-read prog fanatics will find bits of new information here, but more importantly, will see that the content on each band details what one must know in order to understand the act and their legacy. I have already used the book to introduce a band to someone who is not so versed, and they attain a quick understanding of the group, it’s key albums, and iconography. In this way the content will please existing and new fans alike. The book includes a bibliography and a discography that includes almost 300 titles, almost all of which I would concur belong in every collector’s library.

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Key Albums

Special mention must be made that this volume is referred to as a “visual history” for good reason. The design by Damien Castaneda and color rendering by the printers is exceptional. There is a generous set of photos, including album cover art, band portraits and live shots. Many of these have not been seen before appearing here, and several are quite rare. These have been edited so that the book is colorful and vibrant. An occasional ribbon at the footing allows for key albums to be nicely referenced, with their cover and year of release, and there is a clever design technique overlaying bits of album cover art and labels as portals into the band’s iconography. It’s almost a coffee table book format, and worthy of its sturdy construction.

In summary this is an excellent entry in progressive rock literature. Romano makes the subject relatable, presenting the best quotes by the musicians and readable descriptions of what makes this music special, and why Britain must be considered the birthplace and primary region from which the form emerged and flourished. The choices as to who to include and who to leave for another tome are well made, so we end up with a fine set of bands and commentary. With that, and the excellent visual layout, it’s an instant favorite for this avid reader and collector.

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Mountains_ZappaBy the way, our own Gonzo Multimedia label carries a load of interesting books on the genre, most of which are more about placing music in the context of it’s times, with socio and political commentary. One that I plan to read soon is Frank Zappa et al – The Real Porn Wars (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15802/Frank_Zappa_et_al-The_Real_Porn_Wars.html ) which covers the maestro’s fight against the puritanical “Parent’s Resource Center” in the 1980’s here in the states. One that is more focused on exposing music that I was most surprised by is Neil & Tom Nixon’s – 500 Albums You Won’t Believe Until You Hear Them (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15804/Neil_&_Tom_Nixon-500_Albums_You_Won’t_Believe_Until_You_Hear_Them.html) . I thought I had a lot of rare music, but came across hundreds of peculiar and rare album recommendations! Check some of these out.

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Jethro Tull’s Long, Exceptional, Songs

Jethro Tull      photo @Barry Wentzell
Jethro Tull photo @Barry Wentzell

I’ve been on record for a long time in these pages as to my love for progressive rock music, and in particular, the work of Jethro Tull. This superb band, led by prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist Ian Anderson, released about 20 studio albums over 30 years after forming in the late 1960’s, beginning with This Was in 1969 and ending with J-Tull Dot Com in 1999. This along with a number of collections, live albums, and a Christmas album from 2003 represent one of the great rock collections in music history. Last year I reviewed a wonderful book by Brian Rabey on the group’s legacy, which included extensive interviews with Ian Anderson and many of the band members through the years. Afterwards I went on the hunt for the next book on the subject, and was elated to discover an incredible and unique study of their two finest progressive rock albums.

JT_TwoLong_CoverThe book is Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play – Inside Two Long Songs, by Tim Smolko. Tim holds master’s degrees in Musicology and Library Science and as such he takes a scholarly approach to coverage of these two albums, along with the band itself, and the nature of progressive rock music in general. The subject albums, Thick as a Brick (1972) and the subsequent release, A Passion Play (1973), both topped billboard charts despite each being one long song lasting over 40 minutes. Both are considered progressive rock masterworks, taking that mantle alongside other luminaries such as Yes’ Close to the Edge, Gentle Giant’s Octopus, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Both albums have been re-released over the last two years as definitive re-masters assembled by the illustrious Steve Wilson and are thus ripe for re-examination!

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For any fan of Jethro Tull, progressive rock, and in particular these two albums, this book is an absolute revelation. I’ve not read another tome on a musician or their art that delves as deeply as this into the origin and context of a work, the compositional approach taken, it’s presentation, or it’s place in music history. The book contains some exhaustive passages documenting both compositions from a musician’s perspective. Dedicated fans who know the musical themes and lyrics in these long songs will enjoy this most while more casual fans may skim through some of the more detailed parts of the study.

