Seven Stones

1. I’ve written here before about how I often like things, musically, that conventional wisdom says I’m not really supposed to like. (See bullet number two here for a recent example). Tonight, I’m here to express my enthusiasm for three other musical things that I shouldn’t, all related to the band Genesis, who I believe I have listened to more than any other band over the course of my life, excepting Jethro Tull. First statement of musical heresy: I think Mike Rutherford is a really fantastic and distinctive bass guitarist, despite that fact that he may be the least funky human being on Planet Earth. He’s not in the least bit flashy most of the time, but so many of my favorite Genesis songs are anchored and uplifted by Rutherford’s distinctive pulsing, driving bass parts. Think “Back in N.Y.C.” or “Apocalypse in 9/8” or “Squonk” or “Turn It On Again” or dozens of others to which I could link. He often appears onstage with a mutant multi-neck guitar, one neck strung as a four-string bass, one neck strung a twelve-string acoustic. It’s so wrong, it’s right. Just like a lot of his playing and songwriting.

2. Another thing that serious music geeks aren’t supposed to admit in public is liking Phil Collins-era Genesis more than Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. But I’m here today to say out loud and proud that (some) Phil-era albums get much more ear and heart time in my house than (some) Pete-era albums do. Most of my Genesis listening these days comes from the run of Phil-fronted studio albums starting with A Trick of the Tail (1976) and ending with Abacab (1981), supplemented with a healthy dose of songs from Trespass (1970), which predates the “classic Genesis” lineup of Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. I certainly like all of those classic era albums, mind you, but I just don’t listen to them very often anymore. I should note as I state this heresy out loud that my love for Phil-era Genesis ends with Abacab, as things go horribly and irrevocably wrong with the first song of the next (self-titled, 1983) album: “Mama.” Ugh, do I not like that song, and ugh, do I not like the overly-slick post-MIDI sound that mars that and all later Genesis albums. But when they were great, they were really great. Duke (1980), in particular, has really risen in my estimation over the years, and it’s clearly the Genesis album that I listen to the most these days. So sue me.

3. Fan surveys routinely and consistently cite the same title when asked to identify the worst Genesis song of all time: “Whodunnit?” from Abacab. But I actually quite like this song, and think it was a far more successful attempt at harnessing post-punk and New Wave edginess than “Mama” was a few years later. Plus, the live version of the song actually featured Mike Rutherford playing drums while Phil Collins sang. It has to be seen to be believed.

4. Okay, while I’m on a roll, here’s another musical heresy, unrelated to Genesis: I adored Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians once upon a time, and I consider their 1986 album Element of Light to easily be one of my all-time favorite records. Robyn made another four albums with the Egyptians (bassist-keyboardist Andy Metcalfe and drummer-vocalist Morris Windsor, who had also played with Hitchcock earlier in cult darling band The Soft Boys) after that one before jettisoning the rhythm section and striking out on a solo career, working with a variety of other musicians in a variety of other configurations over the intervening years. Right around the time he made this switch, I interviewed Hitchcock for a newspaper piece, and asked him why he broke the band up. He chalked it up to growing up and getting older and not needing to have a band of mates who did everything together, sort of writing off the whole idea of being in a fixed/stable band as a musical whimsy of youth. But here’s the rub: I’ve never really liked any of the albums that Hitchcock’s done since then, since I think that the Egyptians rhythm section was as important to the albums I love as Robyn himself was. No one has ever made Hitchcock’s songs sound so good, before or since, so there was a chemistry there that was more than just a bunch of mates hanging out. Happily (for me), in 2012, Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor are working together again in  a new band called Three Minute Tease with singer-guitarist Anton Barbeau and guest performances by members of Stornoway and The Bevis Frond. Here’s the lead single of their eponymous debut album: “Love is Onion.” I highly recommend the record, and consider it superior to anything that the better-known Hitchcock has issued since parting ways with his incredibly talented former musical mates.

5. Is that enough musical heresy? It probably is. Let’s talk books for a second. I don’t read a lot of fiction, and I once categorized my reading habits in an earlier post on another blog thusly:

10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?

40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?

40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.

10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Everest, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection.

That being said, I did read a work of fiction recently that really moved me: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. He’s one of the few contemporary novelists whose work gets under my skin, and I think this is one of his best books. Go get it and read it, and then lets talk about the ending (with lots of “SPOILER WARNING” alerts for those who haven’t done so yet), okay?

6. Back to music: Public Image Ltd.’s new album, This Is PiL, is absolutely fantastic. John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) is in the best voice I’ve ever heard him, and the band (guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith) just nails a collection of fabulous dubby grooves, carrying the promise of the group’s hugely influential Metal Box (1978) into the 21st Century and beyond. Highly recommended, and a likely fixture on any year-end “Best of 2012” list posted here.

