pulp (2008-06)

Listen Up


A history of 20th-century music and a bandâ’s-eye view of Genesis

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century (Farrar, Strass & Giroux) by Alex Ross

When the 20th century began, classical music was popular cultureâ"as New Yorker music critic Alex Ross points out in his new book, Viennese cab drivers used to spot composer/conductor Gustav Mahler on one of his daily strolls and note to their fares, â“Der Mahler.â” By centuryâ’s end, the two most famous composers still under the marginalized â“classicalâ” rubric, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, had spent time driving taxis to make ends meet, and certainly neither would be recognized on the street by the average hack. Tracking that change, and how it happened, is but one small part of Rossâ’ achievement with his formidable but eminently readable history of 20th-century composition.

The book traces the lives of composers and their works from the dawn of the modern musical era up through the upheavals brought about by atonality pioneer Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples and on into the mid-century, where the artistic sniping between the old guard and the avant-garde was for a time brushed aside by fascism and Soviet totalitarianism, which twisted and destroyed music and music-makers alike. Along the way, Ross pauses for fascinating peeks into the lives of the likes of Mahler, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, and Benjamin Britten, and delves into key compositions with musicological depth as well as a fanâ’s contagious enthusiasm. (Rossâ’ accounts are sure to spike sales of pieces such as Straussâ’ savage opera Salome.)

The waning of classical musicâ’s wider significance is woven into the bookâ’s narrative itself: The purist avant-garde pointedly left listeners behind while more emollient contemporary composers had trouble competing against both the aging classic repertoire and the rise of television, rock â‘nâ’ roll, and other mass-culture movements. Indeed, if the book has any flaw, itâ’s that Ross doesnâ’t devote enough time and attention to what â“classical musicâ” is today, sprinting through the explosive expansion and change of the last 40 years of the century in less than a hundred pages. That said, this story isnâ’t over, and the generally excellent job Ross does here recommends him for the follow-up. (Lee Gardner)

Genesis: Chapter and Verse (St. Martinâ’s Griffin) by Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, and Mike Rutherford

Since 1981, Iâ’ve been proselytizing about how great Genesis is, which was no easy task during the Invisible Touch years. For those who never realized how funny, witty, musically complex, and intelligent this progressive/classic/pop-rock group was, Genesis: Chapter and Verse, a large-format softback book filled with photos, underscores what Iâ’ve been preaching for more than 25 years.

Comprised of interviews with Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, and others who have participated in the world of Genesis, Chapter and Verse traces the story from 1963, when 13-year-olds Banks, Gabriel, and Rutherford enter an elite English boarding school. Their first album, the decidedly Bee Gees-esque From Genesis to Revelation, was released in â‘69. In 1970, Collins joined the band as the drummer, and the following year guitarist Hackett joined, forming what is known now as the classic Genesis line-up.

In 1975, Gabriel left to focus on a solo career and Collins took over the lead vocals. Two years later Hackett split. In 1996, Collins moved on, and the following year Ray Wilson became the vocalist for one album. In 2007, Collins, Banks, and Rutherford reunited for a world tourâ"the second-highest-grossing tour of the year.

With hundreds of photosâ"from the early high-school years to the late 1970s and on to 2007â"Chapter and Verse is a treasure trove for Genesis fans. The interviews are often funnyâ"Banks recalls that when he met Gabriel, the future â“Sledgehammerâ” singer was â“a slightly tubby, friendly guyâ”â"but they also detail a group of songwriters trying to achieve success on their own terms. While some fans thought Genesis sold out in the 1980s, Chapter and Verse reminds us they have always been serious musicians.

Closing in on 60, and on the heels of the highly-regarded 2007 tour, Banks, Collins, and Rutherford still have much to give their fans. Talk of a full reunion with Gabriel and Hackett is even more enticing. And Chapter and Verse has all of their fans asking them to â“Turn It On Again.â” (Shawn Oâ’Hare)


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