This is the first post on this blog with Genesis as the main subject. A fine band, but quite different with or without the primary interview object in this article. We feel the tensions between Gabriel and the rest of the band quite clearly here. Only a few months later, Mr. Gabriel was out of the band.
Gabriel`s Cosmic Juice
(not to be taken internally)
MAX BELL attempts to form substance from negativity with philosophisin` PETE GABRIEL of GENESIS. Also contains: “The Rock Journalist As Superstar – A Post-Grad Thesis.”
Rael strolled nonchalanty out of the Manhattan subway, wiping a spray gun on his white tee-shirt. The self-elected graffiti king rolled and pouted down the sidewalk cursing the wops and blacks, the whites and chicanos who had him numbered as a nothing, the ultimate outcast.
“So you think that I`m a tough kid? Well, I am and I don`t give a shit.”
Rael is all Peter Gabriel`s creation. One hundred and one per cent virgin violence, he`d boot your teeth down the back of your throat as soon as look at you.
That such a character should evolve at all and become the subject for examination under the rock `n` roll microscope isn`t surprising. He has roots in the most obvious territory: a mixture of James Dean, Sal Mineo and Warren Beattie with a fair measure of Rod Steiger thrown in on top. A Lee Strasberg wet-dream.
But, come on – Peter Gabriel?
A nice middle-class boy. Very shy and super polite. Withdrawn to the point of anonymity. Mention the word “interview” to him and he backs off like a startled rabbit.
Trying to put him at ease required nearly all of the two days with Genesis I was allowed.
But once pinned to a schedule he`ll acquiesce meekly – the lamb lies down.
He has a problem; it`s indicated at breakfast time. As various members of the party troop into the Hilton klatsch he greets them warmly, waving a friendly hand. Trouble is, they ignore him. Not deliberately, he`s just not there.
Grinning and shrugging he returns to his porridge:
“And I`m supposed to be a communicator. Oh well.”
Onstage it`s very different. Whether he`s the “Watcher”, “Cynthia”, “Narcissus”, or “Rael”, Gabriel strides the boards like Sir Henry Irving, an acting colossus with the audience in the palm of his hand. Ironically, he unwinds only in performance, bolting straight out of that shell.
Projecting one major character is his role in “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, Genesis` most ambitious work to date.
The story of Rael – condemned to life on the streets; subterranean adventures in a fantasy world populated by misfits and nightmares Edgar Allen Poe would have been proud to entertain.
“I got the story last summer and tossed the idea, in synopsis form, around in the usual manner until they agreed to do the whole thing. A lot of the music was already written. There`s a few influences which I couldn`t pin down. Dreams particularly.”
Guitarist Steve Hackett seems to have a better idea of what eats Gabriel:
“Everyone has skeletons in the cupboard. Peter`s got more than most. Mine are schoolgirls, his are snakes, Adam and Eve and the destruction of the apple.”
This ain`t rock `n` roll, this is insecticide.
Corruption and sexual deviation have always played a large part in most of Gabriel`s writings – only this time it`s less oblique and you can understand the message on several levels. One very kinky sequence involves the mythical Lamia, a voluptuous monster that preys on human flesh and sucks children`s blood.
It`s an obvious allusion to oral sex, but Peter seems to have prepared for any analysis by providing ready-made Freudian suggestion:
“Actually I`d been reading Jung at that period, so it was deliberate to a certain extent. I think the main thing I was striving for was the contrast between character and fantasy. It`s the idea of him being an outcast in a totally alien situation. I identify with him to a certain extent.”
But why the title? The Lamb is something of a throwaway and hardly plays a significant part in proceedings:
“You see, the lamb isn`t a symbol, so I was a bit worried about the title. He`s a catalyst for peculiarities that take place. The result is experiences Rael wouldn`t be expected to go through because he`s the least likely person to fall into all this pansy claptrap.”
In one way Rael`s mishaps are nothing more than the grotesque extremes of real life against which he rebels – anti -conformist, anti-society, anti-establishment. The discoveries he makes are painful and mostly by default:
“It isn`t quite `I saw God in bed`, but it amounts to the same thing. Like the Lamia uncovering his hidden personality. He`s not as butch as he hoped he would be. There`s a masculine and feminine in everybody and that brings out his romantic side.”
Gabriel smiles sheepishly and continues muttering through his porridge:
“He gets to discover more possibilities in his make-up than just flesh and blood, although in physical terms there`s no way he should survive.”
The eventual outcome of Rael`s adventures isn`t quite clear. Gabriel deliberately left him in limbo in the final and cryptic “It”:
“I don`t think he`s dead. Just going through the cosmic juice, man.”
So what`s `It` about, man?
“An attempt to form substance from negatives.”
“For example, it`s like me saying I have a six-inch diameter red ball and it isn`t blue, green or yellow and it isn`t bigger than 12 inches or smaller than nine…er…well…my reasoning is a bit out there, never mind.
