Tag Archive: Phil Collins


Crash, Ride, Hi-Hat

Roberto is the drummer on the Worship Team at our church. Nowadays, that might not seem like a big thing; churches not only have drummers, but 3 loud guitars, smoke machines, complicated lightning schemes and the most cutting edge worship music available. Some worship bands look more like they’re performing a rock concert than leading people in actual worship. They have “Worship” in their name for a reason, and a lot of worship bands would do well to remember that more often.

But at our church, the fact that we have a regular drummer every week, and he’s an integral and fully accepted part of our Worship Team, is a big step forward for us. One of the biggest problems we’ve ever had at our church is the long-standing resistance to change in the music from the older members of the congregation. Folks who had been at this church 30 years were threatening to leave; first it was because we used choruses (some of which were written in the ‘70s) in addition to hymns. Then it was because we used some choruses that weren’t lifted directly from scripture. Then it was because we started incorporating a drum kit into our worship. Then it was the electric guitar. And worst of all, a few people thought our church shouldn’t do these things because they were somehow un-Christian or satanic.

hmm, maybe it really is satanic... ;-)

hmm, maybe it really is satanic… 😉

Roberto is the one and only drummer our Worship Team has. No backups. When he’s not there, we just don’t have any drums, and the music suffers. In one of his most candid and naked moments, he told me about how hard it is to be such a visible figure of what some members of our congregation (even still) didn’t want. When he got down to specifics, he said what people had the biggest problem with was cymbal crashes. He uses them sparingly, but occasionally in practice he’ll cut loose with some crazy cymbal-snare-tom freak-out, like a little storm that lasts 5 seconds, reminding me distinctly of Neil Peart.

It’s mystifying to me. Cymbals? Really? Why, out of all the features of drumming, do you pick out cymbals to be the top church-disturbing thing?

If I step outside myself for a moment, I can actually see the elder church members’ point, and it’s because my mom has a form of the same point. (You’re not an elder, mom – didn’t mean to imply that) My mom was an MK – Missionary Kid, that is – in Guatemala, so she grew up in a church that was largely cut off from the American Christian experience. In a way, that makes it purer, but it also makes it slower to change. To her, church music is all about hymns. She loves hymns, and I’ve learned to love hymns because I love her. And since her love of hymns reaches so deep, to the very depths of her childhood, it makes her profoundly sad to see our modern church society where hymns are all but forgotten, even disrespected. So it makes sense for her to have some angst directed at what has replaced them. I get it.

But God would not have us be stagnant and unmoving. God is all about our growth and forward motion, both in our individual lives and as a Church (that’s with a capital C). And this has been a hard lesson for me to learn, but for those in the grip of grace, for those who trust in the Lord, there isn’t anything to fear from change. Change is good.

So what about cymbals? Were it merely on a practical level, without all this “IT’S SATANIC!!!” garbage, I think I could at least understand it. Cymbals are, by their very nature, crashing. That’s why one type of them is called a crash. Crashes are typically played on the first beat of a four-measure or eight-measure figure, like at the beginning of a verse or a chorus. And their primary function is to add punctuation to the beat, piercing your consciousness in the process. And let’s face it – old people don’t like having their consciousnesses pierced (or their eardrums). Maybe the reason certain elders of our church’s congregation have objected to cymbals (and drums in general) in the past isn’t “it’s unholy” or “we must avoid the appearance of evil,” but that they simply don’t like them. That, at least, makes sense to me.

Melt by Peter Gabriel is a landmark album for him in many ways, but the most radical is this: it doesn’t contain any cymbals. Not a single crash, ride or hi-hat, not a single hit of the brass anywhere on the album. This was intentional – Gabriel, though he’s a multi-instrumentalist, doesn’t play the drums, so he instructed Phil Collins (who guested on a few tracks) and regular drummer Jerry Marotta that this was his concept for the album. This made the music more primitive, more elemental, and recalled images of jungle tribesmen in Africa with painted bodies and feathers on their clothes. And even though Melt deals with real world issues like no other previous Gabriel album, the inflection of the whole thing is one of elemental human reaction, of listening to your gut above all other things.

Maybe I should sit those elder members of our congregation down and make them listen to Melt. After all, they wanted no cymbals! I kid…

Next: September ’77, Port Elizabeth, weather fine…

There a several different arguments for what The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is ultimately about, which really means isn’t not about any one particular thing. That element makes for good art, but also makes my job much harder. The best I can do is provide insight, and you’ll have to figure the rest out on your own. You’re supposed to, though; when someone tells what a piece of art is about and you don’t come to it on your own, it’s not art.

