Friday, January 6, 2012

That Rush/Genesis Place

Greetings! I come from the Yes/Genesis place!

This has been with me for years, so I might as well work it out. 

Years ago, I was working with a good friend on his film (to which I wrote the score). We were talking about spotting some music and, for some reason, he mentioned, with a hint of ribbing, that he didn't "come from that Yes/Genesis place."

At the time, the comment sort of whisked past me. I wasn't offended, even though I do, in fact, come from that place. I was more intrigued by the statement than anything. This friend is someone I hold in the highest esteem as a thinker and as a writer/director, so, at intervals, over the years, I have been slowly, incrementally, working out that statement.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been the biggest Yes fan. I respect their musicianship, but I always found most of their stuff to be self-indulgent, in the same way I find a lot of jazz self-indulgent: when music seems to be getting played more for the enjoyment of the musicians than the audience, it somehow comes over false to me. Just my two cents. (Don't get me wrong -- Oscar Peterson has made me weep for joy . . . but other types of jazz leave me recalling a joke a friend of mine, who is a classical guitarist, always says to his jazz musician friends: "They just sound like they are making it up as they go.")

I suppose I come more from that Rush/Genesis place. What it means to me is this, now that I get around to blogging about it: bands like these two were all about being artistically adventurous within the boundaries of tradition. Instead of throwing out all of the rules, they tailored their work according to traditional frameworks. In truth, Rush was my gateway into literature and Genesis, my entrance into orchestral music.

For instance, Rush had a thirteen-minute song called "Xanadu" that was sort of a part two to Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn." Not only was it a cool literary allusion that was exciting to my teenaged brain, but the piece itself was somehow sort of impressionistic -- sort of a movie score with no movie, complete with Respighi-esque bird-chirping in the beginning. (To many, Geddy Lee's voice is intolerable -- I like it.)

Ha! A probable inspiration that
never occurred to me until today . . .
Genesis used to, especially on my two favorite albums, A Trick of the Tale and Winds and Wuthering, craft five and six minutes songs with long instrumental breaks in which they managed to develop leitmotifs. They even used to close their albums with a sort of overture (underture?) that summed up the themes of the songs that went before it.

And in both cases, there was the tremendous musicianship. All of these guys could play -- some of them on a virtuosic level. To a young musician, it was really inspiring.

Lyrically, especially in  Neil Peart's case (Rush) they explored deep themes in an unashamedly traditional poetic way.

I still go back to them, sometimes. And I can't help but think that their work was like vegetables for the young mind: a healthful diet of ideas and sounds.

Recently, my seven-year-old son has been requesting "Dance on on a Volcano" and "Robbery, Assault and Battery" from Genesis. "Eat up, boy!" I say.

So, yeah, I "come from that Rush/Genesis place" and I'm pretty proud of it. I might have grown to understand that there might be reasons for people to see such prog-rock as pretentious, but I think there is a fine line between artistic risk, which is so necessary, and pretension. But who is the most pretentious: The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga or Rush -- really?

Well, for a taste of the stuff my young dreams were made of, how about an instrumental romp from Genesis: "Wot Gorilla?" How could a young drummer/composer/dreamer not have gotten excited by this? Welcome to that Genesis place, my friends. Enjoy this brief stay -- I hope you will be back:

What teenaged place do you come from? Are you as proud of yours as I am of mine?


  1. Good work C-Mat! Los Endos still gives me chills. And introduce your boy to the best intro to any rock song (IMHO) with Behind the Lines on 3 sides live.

    Ed G

  2. Thanks, Ed. Behind the Lines was really cool -- thaks for the reminder. So much ground to cover . . .

  3. Just come out and say it. Your favorite Genesis composition of all time is "Who Dunnit?" And really, could that song possibly be from the same band that came up with One for the Vine?

  4. Genesis did definitely lose steam over the years . . . but,"Who Dunnit; is from the "Man on the Corner" era -- and I love some of that stuff, especially "Man..."

