Thursday, June 28, 2018

"He Wrote A Book?"

Last week, I was at the Nashua library, glancing at the titles of musician-inspired and/or -penned books. Plenty of well-known and -loved names are there -- Dylan, Aretha, Prince, Clapton... you get the idea. I've looked at those spines again and again for a few years now, suspecting that I was probably meant to be a musicologist in this life, just never really acting on that hunch. But this time, one name took me by surprise: Mike Rutherford.

That guy, for anyone stumbling upon this shadow of a blog who doesn't know, is best known as the lead guitarist of one of my all-time favorite bands, Genesis, as well as the Mike at the head of a lesser renowned yet very successful band, Mike and the Mechanics. The book's title is, The Living Years: the First Genesis Memoir.

Rutherford's name on the spine was enough to get me to check this book out. But "first Genesis memoir"? Huh...

I first got into Genesis when "That's All" hit the airwaves in 1983. You know how you feel when a song you hear for the first time makes you look up just an inch or so above your own eye level because if you had ears that could point forward or backward, like a dog's or cat's, you would have done that instead? That was my reaction to Tony Banks's piano work on "That's All" -- and all I needed to buy the band's self-titled album (the one with the assorted yellow geometric pieces on the cover).

A couple years later, a local version of MTV, the long-defunct V66, had an hour-long special on Genesis. At the time, I thought they were a relatively new trio. Oh no, grasshopper, V66 informed me. They got together in the late 60s, and there were five of them -- and one of them was another artist I'd been introduced to via a tune titled "Sledgehammer," one Peter Gabriel. On one hand, in Genesis, Gabriel looked and sounded to a young, impressionable, Pepperell-bound cub such as me like a minion of the devil. On another hand, his journey from Genesis frontdemon to high-flying solo artist intrigued me. As for Mike Rutherford, he looked to me like someone's face on stretched out Silly Putty -- I didn't give him much thought then.

There was also Phil Collins's journey from drummer to frontman, a rarity among rarities in the history of all music, not just rock 'n roll -- but that's another blog entry. I've since become a loving Genesis fan. The Gabriel years and the Collins years. Personally, I favor the Gabriel years, but that's just me -- that seed took root when I was a Pepperell-bound cub, I didn't even realize it then, and that's all there is to it. But...

If you had asked me thirty, twenty, or two years ago which Genesis member would break the memoir ice, I would have said Phil Collins. Long shot second, Peter Gabriel. Mike Rutherford?

He wrote a book?

Yeah, he did. And it's a good one.

His father sets the tone early, and never really recedes. Rutherford quotes from his father's journals extensively. That man was a rock, folks -- a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, and a long-serving high official in the British Navy. Young Mike wound up in boarding school and hating multiple forms of authority, rebelling against his father, who never once wavered in loving support of his son -- even when that tall, gangly jackass joined some wet-behind-the-ears noisemaker called Genesis and gave his old man migraines and fits.

It was that son versus father undercurrent that you couldn't miss if you tried. It stretched decades. Mike Rutherford and his father loved each other, but never quite connected. Dad was forged in the fire of the Second World War, and Son came of age in the Boomer-heavy Dream '65-'75 Dream Decade -- they couldn't reach each other if they tried, and deep down, it was killing both of them.

That same-planet-different-worlds sorrow is, of course, captured in Mike and the Mechanics' signature tune, "The Living Years." I never gauged the depth of that song until I read Rutherford's book. It's funny, and a little eerie, how much the son's life ended up echoing the father's. Dad was a military man living in that world apart from his son too much, and a few decades later, Son was touring all over the world apart from his father too much. And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon. For real.

I also like this book in part for Rutherford's portrayals of his fellow bandmates -- especially Banks. I was once a keyboardist, and Banks's work with Genesis will resonate with my spirit until the day I die. But Tony is also portrayed by Rutherford as an insular bonehead prone to occasional bouts of brilliance.

Sounds a little like me.

Bottom line, I really enjoyed this book. Mike Rutherford just might have a new career as an author ahead of him, he's that suited to the medium.

Who knew...