“You know how they approach drama in good suspense movies. You never see what`s so terrifying because they leave it up in the air without moulding or labelling it.”
That`s better, he`s opening up now and having, at last, managed to catch the waitress` eye, he surreptitiously tips a pot of honey into his coffee:
“My stomach works before my brain. Where was I? Oh yes, the Press.”
We kicked around the possibility that the more popular a band becomes the more likely the Press are to nail the poor bastards` heads to the floor and stamp on them:
“Huh. I`m surprised to hear anyone from the N.M.E. say that because in England it`s definitely true, the only place where we didn`t get good reviews last time. They haven`t exactly been noted for their enthusiasm before, either.
“It`s obvious to me that there`s a lot more to music criticism than criticising music. The elevation of rock journalists to superstars proves that. But this concept of the musical elite isn`t accurate. Once they hear a mellotron they close up, finished.”
But haven`t Genesis always laid themselves open to allegations of pretention?
“Your paper`s exposed it if it`s there. (Laughs quietly). We`re easy to put down. You can say the characters are far-fetched, the music over ornate, that we`re riding on my costume success. There – I`ve done it for you.
“However, in maybe ten years a group will emerge to take what we do a lot further. I look upon us as an early, clumsy prototype.”
The stonewall barrier Genesis are thrown up against has always been built on the attitude that condemns anything which tries to make rock `n` roll something more…important. Surprisingly Gabriel goes along with that viewpoint:
“I don`t like the arty tag we`ve got. There`s a vitality and an earthiness, too. I`ve always disliked `culture` and the snobbery that surrounds it. I believe in getting art out of the galleries and on to the streets, something which has begun to happen in this century.
“Anyone can relate to art forms now – there doesn`t have to be a separation between culture and non-culture.”
Now hold on. What you`re saying amounts to a deflation of the so-called creative process in order to get down to the grits:
“True. Status Quo are just as cultural as Wagner`s Ring Cycle. As to the pleasure people derive from the two I don`t know, but in terms of entertainment they are the same.”
So where would we be if Shakespeare had said “enough of this Hamlet nonsense, I think I`ll write a limerick instead”?
“Er…you take your craft to the best of your ability. Maybe what we do appeals to those with complicated tastes, I dunno. In Atlanta they billed us as the `Hottest Thing To Come Out Of England`s New Intellectual Rock Movement`. Didn`t like that at all.”
It`s impossible to tell when Gabriel is being completely serious and when he`s taking the piss.
The fact that he`s intelligent enough to parody the rock circus makes me wary of that spiel about art-on-the-streets. After all, he wrote “Get `Em Out By Friday” because he said social comment was getting to be unfashionable.
While lyrically he is a gas, the humour employed in the songs is essentially English (despite the visuals) – so why should Genesis` success be greater on the Continent where they can`t possibly understand the content?
Still the putsch continues – France, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, all taken by storm:
“I know what the N.M.E. would say. They`d say it was because they can`t understand the lyrics! I think Continentals like the exaggeration and the sense of festival, whereas the English are more reserved. People having a good time is the purpose of our gigs; that`s where fun and art coincide.”
Another aspect of Gabriel that often passes unnoticed is the tendency towards self-parody whilst wiping up the remains left by other rock stars` questionable achievements. For example, the final line of “The Lamb Lies Down”: “It`s only knock and knowall, but I like it.” In a sense completely destroying the created atmosphere:
“Well, that`s partly aimed at the Press and it`s partly a throwaway in story terms. It gets back to the thing about art. While it`s fun to be pompous and sermonise it`s still an illusion, a grand illusion. If you can retain your sense of humour and be cynical, it`s better.
“I go right inside my lyrics and laugh at them at the same time.”
Only in Britain does a refusal to take Genesis seriously border on active distrust of their motives:
“In America I find it much healthier. There`s room for different opinions and you don`t have to justify yourself when you like a band. Here you do, they make you feel guilty or something. Americans didn`t mind that I was telling them about an American. I didn`t pretend to be anything other than an observer there for short periods, I wasn`t unleashing the secrets of New York.”
Anyone who still holds the precious opinion that Genesis ain`t a rock band has their head well buried. There`s going to be a big ownup when the new show hits perfidious Albion because it`s mostly as legit as any other breed of rock being toted for the public`s edification.
Gabriel has even started borrowing from ancient Jagger and enjoys every minute of it, obviously:
“Of course – who doesn`t? Is there a man alive who hasn`t performed his Jaggerisms in front of a mirror? I know I have.”
Can`t tell if Gabriel is worried by criticism or whether he remains aloof. Particularly as he`s getting bleary-eyed again and groping for the toast:
“Sorry…” (croak, splutter) “I`m not being very…” (here my tape indicates a general running-down noise, somewhat akin to a rusty wheelchair being pushed off Beachy Head with the occupant still strapped in) “communicative.