The next section (“Cuckoo Cocoon” and the intro to “In the Cage”) have one interesting interpretation: heroin. In the plotline, this is Rael’s entrance to this other world, a world that’s bizarre, hellish and nightmare-filled, but populated by his innermost fears, desires and drives. But alternatively, “Cuckoo Cocoon” could be about Rael’s first taste of heroin. The description of a soft feeling all around him (“wrapped up in some powdered wool”) and the awareness that it’s too good to be true (“I feel so secure that I know this can’t be real, but I feel good”) are similar to the sensations of a heroin high. I wonder what Lou Reed would think of this, being a sort of PhD on this subject.

Rael then drifts to sleep and wakes up with “sunshine in [his] stomach,” which is an arty way of saying he’s gonna puke. Again, this is consistent with heroin. I’ve never been on the drug myself, but I imagine everything is worse when you come down from a high. Nowhere else on the entire album can a case be made for the songs being about heroin (with the possible exception of “Carpet Crawlers”), but it’s interesting, anyway.

Then we get into the real meat of “In the Cage,” and come to the place where the themes of The Lamb really take shape. Now that the “high” of “Cuckoo Cocoon” has worn off, Rael discovers his situation to be startlingly and distressingly changed, the powdered wool turning to cold stone. Stalactites and stalagmites close in on him to form a sort of cage, and Rael is trapped.

It’s is here that Brother John makes his first appearance. As Rael’s despair is growing, he sees his brother outside the cage and calls to him for help. But like the callous, selfish child he is (and as we all are), he turns away. The name “John,” which is one of the most common male given names in history, suggests John’s anonymous nature and his ability to be any one of us, someone we’re meant to use as a stand-in for ourselves. Even some religious imagery is employed with John’s tear of blood; in some Catholic traditions, Jesus is said to have cried blood at his crucifixion.

“In the Cage” is one of the big showpieces on The Lamb, which is mostly made up of shorter songs (or at least “shorter” by Genesis standards). It clocks in at over 8 minutes and features the first of several spectacular synth solos courtesy of Tony Banks. For that little piece of keyboard awesomeness, we have only Tony to thank. Peter Gabriel penned almost all of the lyrics for The Lamb, leaving the rest of the band to come up with the music. It was a very different way of composing for them. Genesis was used to writing songs using a more organic, natural method – all of them sitting with their instruments and creating ex nihilo, contributions coming from all members. Here, Peter went off into his own space in a singular fashion, and the music was composed as a four-piece.

Peter must have liked that I’m-the-boss mode of songwriting, because The Lamb was his last album with Genesis. He soon embarked on a very successful solo career spanning another 30+ years, and most people know him more for his ‘80s solo singles than anything he did with Genesis. In fact, he’s mostly just known as the dude with the train tracks around his head.

When I first heard “In the Cage,” it was on the Phil-era live album Three Sides Live. “In the Cage” was the first part of a medley that included segments of “The Cinema Show” and “The Colony of Slippermen.” Before I bought that 2-tape copy of Three Sides Live, I didn’t know any of these songs existed. Now, I appreciate it (as well as the late ‘70s live Seconds Out) as Phil’s interesting take on Peter songs. Some Genesis fans think it a sickening travesty that Phil would even touch Peter’s songs, and it does seem strange considering the wildly different direction Phil steered Genesis into during the ‘80s. A few of the more vocal (read as “stupid”) Genesis fans would have rathered that Genesis just dissolved after Peter left.

But not me. It can’t be denied that Phil Collins is a consummate performer, an expert showman and a dynamic frontman. He’s the Dave Grohl of the ’70s – the drummer behind a shiny star of a lead singer that becomes an even shinier star once the first star makes its exit. And as such, Phil does Peter in a way that Peter never could (and wouldn’t really want to); the result is fascinating. He’s added colors of interpretation to each pre-Phil song he’s chosen that simply weren’t there before, and that’s worth something. He doesn’t subtract anything from Peter’s base – just makes it different.

