The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir by Mike Rutherford is a long title, but it is pretty self-explanatory. Rutherford is a founding member of the legendary progressive rock band Genesis. While the group have gone through numerous personnel changes since forming in 1968, Rutherford’s is the first autobiography from any member. Although there are a few choice band tidbits in the book, this is a very personal account of Rutherford’s life.
For the less-than-rabid Rutherford fan, The Living Years may even be too personal. He chose an interesting conceit for the structure of the book, by comparing and contrasting his life with that of his father. In the preface, Rutherford explains that Crawford Rutherford died in 1986, which was the moment the band were at their commercial peak with the album Invisible Touch. Rutherford was given three steamer trunks of materials that his dad had kept, but it took him a few years to actually open them. When he did finally look in to the trunks however, he found his father’s diaries, which are excerpted throughout the book.
Crawford was a Captain in the Royal Navy, which meant that he did a great deal of traveling. At 65 years of age, Rutherford sees a great deal of similarity between the world travel his father did for the Royal Navy, and the world tours he has been involved with as a member of Genesis. This is certainly an intriguing narrative concept, but at only 256 pages, this does not leave much room for the type of band stories that many of us were probably hoping for.
He does hit the high points though. The discussions of the early days with his pal “Ant,” (Anthony Phillips), and the pain of Ant’s decision to leave the band after their first album From Genesis to Revelation. Rutherford discounts that record, and considers Trespass to be their true “first” LP. He explains that Trespass, Nursery Cryme, and Foxtrot were all group efforts, but The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was lyrically almost all Peter Gabriel. He sees that Gabriel simply could not go back to being “just” another member of the band after The Lamb, and understood his decision to leave afterwards.
Drummer Phil Collins took over vocal duties post-Gabriel, and they continued on as a four-piece, with Rutherford (bass), Tony Banks (keyboards), and Steve Hackett (guitars). After A Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, and the live Seconds Out, Hackett left. As strange as it is, …And Then There Were Three marked the rise of Genesis as a commercial force. The Rutherford, Banks, and Collins edition of the band roared through the ‘80s, and sold records in league with Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Prince. Whether you loved or hated the pop sound they found success with, Genesis were one of the biggest bands of the decade.
Rutherford’s side band Mike and the Mechanics provided the title of the book. “The Living Years” was a huge hit for them in 1989, and the power-ballad likely provided the theme to numerous high school proms that year. Mike and the Mechanics were unable to follow-up the huge success of “The Living Years” though, and eventually disbanded. Genesis peaked with Invisible Touch, but carried on to diminishing returns afterwards as well.
Along the way, Rutherford is honest. His drug use was never over-the-top, but it existed. He also makes it clear that Gabriel was a tea-totaler, which surprised me a bit. Rutherford talks about his wife Angie, and how he basically stole her away from another man for marriage in 1976. He also mentions some of the difficulties that Collins’ solo career presented in regards to Genesis.
As a big fan of the five-piece Genesis with Gabriel and Hackett, I never really warmed to albums like Abacab or Invisible Touch. But a very large audience did, which worked out well for Genesis. Rutherford has been there for the entire ride, and hearing the story first-hand through him is a treat.
As a fan, I would have preferred a book about twice as long as The Living Years. And I could do with more stories about such key albums as Selling England by the Pound or The Lamb rather than the many excerpts from Crawford Rutherford’s diaries. Having said that, I do give credit to him for coming up with a unique device with which to tell his story. This is a fascinating book on its own terms. My only advice is to set aside your expectations for a boat-load of Genesis gossip and trivia. The Living Years is a very personal memoir from Mike Rutherford.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1250060680]