Tim begins by establishing these records in the context of the 1970’s period of rock music, focusing on how Ian incorporated elements of medieval and Renaissance culture and music into the work, which had been shaped mostly by American blues and British folk influences. Tim outlines how an interest in preindustrial culture arose within Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and how this was related to the ecology movement, the popularity of fantasy and medieval stories, and explosion of contemporary folk on both sides of the pond.   Of particular interest is his explanation of the extended form of song known as the medieval “lai”, how the form was used by troubadours, beginning in the thirteenth century, and how it was incorporated by Ian into these compositions.   One aspect of the structure that is relatable is the potential repetition of material from the first stanza into the last, with all that comes between employing an unconstrained framework – some parts even improvised. These are aspects of both Jethro Tull albums familiar to fans, such as the two repeated refrains:

And your wise men don’t know how it feel
To be thick as a brick

There was a rush along the Fulham road
There was a hush in the Passion Play

and the sometimes abrupt changes in meter, key, and song structure throughout. After this fascinating introduction, JT_TAABTim delves into Thick as a Brick first, followed by A Passion Play, including a segment detailing the aborted Chateau d’Isaster recordings that preceded the latter. He explains the strophic, AABA, verse-chorus and compound forms using examples most readers will know, including Tull’s but also Led Zeppelin, Queen and others. Then he writes a detailed study of the artwork, lyrics, music, and meaning of each. In order to illuminate the content of these long songs, Tim maps out the musical structure of each – reprinting lyrics and detailing and comparing different sections from several angles. This results in elaborate tables displaying each vocal and instrumental section mapping the song form, meter, pitch, lyrics, and time codes to these so that the informed reader may follow and gain insight as these complex compositions progress from start to finish.

One table that is quite useful maps entire length of each album into it’s numbered vocal and instrumental passages, in order, showing which band member or collaborator played what instruments in each. As I’ve always been fascinated by the few years during which Ian played soprano saxophone, it was wonderful to see those occurrences mapped out across each album. This was also how I confirmed before talking to Dee Palmer about this period, my recollection that strings were utilized only in the last instrumental segment of Thick as a Brick and “The Hare” segment of A Passion Play. Strings came back to the fore in Tull for the follow-up albums Warchild and particularly for Minstrel in the Gallery. In this way, Tim’s scholarly approach and detailed reporting adds much to a listeners understanding of what they are hearing.

JT_PassionTim goes on to recount the live concerts staged for each of these albums, the critical reception, the curious impact of Monty Python and even the availability of any live audio and video content (which for the record is, not much!)   The conclusion brings focus to these complex, sometimes inexplicable works, with some final commentary. Inevitably, there is a comparison and Tim joins most observers in naming Thick as a Brick the better of the two, possibly just so that A Passion Play fanatics like me have something to argue about.

For those readers who are not musicians and for whom “motives”, “pitch” and “song form” are foreign concepts, segments of chapters in the book will be challenging. Fortunately, the writer employs a clear, readable text to accompany these sections, so that even if one may feel a bit lost in the most technical parts, we are always returned quickly to relatable information, quotes from Ian Anderson himself, and other anecdotes. It’s worth spending a little extra time to study the text, so as to come away with a greater understanding of how pop/rock and progressive rock music is constructed. Ultimately it’s a rewarding celebration of these two outstanding albums and a reminder that the prog movement has created some of the most important and interesting musical art of the ages. It’s one of the most thoroughly researched, scholarly, and informative books on this genre ever released. Having poured over these albums in every format over the years, I was surprised to arrive at the last page with an even greater understanding of and passion for their mastery. “Geared toward the exceptional rather than the average” as Gerald would say. Highly recommended.

Gabriel Without Frontiers

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 6.20.56 PMIn his new new biography, Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel, author Daryl Easlea manages to craft a definitive look at the man and his art. Peter’s life, music, performances, videos, productions, and charitable endeavors are covered in depth from the late 1960’s when forming Genesis up to today. The book is very well researched, as Daryl takes care to include frequent direct quotes from Peter, his band members, management, and friends.  I found his inclusion of remarks by key collaborators including Peter Hammill, Richard MacPhail, and Daniel Lanois particularly interesting and revealing.  These observations contain insights into not just Peter’s work, but his life, such that the reader really gets a sense of him as a person. One interesting angle I’d not known was his lasting but friendly rivalry with Tony Banks and it’s impact on their early work together.  Daryl’s skilled narrative and storytelling manages to breathe new life into every chapter as he explores Peter’s influences, his focus on quality work, and continued ability to innovate and entertain.

