April 21st, 2015
Spring is my favorite season but it is bittersweet this year as my brother passed away just shy of two weeks ago. It is early days yet in the grieving process and my eyes often tear up when I think about him for more than a couple seconds or dwell on particular memory. I have a long row to hoe before I get used to his absence in my life.
When we were going through his possessions I discovered that, just like me, he kept ticket stubs from the concerts he attended. I spared them from the trash for reasons unknown at the time but have since discovered a way to make them useful: since I have this music blog, why not podcast some of the shows that he attended? And so over the coming weeks I’ll be posting shows that featured my brother in the audience and that I have been able to find copies of. I found that I already had several of them in my possession when I came up with this idea and so I was off to a good start.
But before I delve into my brother’s concert-going experiences, I want to start somewhere else.
Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I am a big Genesis fan and that my fandom had to start somewhere. And it started with the above cassette. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my brother had kept the cassette all these years, though it was a rather doleful sense of joy.
Judging by the songs on the reverse side and other memories, I’d say the tape was made in the spring of 1982. The flip side has some songs from The J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame, which was released in October 1981 as well as tracks from Blackout by Scorpions which came out in March 1982. It was at this time that I began to find myself alone after school. At some point my brother’s tape collection fell victim to my plundering. I recall listening to Led Zeppelin IV, a tape which had a mix of songs by The Doors and The Rolling Stones, and several other bands. Somewhere along the way I came across his copy of Abacab and threw it in the stereo. (No MP3s and no tinny little earbuds then.) It was wholly unlike anything I’d heard before.
My mother harbored (and continues to do so) a love for Johnny Mathis and Genesis stood in stark contrast to his anodyne crooning. My father’s taste ran more towards folkier sounds with a good dose of soft rock as well – I’m talking Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac of the mid- to late-70s, et al. Again, Genesis were nothing like that. But they were also different from the bluesy inflections of the Stones, the heaviness of Led Zeppelin, and the more poppy songs by The Doors. I think it was partly due to the lack of heavy riffs on the part of Mike Rutherford but mostly because of Tony Banks’ synthesizers. They just sounded unworldly to my young ears.
Another element that set Genesis apart was the lyrics. I mean, what the hell is an “abacab” anyway? This was before the Internet so I had no way of getting the lyrics. As you can see, it was a pirated copy of the album so I didn’t even know the names of the songs. I later found out that the album did not have the lyrics on the inner sleeve so, even if my brother hadn’t been a scofflaw, I’d still have been flummoxed. I thought that “Me and Sarah Jane” was about Doctor Who while “Dodo/Lurker” was sheer nonsense as far as I could tell. Even now some 33 years later and knowing what Phil Collins is singing, I still can make head nor tails of that song.
I played this tape over and over and over until I ruined it. While I cannot recall at what point this happens, I do remember the sheer horror of humming along to the album only to suddenly hear that the music from the other side had bled through all mangled and muffled. Presumably the playback head on the tape deck need to be demagnetized and cleaned. Ooops.
Fast forward to 1984. A radio station in Chicago announced that they were going to be broadcasting a multi-hour Genesis documentary. I remember well listening to it and still have it on tape. At the time I was only familiar with Abacab, “Paperlate”, and some of the songs from the band’s eponymous album. I was floored when I heard the Peter Gabriel stuff – a complete different voice than I was used to, Mellotrons, and lyrics about giant hogweeds and lambs lying down on Broadway. Unfortunately the program never played any Gabriel-era song in its entirety. Just as I was really getting into the songs, they’d fade out and be replaced by someone bitching about Peter Gabriel’s costumes.
The first song to avoid being unceremoniously truncated was “Squonk”. The song crashes in and then settles into a strong, steady beat. Collins’ drums have never sounded better. I had absolutely no idea what was a squonk was or why it was melting into a pool of tears but, nonetheless, it was love at first listen. I was off to the record store as soon as I was able to find the album that contained this magical song. A Trick of the Tail has been a favorite album of mine ever since.
Years later I found out that both “Squonk” and ATotT were favorites of my brother. Going through his CD collection last week I found that he had only one album from the band’s remix/remaster campaign from the late 2000s and it was ATotT. He came up here to Madison many years ago as I was throwing a party in honor of our father who had died a few months earlier. I was busy at work in the kitchen preparing food while “Squonk” was playing when my brother came in to grab a soda or sample the vittles and he was “singing” along. I use the scare quotes because he could not sing. Neither can I for that matter. However out of tune he may have been, that’s one of those memories that I shall treasure forever.
And so, because my brother’s tape collection had such a profound influence on my musical tastes, I am going to begin with a show from the ATotT tour in 1976. Sorry about ruining your tape, bro.
Several years ago I posted a show from this tour – here – but this concert came a few months later. It took place on 26 June at the Festhalle in Bern, Switzerland and is a wonderful audience recording. Very clear and lots of ambience. And it includes a great rendition of “Squonk”. Just a pool of tears indeed.
This is Genesis performing “Squonk” in 1980. If memory serves both the 6 and 7 May dates at the Lyceum in London were videotaped but methinks this performance is from the 6th.
As a super added bonus here’s a version of “Squonk” that is an outtake from the ATotT sessions. It is an instrumental version of the song. You can tell that the tune is not quite there but it’s close. I also like that one can hear the guitar and keyboards better without the vocals on top.