The Dream, Betty Swanwick

The Dream, Betty Swanwick

The cover of Selling England By the Pound features a painting by Betty Swanwick, one called The Dream. Her style is noted as being “quintessentially English,” according to the British Council for Visual Arts. Peter Gabriel must have thought so, too. In his quest to make Selling England more applicable to a British audience, he chose an image for the cover that evoked the fussiness and the passive grandiosity that Brits do so well. In the forefront of the painting is a man sleeping on a park bench in the middle of a garden. While Selling England was still in production, Peter saw The Dream and thought it’d be perfect. A big reason, I think, was that the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” featured the lyrics “When the sun beats down and I lie on the bench…”

Peter asked Betty to add a little something to the painting to make it even more applicable to the song – a lawn mower standing up next to the park bench. It looks like it’s really supposed to be there, perfectly married to the song. The Dream visually tells a story of a man who simply wants to be left alone, but has other people constantly making demands of him. The same exact theme is presented in “I Know What I Like.” THAT is truly a piece of synchronicity (unlike The Dark Side of the Rainbow), and the larger framework is the British character.

That character might also be the character of mankind in general. We don’t want anyone ordering our lives, and yet we spend so much time trying to order other people’s lives, particularly those of people we love. Jesus said we should take the plank out of our eye before we try to take the speck out of our brother’s (Matthew 7); to me, one of the things that means is “don’t mess with someone’s life unless you don’t mind them messing with yours.” We’re meant to live in community with one another, so in a way no one’s life should be un-messed with – but it always needs to be done lovingly (I can’t stress this enough), and treading where you’re not welcome is the epitome of un-love.

At Peter’s request, Betty added the lawn mower to the painting, and I can’t for the life of me find anywhere a picture of the painting in its original form. I suppose the original The Dream has been lost. It’s no big tragedy, I guess, because the addition of the lawn mower fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece, but it makes my obsessive-compulsive self very sad.

The “In Your Wardrobe” subtitle is confusing. The best explanation I’ve heard is the “wardrobe” refers to the works of C. S. Lewis and his magical gateway into the alternate dimension of Narnia. This sorta fits with the main character of “I Know What I Like” desiring escape from the demands of the world, but that’s stretching it quite far.

The third track is “Firth of Fifth,” so called for the Scottish term for coastal waters. We would call it the Mississippi River or the Chesapeake Bay, but Scots and some Brits would say Firth of Chesapeake or Firth of Mississippi. A rather famous firth in Scotland is the River Forth, also known as the Firth of Forth. The next logical firth would be… Peter must have dislocated his shoulder he was patting himself on the back so hard.

I first experienced both “Firth of Fifth” and “I Know What I Like” back in 6th grade, during my Genesis OCD phase. But I only knew about them as parts of “Old Medley,” the 20 minute track that opened the second volume of Genesis’ live album from the We Can’t Dance tour, The Way We Walk. The rest of both Vol. 1: The Shorts and Vol. 2: The Longs was made up of Phil songs, but “Old Medley” was composed of all songs I had never heard before. “Old Medley” contains key sections of “Dance On a Volcano,” “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” “The Musical Box,” “Firth of Fifth,” and “I Know What I Like,” and it also features snippets of “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien,” “Your Own Special Way,” “Follow You Follow Me,” and “Stagnation,” all sung over the main keyboard hook of “I Know What I Like.” In fact, it was reading the liner notes and seeing the authors of those old songs that gave me my first indication that Peter Gabriel used to be a part of Genesis.

The remainder of The Longs (with the exception of a sweet drum duet  between Phil touring drummer Chester Thompson) was songs that exceeded 10 minutes in length, and only from as far back as 1983. At the time, these were my favorites, so it makes sense that I would come to like the Gabriel years even more than Phil’s heyday. Even though Phil holds a special little place in my heart, and always will, it’s albums like Selling England By the Pound that will be Genesis’ lasting legacy. If I were playing Desert Island and could only pick one Genesis album out of all of them, it would probably be Selling England.

The Only Band In the World

I was always wired to love music. As far back as I can remember, popular music just made sense to me. Not just the notes, measures, scales and melodies, but artists, albums, studios, record contracts, worldwide tours, genres, sub-genres, radio stations, airplay, Billboard, even the difference between a single and an EP. All these things came as naturally to me as breathing. Also at an early age, I was searching for something, some artist or band that I could latch onto. There were many candidates that didn’t really stick: the Beach Boys, Petra, Neil Diamond, New Kids On the Block (cut me some slack – I was in 3rd grade and had a big sister). However, all of that crystallized when I discovered Genesis.

As can be expected, the smallest part of the credit for that goes to me. The rest of it goes to my dad and radio, but also to my friend Seth. When we were both 11, he sat me down and made me listen to We Can’t Dance from start to finish (more on that later). That moment was when I took my first step into a larger world, like in Star Wars when Luke deflects the shots from the remote with the shield of his helmet down. Not quite a spiritual awakening, but close.