7. There isn’t really a seventh item here. But “Seven Stones” by Genesis is a great song, anyway.

Dodo/Lurker

1. For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve titled omnibus posts — meaning those with short, multiple topics — after songs by specific artists. In the beginning, these posts all had titles from songs by The Who. Then I used Bee Gees song titles for several years, and I’ve been using Frank Zappa song titles since around 2010 or so. Tonight, I feel inspired to honor a new band. Props to the music geek who identifies the new omnibus post titling band first. I should note that I am making the switch after watching about five hours of documentary interview footage online about this band’s back catalog. Because that’s how I roll, yo.

2. Marcia and I went to Omaha last weekend. It was our first time in Nebraska’s largest city, and we went to see a classic car exhibition at a restored historic manor house there, as a prep and research tour to support the exhibition that my staff and volunteers will be offering at Salisbury House. We stayed right downtown, and really enjoyed the Old Market area, with loads of stores, restaurants and bars packed into about a sixteen square block area abutting the Missouri River. We had an absolutely divine dinner at V. Mertz in a subterranean passageway in the Old Market, with excellent, knowledgeable service, an outstanding wine list, and some truly innovative and perfectly prepared entrees and small plates, largely featuring fresh regional meats and produce. I had a rock shrimp appetizer over polenta with a buckwheat fritter and great, tasty fruit and sauce accompaniments, while Marcia opened with a heritage tomato salad that looked like a work of art. I don’t care for tomatoes, but Marcia reported that its taste lived up to its appearance. For our main courses, Marcia had a duck dish that was built around the best tasting, most tender duck breast I have ever eaten, and I had a salmon entree prepared over a creamed wild rice bed, livened up with apples, turnips and fennel. We capped the evening with a beautiful, leathery 30+ year old Pedro Ximenez sherry and a flourless chocolate cake served with almond ice cream. We even had a perfect table, tucked into a little niche in the corner of the restaurant, where we could unobtrusively people watch, without being overwhelmed by other peoples’ conversations or traffic in and around the restaurant. It’s definitely a contender for the top ten list of greatest meals I’ve ever eaten. Highly, highly recommended the next time you find yourself in Omaha. Or anywhere nearby even, since it’s worth a trip in and of itself.

3. On our way to Omaha, we stopped in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to play a round of golf at the Dodge Riverside Golf Club, immediately adjacent to a large Harrah’s Casino. The course was pretty busy, so we waited at the tee box at most holes behind a foursome who were good golfers, but of that obnoxious variety who spend way too much time thinking about club selection and walking back and forth from their carts and swinging a dozen practice swings before each meaningful stroke of the ball. When we rounded the ninth hole, we headed straight for the tenth without stopping, hoping that we might leap frog the guys who had to throw grass in the air before every stroke, since we are pretty much “ready golf” kinds of players who just want to keep moving. When we got to the tenth hole, however, things did not look good: there was another foursome there who were clearly inebriated, having a loud conversation with a ranger. We sat back from the tee box so as not to crowd them, but one of the players saw us and waved and invited us to play through. We gratefully accepted. In the tee box, the foursome introduced themselves to me by first names, mentioning that they were in Council Bluffs for work, and that they lived in Los Angeles. I politely inquired as to what brought them to Iowa, and they said that they were in town to play a concert at the casino the following night. They asked me where they could get a good steak in town, and I apologized for not knowing the area well enough to give them a tip. We chit-chatted a bit longer, and then my music geek curiosity got the best of me, and I asked, “So what’s the name of your band?” Their answer? Weezer. Oops. I think they were kind of disappointed that I had to ask but, hey, I was really too old for college rock when they were at their creative and commercial pinnacle, so they aren’t on my “recognize immediately” radar screen. We thanked the four of them for letting us play through, though, and then amusedly watched them fall farther and farther behind us throughout the back nine. I think they must have stopped golfing altogether at some point and just decided to hold court in a bunker around the 16th hole.

4. One of the more entertaining things about being a long-time blogger is when people who have been reading my words for years without ever commenting decide to de-cloak and reveal themselves to me. Since I know the total traffic levels that my sites generate, and I know how many of those folks actively comment, I can deduce that something like 90% of my readership falls into the category of “lurkers:” people who happily read from the sidelines, without ever actively participating in the conversation. I appreciate this, since there are lots of sites where I do the same thing. So in honor of this post’s title, I formally applaud the lurkers of my various website . . . and if the spirit moves you to de-cloak via e-mail or comments, I’ll be delighted to have some idea of who you actually are. Holla!

5. My sister the artist honored by one her region’s leading arts businesses as the Asheville Area’s Artist of the Month, which she has concluded entitles her to assume the title of “Miss August.”