Mike Rutherford’s New Book
Jerry Lucky Commentary October 2015
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2015 All Rights Reserved
Just finished readingMike Rutherford: The Living Years. Not sure how many of you have read it yet, but thought I would offer my thoughts. It’s tagged with the line: The First Genesis Memoir. While there have been plenty of books written about Genesis including the group’s quite spectacularGenesis: Chapter and Verse, but this is the very first book penned by a member of the band that digs into the personal side of things. The paperback copy I purchased in Bath is published in 2014 by Constable and is made up of 240 pages spread over a series of chapters. The connecting fibre of this book is Rutherford’s relationship with his father. He writes lovingly about his dad’s life throughout the book going so far as to use many quotes from his father’s diary. While the elder Rutherford spent much of his early life in the navy, the parallels relating travel and experiences with life or people are eerily similar despite the different times.
The book is an easy read as Rutherford’s style is very down-to-earth, littered with dry-humor and even slightly self-deprecating. I’ll call the reading of the book a “wizard of Oz” experience because in some ways I was disappointed at times as Rutherford pulls back the curtain on his band experiences. I know I probably shouldn’t feel that way, but that’s what it is. So what do I mean when I use that phrase? Well the first and most significant disappointment starts with him offering up an explanation for how Genesis came to composing their longer songs. As a progressive rock fan, I want to feel that a certain amount of forethought would have gone into creating those classic numbers and yet as Rutherford tells it: “The real problem was the material itself. Because none of us really knew how to write a song we’d each write bits. We’d then go and fight the others about which bits we should use, always arguing that our own bit was ’for the good of the band’…This was one of the reasons why our early songs were so long, we’d just keep adding bits. Long songs might appear clever and hard to write but for us they were easy. We’d just take bit A and bit D and segue them together. What we didn’t realize was that it was generally better if you didn’t try to use the whole alphabet every time.” And there goes the curtain!
The way Rutherford glosses over such a foundational aspect of the band’s compositional prowess, describing it as more of a power-play than intentional composition at work is more than a little disillusioning to me especially given how someone like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys embraced what he called modular composition to create something greater from the parts. Whereas Wilson intentionally made an effort to create something magical, reading Rutherford I was left with the feeling that the music of Genesis came about more by accident.
The other disappointment comes around the time of Abacab and the change in how Genesis started creating their music. Up to this point each member came in with bits and pieces or songs that were then developed into finished pieces. But for the recording of Genesis the three of them came with nothing. They had acquired their own studio and could now spend as much time as they wanted there. So they came with nothing and simply started jamming. Everything was recorded from scratch on the floor by the three of them – the first time it had ever been done where each member contributed equally – hence the title of the album Genesis. I’m reminded of the saying – creativity is born out of adversity. In the case of Genesis, they were playing their instruments better than they had before but the songs they were creating grew increasingly less involved and certainly less demanding. To my mind this jamming approach to music creation was the start of the decline in their compositional quality. Perhaps it should not surprise me that as the level of complexity fell their popularity with the masses grew.
Disappointments aside, the book is filled with interesting tid-bits of information that few fans will have read or heard before. There are great stories about the creation of his double-neck guitars, falling off stage, the bands somewhat disciplined drug-use, the people who were friends and family and so forth. I think Rutherford worked quite hard to come up with long-faded memories with which to write about and in that sense the book is quite entertaining and informative. As any memoire should be it is a very personal and detailed glimpse of what being in a band like Genesis was like through the eyes of one member.
It is constantly amazing to me how much the band Genesis was much like any band of then or now. Reading about their day-to-day experiences during their fourth and fifth albums where many times they were still sharing hotel rooms, driving to gigs in vans or even relying on their parents, puts that part of history into context. We may have thought: Wow, these guys are rock stars playing in New York City and yet in truth even then they were five guys struggling to make music just like so many others. Given how huge the band became and how much of a household name they became it’s sometimes it’s hard to “see” the band for what they were. Their path to stardom was filled with all kinds of potholes and I guess what separates those who make it and those who don’t, is how dedicated one is to their craft and how determined they are to make it happen. That and a few lucky breaks separates the famous from the also rans.
At least that’s what I think.