There are two things one needs to know about Richard Macphail’s My Book of Genesis. First, as much as it is a biography about the venerable prog/pop rockers, it’s not a biography about the band. The second bit of info comes from a note written by Macphail himself preceding the first chapter: “All but the last two chapters of this book took place before my 30th birthday in 1980. That was a long time ago. To the best of my ability, I have tried to recall these events as accurately as possible. There may be, however, the occasional lapse in my memory. Not everything you read in this book is necessarily true.”
Even the hardest of hardcore Genesis fans likely have little to no idea who Richard Macphail is. However, if you are a Genesis fan of any stripe, from their dense and involved prog rock days through to the more palatable and mainstream ‘80s and beyond, Macphail is someone you should be thanking profusely. The author and the original members of the band have known each other since the early ‘60s, meeting while students at Charterhouse School in southeast England – the details of their shared school experience are laid out within and are absolutely horrific by today’s standards. It was there the bunch of them discovered, learned and became obsessed with music, learned to play instruments, formed bands, came of age and did all the typical and typically dumb shit that kids do that gives parents mild heart attacks.
Genesis’ “I Can’t Dance” is such a dope tune…
The coterie of failed and future rock stars grouped up in a couple of different configurations, breaking up and trading members while writing songs until it became clear that the members of Genesis would do their thing and Macphail would do his. And that was to act as the burgeoning band’s “band aid” from its inception until he parted ways with them in the early ‘70s. This meant he was their roadie, driver, front of house sound engineer, baby sitter, chef, errand runner, psychologist, accountant, record company liaison, tour manager, confidant, personal assistant and a myriad of other duties all designed to keep the ship sailing as smoothly as possible so that Genesis’ members could focus on their thing which was writing, recording and touring.
As someone who often does crew work for bands, your intrepid reporter found My Book of Genesis a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes machinations of a group before my time in the music industry which hardly resembles the industry of today. In addition to being the recollection of what happened through Macphail’s eyes, it’s an exercise in seeing how much things have changed, what’s stayed the same and the differences between a band’s salad days and what things are like for an act once they become massive stars all from the perspective of a person who was there from the start, literally.
There are stories of the band doing the subsistence level thing, solely living off of gig money while writing 1970’s Trespass album over the course of a few months while living together in a cottage owned by the author’s family. It was here where Macphail did all the housekeeping and babysitting while the band flexed its creative muscle. And whenever there was interpersonal strife or someone was ready to hand in their walking papers or potential pink slips were on the table, Macphail played amateur therapist and smoothed out all the kinks in order to keep the band going. This skill came in handier when the band became more popular, more recognisable, busier, and began taking their music to other countries in the days before the internet made touring and being away from the amenities of home and loved ones a comparative breeze.
Here’s a clip of Richard Macphail discussing the book.
The book is loaded with anecdotal tales of how Genesis manoeuvred the British music scene as a progressive rock entity before progressive rock was really a thing and how Macphail contributed to that movement. He doesn’t get high and mighty on himself. He repeatedly claims he was just doing his job and takes as much credit for glaring missteps and not knowing what he was doing at any particular time as he does for knowing his shit while giving his perspective on some of the band’s most famous moments. There are also a surprising number of tales of Macphail and the band crossing paths with would-be famous and eventually infamous folks that are too numerous to list off here, but not so shocking if you place a lot of stock in the idea that the world is a small place.
As mentioned, as much as the focus of the book is Genesis, it’s also an autobiography. Macphail talks about trying to expand his horizons beyond life as the main employee of his friend’s band. Trips to Israeli kibbutz’s, the substances he ingested, the various odd jobs he took in the interim while trying to proverbially find himself as many of that generation were wont to do, not to mention his working with other artists and bands including Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Brand X and a stint as his old mate Peter Gabriel’s personal assistant and tour manager during the early days of his solo career.
There are a number of inadvertently funny recollections about parts of his North American travels that are questionable and when he talks about hitch-hiking across Canada, us hosers will look at what he remembers about the Trans Canada Highway and southern and eastern Ontario quizzically. He also talks about life once he completely severed working ties with the music industry and his work as an energy consultant for a company that played a large role in greening environmental movement before it was a movement.
This video is nothing but a “Land of Confusion”…
The book is a quick and easy read; Macphail doesn’t fancy himself as a flowery bard and neither will he ever be confused for one. He keeps things light, simple and to the point with just enough information about particular incidents to adequately give the gist of the story while frustratingly omitting enough depth and detail to leave you wanting more. Some of the stuff about his own personal life can be taken or left, depending on how much you care about the path of someone who has lived an infinitely more exciting life than you, but there are lessons about loosely following paths, falling into interesting niches and leaving things to chance that can be viewed as healthy living lessons here. This, in opposition to the commonly accepted route of limiting one’s options based on financial and employment security and the trap of expectation.
This is absolutely more than a book about a rock band. It’s a tale of discovery and about carving one’s own way while not exactly knowing what you’re carving into. It’s about freedom, opportunity and living life without a roadmap which might sound cheesy, but it’s also about real life, and how cheesy can that be?
Written By: Richard Macphail
Publisher: Wymer Publishing (January 9, 2018)
Format/Length: Paperback, 238 pages