“Although no artist enjoys being slagged, it doesn`t matter if the Press never accepts us.”
And when might that day come?
“Not until we can afford the outrageous bribes you journalists charge.”
I left Gabriel contemplating a plate of scrambled eggs, and proceeded to track down another band member. Eventually I unearthed Steve Hackett, who was delighted to natter.
Recently, the rest of the group have grown increasingly pissed off at Peter getting the lion`s share of publicity. But while they grumble in private, they`re too reserved to force the issue.
Phil Collins, The Working-Class Drummer, used to act wild. Breaking glasses and spraying toothpaste at foreign waiters.
But he`s settled down to the quiet life as well.
While the rest of us hotfooted it for a meal with the three-headed Labelle, Phil settled down for the night with a cup of Horlicks. In fact, apart from one brief appearance in the hotel lobby, no-one saw Collins until he played the show as extrovertly as usual. According to Gabriel, Phil is a much-changed man and wanders lonely as a cloud, mumbling “Nobody likes a smart-ass” to himself.
Steve Hackett, minus beard and glasses, is perhaps the most talkative and easy-going. Rather apart from the others, but aware of his right to speak out:
“On-stage, it`s true – we choose to make ourselves anonymous. But it annoys me when people think Peter did everything right down to writing all the songs and designing the stage. On the last album he wrote less of the music than us.”
Was he concerned at the lukewarm reception Genesis generally received in this country? (Even down to the level where, because of their backgrounds, it was claimed they hadn`t, indeed couldn`t, pay their dues!).
“We`ve only made it through audiences. Any Press accolade has been a by-product.
“As for that dues thing – crap. We`ve been the most available band in the world for seven years. Available to the situation where everybody thinks they own a part of us when they don`t. We`ve played to half a million people on this European tour, and we`re still bloody making it.”
For once the facts are inescapable. Genesis in Europe is THE major thing. Neither the Stones nor The Who (not even Led Zeppelin) can outdistance their box-office receipts.
Young blades and old-timers alike were agreed that the Palais Des Sports gig was the best, response-wise, that they`d ever heard in gay Paree.
Hackett points out where the poor kids have been misunderstood.
“Too often they criticise the form without being able to perceive the spirit. We use a lot of establishment ideas that others don`t. Not values but instrumentation, a lot of traditional elements.
“See, the Stones stood for everything that was negative, they were always putting down. We`re not like that.”
Hackett`s loner stance doesn`t stop him enjoying the fruits of touring, but he`s never exactly anxious to walk on stage. Before gigs his guts churn and he`s often physically sick.
Once in Detroit eight guns were removed from various members of the audience as they entered the hall:
“If I`d known that before, that would have been it. Anything like that and I`m off, I don`t want to know. We were in Leicester once and there was a bloke throwing bottles at the stage. Mike (Rutherford) just stopped playing – crunch – looked at him – y`know, really shocked – and the guy got up and smashed him in the face. So we walked off.
“I was shaken for hours.”
The question of violence affects the group in varying degrees, but performing “The Knife” (particularly in Italy and France where all major gigs become political events) brings problems. What the swarthy Mediterraneans don`t realise is that “The Knife” is a send-up of revolutionary attitudes, a satire – as in joke.
Banks, at the best of times is nervous about it all, but Rutherford, very tall and laconic, enjoys the experience in a masochistic way.
None of them are prepared to let trouble interfere with their safety. After they refused to encore in Brussels there was a riot which Rutherford reckons changed policy a lot:
“Encores don`t mean so much that we`ll watch them tear the hall apart. It`s not such a big thing after all.”
One half of Hackett would rather be playing in the Marquee on Friday night – but the other half wins every time, despite the aggravation:
“In the past I`ve had days of supreme confidence and days of supreme depression. The only key to success is persistence and, if I want something, I don`t give up.
“At school they asked me what I wanted to be. I said `famous`. In a way it hasn`t taken me by storm. It`s slightly calculated but involves a lot of emotion, too.
“I`ve got there on my own terms.”
So Genesis are going to carry on writing their self-contained vignettes and using their mellotrons.
They`re making no attempt to compromise either their intelligence or their potential. They are a group, a unit, with equal say and variable influence – though, whether they like it or not, Gabriel will always attract the most publicity because he has to. He`s the star around which the others revolve.
Then again, as lyricist and vocalist his is the personality that hits you first.
For a brief moment Gabriel-as-Rael and Rael-as-Gabriel coalesce into one person speaking with a common voice:
“I`ll tell you something. We`re not going to be a band to sit still. We`ll self-destruct before we stop running.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Lol Creme, Pilot, Ramases, David Bowie, Pub Rock Special, Charlie Parker, Alice Cooper.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
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