  5. In short, I stuck with Genesis up until Invisible Touch. After that, it was a song here or there . . .

  6. I'll give you Wot Gorilla, I'm not a big synth fan, but just listening to that now...that was pretty awesome. Really enjoyed it. Thinking back to what you said, I kind of feel like I'm experiencing the same situation only different. I feel that in my day and age, true emotion has gone by the way side in music. Seriously, how much soul searching can you do during a Britney Spears song? I have come to embrace emotion in songs, sometimes secondary to musicianship. I am a member of the Blue October/Mumford and Sons place, and I'm proud of it.


  7. Was it you or was it me?
    Or was it he or she?
    Was it A or was it B?
    Or was it X or Z?

    I didn't, I, I didn't do it....

    Oh but we know, we know, we know...

  8. I'd argue that none of the artists you list there are particularly pretentious. I am less certain of Lady Gaga since dance-pop is not the vibe on which I groove, but she seems no more pretentious than Madonna was in her youth.

    I come from a place populated by bands like The Clash and The Cure; that is, a place where anger is clearly and forcefully articulated and then transformed into something beautiful and bleak.

    Also a place where a lot of black t-shirts are worn, but hey, that makes sorting the laundry easy.

  9. I come from a teenage place where lots of blatant synth-pop merged with New Wave and "alternative" music, but where there was also a bit of punk, a nice helping of heavy metal, and a dose of imported prog. (I never loved Yes, Rush, or Genesis, but I did like Pink Floyd and Marillion.)

    Three weeks after my sixteenth birthday, I drank my first beer in the basement of Radio City with one of the more cartoonishly iconic bands of the '80s. I should probably write about that sometime, because I've only gotten rapidly less cool in the intervening 25 years.

  10. Anonymous: It was Y. I just know it. (Why did Collins wear ski-goggles when he edid that live? Mysteries . . ."

    'nora -- Part of coming from the Rush/Genesis place is that, at least in my favorite periods of the bands, they became T-shirt and jeans performers. I'm not a fan of "images" for bands. It might be part of the reason why I didn't like Genesis as much with Gabriel -- his costumes and weirdness. Rush wen through their capes and platform shoes period, briefly, and then worked it out: the music says it all. But I am, admittedly, an extremist. It even bothers me that classical musicians wear formal clothes. (I took a lot of hit for this philosophy in my "Artistic Unknowns" column at WFTC.) That said, this makes Gaga, for me, the queen of insincerity.

    Jeff -- I reagerly await that piece -- on the beer with the bcartoonish band. Oddly, I never got much into Floyd. I like them, but don't own a single album. I do think Gilmour is one of the most musical, tasteful guitarists of all time, though. And Marillion! Wow -- I haven't thought of them in years, but I do recall liking some of their stuff.

  11. Now see, the costumes and makeup and stage weirdness don't bother me particularly -- what musicians are doing is _art_, after all, and I'm not sure jeans and t-shirt are less a costume than platform shoes and sequins.

    That doesn't mean everyone has to like the platforms and sequins, of course. I am an aesthete, though I should admit also I always preferred The Clash, who were a BAND, to the Sex Pistols, who always seemed to be a performance art ensemble.

    In short, the image should not be more important than the music, but I'm just not convinced that the existence of an image means that the rest is necessarily insincere.

  12. Yeah, I know. I'm ceretainly weird. You are right about all of this, of course. Maybe it comes down to identifying with what matches with one's self. I'm a t-shirt/jeans type, so I see others who look that way as real. We definitely come close, though, with your Sex Pistols/Clash example. I couldn't agree more with the particular example or with the example as a metaphor. Very much like comparing Kiss with Rush (who, oddly, were very good friends).

  13. Riding the Scree, In the Rapids, It

    Gabriel left Genesis with a tremendous 1-2-3 punch at the end of the Lamb Lies Down..... album. Ah, what could have been... On second thought, think both parties going their own way laid the groundwork for the level of separate success they may not have equaled had they stayed together? Such deep topics I dare not further ponder.

  14. "...Lamb..." is, indeed, a masterpiece. I also think "Supper's Ready" is astounding. But you make a great point: it certainly would have been a loss if Peter hadn't gone on to do the great work he did. (How awesome is "Plays Live"?)