Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Mar 12th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Regarding Genesis' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the recognition is mainly a result of the band's emergence during the 1980s as a commercial power, when it churned out radio-ready pop nuggets like 'That's All!' and 'Invisible Touch.' But the band's early history is from another planet, full of indulgent, florid song suites about giant hogweeds, carpet crawlers and talking lawn mowers.
Given the band's outrageous theatricality in the psychedelic era, when frontman Peter Gabriel wore elaborate costumes featuring bat wings, fox heads and flowers sprouting from his dome, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the first incarnation of this long-lived group is that its members gave in to none of the excesses that claimed so many of their peers. Despite the deliberate weirdness of Gabriel's appearance, lyrics and showmanship -- he told surreal stories between songs, often flew above the audience using Peter Pan wires and once shaved a large chunk of hair from the front of his head -- he has claimed that mind-altering substances had little influence.
The band, in fact, was "so mild-mannered that they were on the cusp of meekness," according to a former manager who also handled Sha Na Na. When Genesis began to find success in America, the manager hired detectives to keep an eye on the group. As the agency reported, of the five detectives, "four have died of boredom ... The fifth is in a coma."
Formed in a boarding school in Surrey, England, when the original members were 14 and 15, Genesis' all-but-unnoticed debut album was often filed mistakenly in Christian music sections. The band would go on to flirt with biblical imagery; Gabriel has hinted that the 23-minute concert centerpiece 'Supper's Ready' is one man's journey through the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.
The first paid gig for Genesis was at a children's party. When the band landed a residency in the upstairs room at Ronnie Scott's legendary London nightclub, they often played to crowds that numbered less than the musicians onstage. Founding member Anthony Phillips quit the group in 1970 due to debilitating stage fright. Soon to join would be a young drummer named Phil Collins, a former child actor who had played the Artful Dodger in a stage production of 'Oliver!' and appeared as an extra in the Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night.'
Having earned a reputation in England for worshipful concerts like "high masses," the band had its first real American breakthrough with its 1974 rock opera 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,' which told the improbable story of a Puerto Rican kid from New York who encounters various underground goblins on a spiritual quest. As the Slipperman, Gabriel took the stage in a monstrous fleshy costume with an inflatable phallus.
Gabriel's tenure with the band was ending during the lengthy 'Lamb' tour. He was preoccupied by the problematic birth of his daughter, and he'd been contacted by filmmaker William Friedkin ('The Exorcist') about a potential collaboration. In a press release at the end of the tour, he explained his reasons for quitting the band -- which was not, he insisted, to be institutionalized, as one rumor had it.
Both Gabriel and his former band, of course, went on to become defining artists of the 1980s. Questions about Gabriel's sanity persisted, with widespread suspicion that his 1982 hit 'Shock the Monkey' was about electroshock therapy. (It wasn't.) On the verge of his Rock Hall induction, with the recent release of a covers album, 'Scratch My Back,' and enjoying a reputation as a noted humanitarian and a devoted champion of world music, the 60-year-old provocateur seems saner and more relevant than almost all of his contemporaries.