Rewind: 47 Years Ago This Week, Scene Interviewed Peter Gabriel

This July, Cleveland Scene will turn 50 years old, and in advance of the occasion, we've decided to dig into the archives on a weekly basis to republish something that appeared in the paper on that date (or thereabouts) during Scene's first decade.

This interview by Crocus Behemoth (Pere Ubu's David Thomas) with Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel appeared in the issue that came out on April 19, 1973. It featured the headline, "Genesis: The Inevitable Mutation."

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Genesis is a fantasy band. That’s how lead singer Peter Gabriel likes to put it. Instrumentally, musically and visually, this English group tries to create an other-world mood.

White backdrop curtains, white amps and a white cloth covered stage will absorb green, red, yellow and purple colored lights as the show progresses. On stage, the members of the band sit almost motionless as the performance begins. Only Gabriel stands. He is dressed in black and wears a black headdress from which two diaphonous bat wings jut out. He, too, stands motionless, arms folded at his chest, as the organ intones the ominous opening chords of “Watcher of the Skies.” His eyes, rimmed in phosphlorescent make-up, glow like a demon’s from the purple lighted stage. As he begins to sing he pantomimes with sharp and violent gestures. “Watcher of the skies watcher of all/His is a world alone no world his own/He whom life can no longer surprise Raising his eyes beholds a planet unknown.”

Genesis is a science fiction band: the aural equivalent of a surreal DC comic book. In fact, the themes for their lyrics are drawn, at least indirectly, from the science fiction and fantasy books that Gabriel, Tony Banks (keyboards) and Michael Rutherford (bass) avidly read. Gabriel, who does most of the writing, looks like he should be a character put of one of those books or from some “Star Trek” episode. A rectangular portion of the hair above his forehead has been shaven off from which his long black hair falls down on three sides. (When I talked to him he evidently hadn’t shaved for a week. He had a five day shadow, I guess).

Gabriel gets the material for his songs from “day dreams,” his reading and imaginary extrapolations from real events.

“Musical Box,” for instance, is a story about a child who is decapitated by his sister in a croquette game and who comes back to try to rape her as an aged spirit in a musical box. Cosmic, eh-what? He got the idea while day dreaming in his mother’s Victorian mansion about croquette, "a typically repressed English game.”

“Return of the Giant Hogweed,” another of his songs, is “like a really bad horror movie about a giant hogweed that eats everything,” he said. “It’s like one of those Hammer House films that becomes a parody of itself.”

“Watcher of the Skies,” written by Banks and Rutherford, was taken from a story by Arthur C. Clarke, a prominent British science fiction writer. That story was the model from which Clarke and Stanley Kubrick wrote 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Genesis is obviously a representative of that peculiarly British musical genre best described as “cosmic.” Gabriel attributes several factors to the evolution and monopoly by this genre by English groups.

One of those factors is the survival for the most-specialized competition in the over-populated English musical scene, according to Gabriel.

“In a way there’s much more competition in England,” he said. “Everyone has to score in London. If they don’t they fail. Because of that there’s a faster rate of turn over of ideas.”

The Beatles and King Crimson were major forces in creating the cosmic genre, according to Gabriel. King Crimson, especially, influenced Genesis.

“They extended things. They took good material beyond pop songs and created successful music as well as exploring sounds,” he said.

Genesis, as any self-respecting band should be, is into “sounds” which usually are provided by such things as 12 string guitars (played by Steve Hackett), mellotrons and special electronic devices.

“Each musician works a lot on getting a precise sound or effect,” he said.

Just before the interview the band had been engaged in a “very creative” session with its manager, Ed Goodgold, according to a Buddah Records representative. The band was talking about the direction of their next album. (Goodgold, incidentally, also manages Sha Na Na.)

“Things will change in our music but not drastically,” drummer Phil Collins said. “On the next album our music will be freer. There’ll be more room to move.

“There’ll be more acoustic things and the rhythm section will be stronger.”

“On our last record (Foxtrot) we don’t think our rhythm section was coming out well,” Gabriel said. “On the next album there’ll be more room for it to operate.”

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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