From then on, Genesis was the only band in the world. Or rather, they were the only band that mattered. Lots of people have similar obsessions; I’ve had several. But wherever my musical hyperfocus has taken me, my Genesis phase was the most intense and all-consuming. Even using the word “phase” cheapens its importance and makes it seem to shrink. For about 3 years, when I wasn’t actually listening to Genesis, I was thinking about them. I made innumerable mixtapes that were different arrangements of Genesis songs, some based on a lyrical theme, some on musical timbre, some even on length. Every ounce of energy that wasn’t put on essential things (like school, church and things like eating and sleeping) was dedicated to Genesis. I thought about the all – the – TIME.

Amazingly, though, this entire Genesis OCD disorder was only focused on part of their career, and what a great many Genesis aficionados would consider their downhill slide. I was only interested in the 3-piece years, 1980 and onward. As far as I was concerned, that was Genesis: Phil, Tony and Mike. There were an island unto themselves. Peter Gabriel and his involvement with Genesis was a non-entity that I wasn’t even aware of yet.

Genesis’ 1978 album …And Then There Were Three

Back then, they didn’t have things like Wikipedia to tell you a band’s entire discography in a few seconds. Combine that with the fact that I was only 11 and my mind could only handle so much at a time, and you get a picture of why they’re pre-…And Then There Were Three days never registered. For a long time, my knowledge of Genesis was limited to what the record store had in stock, and I never had enough time or money to get to anything pre-1978. In fact, I bought a cassette copy of …And Then There Were Three and was so turned off by the dull and confusing cover that I only listened to it once.

By the time I was 14, my tastes had expanded to include R.E.M. and eventually Smashing Pumpkins, and I rocketed into the world of musical awareness from there. But even then, I never left my love of Genesis completely behind me. Even to this day, they’ve never stopped being one of my very favorite bands. It was quite fortunate that I discovered Genesis when I did, and also that I discovered them and not some other band. Thanks to my father’s genes, I find something I like and then sink into it as far as I can, and Genesis has an ocean of depth to sink into. I thought the water was pretty deep when I thought 5 albums was all the Genesis there was (Duke, Abacab, Genesis, Invisible Touch, and We Can’t Dance); little did I know that I was just splashing in the surf.

Prog

Genesis – Foxtrot – 10/6/1972

Genesis was heavily involved in the genesis (he-he…) of what’s termed “progressive rock.” By the early 70s, rock and roll had been around long enough that it needed to be stretched to keep the audience (and the musicians) from getting bored. Some wanted specifically to expand rock’s artistic credibility and give it more weight. Bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer took disparate influences like jazz and classical and combined them with rock to create a little Frankenstein’s monster, but that was only the beginning. Simple as that may sound, it’s actually very complex.

Prog rock is less of a categorically distinct genre as it is a collection of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. Some rock musicians are just stranger than others, and their influences include some pretty far-reaching stuff. Some concomitants include odd time signatures like 7/8 or 13/8, frequent changes in time signature as well as tempo and key, songs that don’t fit the blues standard of verse-chorus-verse, and weird musical instruments or weird things done with standard ones.

But perhaps the most notable quirk of prog rock, at least from this period of the early to mid 70s, is lyrics that draw from mythology, fantasy and science fiction. And the best at this, bar none, was Genesis. While Chuck Berry was singing about his ding-a-ling, they had out songs about a magic box that rapidly aged the person who opened it, giant intelligent plants that wanted to destroy the human race, and the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis. And their 1974 album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is a colossally strange odyssey through weirdness after weirdness that’s like a cross between Larry Niven and William S. Burroughs.

The album Foxtrot is a prime example of what makes prog what it is, particularly the lead-off track “Watcher of the Skies.” It starts with dramatic organ sounds; doomy chords being played with no sense of tempo or rhythm, hitting you like a sledgehammer with every change. After the 90 second keyboard intro, the volume drops and then slowly builds back up; I thought something was wrong with my CD the first several times I heard it. But it’s only so the drums and guitar can build to a towering inferno from the lightly nervous tone they start out on.

Guitar player Steve Hackett performs a mighty feat with this song, hard-charging and vicious in his rhythm parts, blistering in his solos. Phil’s drums beat out a merciless barrage of notes that never lets you get comfortable, despite the song being in the fairly standard time signature of 6/8. Tony Banks drives the song on keys, though he occasionally sounds like the organist at a baseball game.