Many fans of Genesis and Peter’s work who have read some of this information or seen documentaries in the past, will still find new revelations here.  His formative years fronting Genesis are key to his development as an artist, and their work to many represents the golden age of progressive rock music.  These times are treated with an attention to detail and the author takes care to incorporate parts of the story that add clarity to that short period of time, including matters both serious and entertaining.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter exhausting those years, Peter’s early solo career is examined in a way that sheds light on his search for direction as a solo artist.  Every key development from 1977’s Car (as Daryl refers to Peter Gabriel 1) through to 1982’s Security is illuminated.  I learned new facts about this era even though this is a time in particular when I was old enough to be a devotee of every album release, concert, and news item about the man.  The rest of his career from his breakthrough, more commercial release So, to the Scratch My Back and New Blood Orchestra work is also well covered, along with his frequent charitable work.  Often videos and filmed live performances are given short shift – not here – for instance it was a pleasure to see someone hail the 2013 Live in Athens DVD release as a spectacular document of Peter playing live near the end of the So tour in 1987.

This is a truly wonderful biography of one of the most amazing artists of our time.  Highly recommended.

Mechanical Years

mikebookIt was with great anticipation that I ordered and devoured Mike Rutherford‘s autobiography The Living Years.  After all, Mike’s been a musical hero to me, from his early days in Genesis to their triumphant years of global popularity through to his solo work.  His underrated guitar and Rickenbacker bass playing, particularly during the early years of the band is studied and assured.  In fact, there have been several chances lately with The Musical Box and Steve Hackett performing early Genesis to witness how Mike played that double necked instrument and it’s a striking thing to behold.  Once Peter Gabriel left the group followed by Steve Hackett two years later, I stuck with the band, never being one to hate on later Genesis for being more pop and less progressive (okay, save maybe for the title track to Invisible Touch.)   So while I looked forward to Mike’s story about the early formative days, I expected to be pleased with the coverage of his entire career and what he might share of his personal life.

After reading the work, there are some pro’s and con’s to the autobiography.  There is a key framing device – Mike’s love for his father, and feelings that they did not connect sufficiently during his lifetime – it’s a beautiful sentiment and I would expect nothing less from this gentle soul.  But the book is short at only 239 pages, and the amount of space spent explaining his father’s life, including writings from his journals, leaves too little room for Mike to reflect at proper length on the different stages of his career.  He does offer a comparatively thorough assessment of his early years growing up, becoming rebellious as a teen, and joining Anthony Phillips and the gang in early groups, leading the reader through those times, including how the group that became Genesis formed, their debut album, and first par release Trespass.  But after giving those very early formative years full attention, each album or major event afterwards, from the years 1971 on, are addressed with shorter passages, each revealing fewer observations and gems from Mike as author than would be hoped.  In some cases, Mike seems not to have perspective on his work, particularly it’s early, more progressive leanings.

mikepikNotably, there’s only a page and a half about the brilliant Selling England by the Pound in which Mike does not reflect on his growth, saying it “wasn’t my favorite album” and wondering how they ended up writing a hit single “I Know What I Like” – even though we can all recall that was a riff Steve Hackett developed and contributed.  Little else is said about the artistry of Hackett other than the usual track about how he left the band, his timing in deciding to release his first solo album (just after Gabriel’s departure) and how he had some trouble fitting in to the group.  Also, though a lot is said about their friendship, nothing substantial is written about his work with Anthony on the gorgeous Geese and the Ghost record.  Mike also gives short mention to the wonderful lyrics he’s written, reflecting that his writing in later years was more fitting.

On the plus side, it’s common for biographers to write at length about the early years, before the fame hits, and the first many chapters of this book covering those years through 1970 are complete.  Mike does discuss his first solo album, Smallcreep’s Day, which surprised me a bit and I was glad to see that work recognized as an achievement.  Also there is good attention paid to Mike and the Mechanics, of which he is justly proud.  These are interesting passages, some with new information for this reader and fan.  In a rare moment of personal import he explains what was happening with Paul Young up to his untimely death.  Also throughout, there are fun recollections from Mike on the adventure of being on the road – the hotels, food, some fun times, and lots of speeding on America’s highways – when caught he admits using his British charm to get out a few tickets. Though we don’t get too deep in the psyche, there are some great passages about these times.

So on the whole, I liked the book well enough as a quick read and can recommend that at least fans of Genesis, Mike’s solo work and related music give it a try.  From another lens, I suppose it’s just what you would expect from the person Mike seems to be – humble, honest and kind, not to mention being one of the greatest songwriters, string men and lyricists of our lifetimes.