The lyrics are about a space alien who comes to a post-apocalyptic Earth, one where humans are extinct and the cities are just wasted ruins, returning to nature. Frontman Peter Gabriel wrote them while the band was on tour. One morning he woke up in his hotel room and looked out the window to see a barren landscape, one where he couldn’t imagine there being any life. It was like he was the only person on the planet, looking down on a world that once was, but is not anymore.

Peter is one foxy lady… get it?

With Foxtrot, Peter Gabriel started something that was a Genesis standard all the time Peter was with the band: costumes. Its genesis (okay, I’ll stop now) was with the cover for Foxtrot, which featured a woman in a red dress with a fox’s head. Paul Whitehead, the artist for every Genesis album from 1970’s Trespass until Foxtrot, suggested half-jokingly that they should have a woman with a fox’s head on stage with them. Peter heard that and thought, “well, if anyone’s gonna be on stage on costume, it’s gonna be me!”  He then appeared on stage in a red dress wearing a huge plaster fox’s head; he didn’t even tell his bandmates he was going to do it.

Other costumes soon followed, like the bat-hat for “Watcher of the Skies,” a centurion for “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” the Magog costume for “Apocalypse In 9/8,” and his most famous get-up, the flower mask for “Willow Farm.”

If scholars a century in the future were teaching students about progressive rock, and they had to pick one song that crystallizes most of the peculiarities of the genre (without being close to half an hour long), that song might be “Watcher of the Skies.” It’s one of Genesis’ best songs, and though a fan and concert favorite, it’s far from being their most famous. In my mind, however, it perfectly captures what I love about Peter-era Genesis.

Next: an announcement from Genetic Control.

Deep Water

The band that entered my consciousness earliest in life that qualifies as a full-blown obsession is Genesis. I was awakened to their music at age 11. Like it is with most bands, I had heard of them beforehand; the earliest time I can remember was when I was about 5 or 6, seeing the music video for “Invisible Touch.”

Those were the Phil Collins days, and for about a year after becoming Genesis-crazed, that’s all I thought there was. Then my dad told me they used to be fronted by Peter Gabriel. “That ‘Sledgehammer’ dude?” I thought. “Weird!” Even weirder, Phil wasn’t someone they hired after Peter left, but someone who was in the band all along as their drummer. When Peter went solo, they searched high and low for a new lead singer, auditioning belter after belter who just didn’t fit. In frustration, Phil just said, “well, I’ll have a go, then.” It worked and it stuck; search over.

I was enamored with their 80s pop phase, though I didn’t think of them as a pop band. To me, “pop” meant (and still means, to a certain extent) mindless clichés about romance and dating, and lulling the masses into stupidity and atrophy; I wanted no part of it. And yes, I did actually think about those things at 11 years old.

So Genesis wasn’t a pop band. I got a lot of superiority out of the fact that my favorite band sang about social decay, money-grubbing televangelists and the apocalypse instead of who they have a crush on this week. I was swimming in deeper waters than most of my peers, and I liked that.

…But Seriously

My interest in Genesis – alright, my all-consuming passion for them – led me into Phil Collin’s solo career as well. My dad happened to have a cassette copy of Phil’s 1989 album …But Seriously. I ate it up. The horn section and overdone synthesizers didn’t bother me; I was wooed by Phil’s honesty and passion, as well as his monster beat and groove. Trust a drummer to have a killer stomp to his music. Sure, most of what he was singing about was romance, but he seemed to come at it from a different angle than all those hordes of pop singers. He sung about romance gone sour, break-ups and bittersweet remembrances.

Of course, Genesis’s “In Too Deep” was a little more than I could stand. As one of Phil-era Genesis’s most successful songs, I was familiar with it before I became obsessed. Even committing myself to Genesis whole-heartedly, I couldn’t bring myself to like “In Too Deep.” Cloying and sickeningly sweet it was, but its biggest crime was that it was clichéd, the very thing I liked Genesis because they weren’t. However, “In Too Deep” was forgivable because it was on the same album as “Land of Confusion,” which at that time was my favorite song, and “Domino,” a song that contains the lyric Take a look at the beautiful river of blood! Gimme a break; I was 11.

Peter Gabriel on the Foxtrot tour. …a flower?

My Genesis phase was a source of irritation for my family, God love ‘em, but it would have been a lot worse had I been aware of the Peter Gabriel years. It wasn’t until a few years later that I bought a copy of Foxtrot, my first taste of this other Genesis. It was then that I realized that even though I was swimming in deeper waters than my peers, I was still wading in the surf compared to the ocean that awaited me.

Next: pencil-diving into the Dead Sea.