Book Review – A GENESIS IN MY BED: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2020) by Steve Hackett

A GENESIS IN MY BED: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2020) ****
by Steve Hackett
This hardback edition published by Wymer Publishing, 2020, 167pp plus index)
© Stephen Hackett / Wymer Publishing, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-912782-38-3
      Marketing Blurb: The long overdue autobiography from guitar great and former member of Genesis, Steve Hackett. As with his music, Steve has written a highly detailed, entertaining and embracing tome that charts his life in full, but with a firm emphasis on his years with Genesis that saw the band’s meteoric rise to become one of the most successful British bands of all time. Steve talks candidly about his early life, his time with Genesis, and in particular his personal relationships with the other four band members, with great insight into the daily goings on of this major rock band. Naturally A Genesis In My Bed also regales stories of Steve’s career since leaving Genesis and the many different journeys that it has taken him on. With his flair for the creative, and a great deal of levity, A Genesis In My Bed is a riveting read. Indispensable for Genesis fans but also essential for general music lovers and avid readers of autobiographies full of heartfelt and emotive tales.
      Comment: The first thing you notice about Steve Hackett’s autobiography is the brief page count. This is both a blessing and a curse. It makes the read quick and concise but also sketches over details that dedicated fans may have wanted, notably on his later solo career. That said I found the book hugely enjoyable and after reading it felt, as a result, I knew much more about what makes Hackett tick – his insecurities in particular. His writing is literate and informative and full of anecdotes. The book is effectively split into three sections: Growing up and family life pre-Genesis; the Genesis years and his post-Genesis solo career. The first section gives much insight into the formation of Hackett’s personality. A shy youngster lacking in self-confidence, but with a natural musical ability, striving to find his niche. His ultimate link up with Genesis, via an interesting Melody Maker ad, is well known through band biographies.
Hackett’s time with the band highlights his initial reticence to assert himself, although he was instrumental in the band purchasing a Mellotron, which helped transform their sound. He grew in confidence once Gabriel had left the band – Hackett had recorded his first solo album, in the interim between The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and A Trick of the Tail. His newfound confidence through solo compositions became more apparent on Wind & Wuthering, but also sowed the seeds for his leaving Genesis when his intention to continue a solo career alongside the band was vetoed by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. His ultimate departure was swift, during the mixing of the live album Seconds Out. At the time Hackett let some of his frustrations out in subsequent press interviews. Here, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, he is more objective and sees how if he had been more patient he may well have been able to combine the two further down the road – as became apparent once Banks, Rutherford and Phil Collins launched their own solo careers only two or three years later. Hackett is very complimentary of his former bandmates and makes it clear they all get on well, despite occasional disagreements and insensitivities – notably the editing out of Hackett’s solo career from the band’s 2004 documentary Together and Apart.
The latter part of the book, covering Hackett’s post-Genesis solo career is the most sketchy and therefore least informative – although he candidly documents the stresses of managing his solo career as well as his post-punk struggles with the record companies and the music press. Hackett comes across as an immensely likeable bloke, whose desire to nurture talent and have a settled and supportive partner has been his driving force. His third wife Jo has been a keen supporter and soulmate. Hackett’s return to the Genesis archive to mix the band’s songs with his own solo output in his live set confirms he has come to terms with his inner self and is probably the happiest he has ever been. His final words, “I have finally found home,” confirm this. A pleasurable and heartwarming read.

Book Review – APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) by Woody Allen

APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) ****
by Woody Allen
This hardback edition published by Arcade Publishing, 23 March 2020, 392pp
© Woody Allen, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-951627-34-8
Apropos of Nothing by [Woody Allen]     Blurb: In this candid and often hilarious memoir, the celebrated director, comedian, writer, and actor offers a comprehensive, personal look at his tumultuous life. Beginning with his Brooklyn childhood and his stint as a writer for the Sid Caesar variety show in the early days of television, working alongside comedy greats, Allen tells of his difficult early days doing standup before he achieved recognition and success. With his unique storytelling pizzazz, he recounts his departure into moviemaking, with such slapstick comedies as Take the Money and Run, and revisits his entire, sixty-year-long, and enormously productive career as a writer and director, from his classics Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters to his most recent films, including Midnight in Paris. Along the way, he discusses his marriages, his romances and famous friendships, his jazz playing, and his books and plays. We learn about his demons, his mistakes, his successes, and those he loved, worked with, and learned from in equal measure. This is a hugely entertaining, deeply honest, rich and brilliant self-portrait of a celebrated artist who is ranked among the greatest filmmakers of our time.
      Comment: Woody Allen’s autobiography is a fascinating insight into the life of one of modern cinema’s true geniuses. But, like some of his films, it feels like it could have been even better. Caught between two stools – 1. Giving an honest and witty account of his life and his films and 2. Finally taking the opportunity at length to give his version of the molestation allegations made against him by Dylan Farrow. Allen says that he hopes no-one has bought the book simply on the back of point 2 and regrets having to devote so much space (more than 80 pages) to that issue. That he does so is a necessity, however, as much of the publicity around the case has been based on one side’s account – which was proved to be heavily flawed by a thorough investigation and is further questioned on reading Allen’s plausible version of the whole sorry tale that has likely unfairly tarnished one of America’s greatest filmmakers. It has done so to such an extent that his films can no longer be funded in his own country where there have been vigorous attempts by the Farrow family to prevent publication of this book – Ronan Farrow taking the highly dubious moral high ground view that in such allegations only the point of view of the accuser is to be heard. If those too eager to jump on the accusatory bandwagon would only take the time to read Allen’s account of events they will no doubt reflect on their initial judgement and come to doubt the motivation behind a campaign against Allen led by his manipulative former partner (although importantly not co-habiting partner), Mia Farrow, whose own behaviour is remarkably questionable. Allen’s indifference to his predicament is perhaps the most frustrating element. His philosophical attitude, whilst dignified has also not helped his case. My advice is to read his account and judge for yourselves.
Despite my own inclination –  having read accounts from both sides and considered the judgement of the investigation into the allegation that took place at the time  – that Allen has been falsely accused by a vindictive former partner with highly questionable parenting techniques, there are elements of Allen’s life story that leave the reader a little uncomfortable about his partner choices. It is ironic that his happiest relationship, and a marriage that has lasted 25 years, is with Soon-YI the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, who was twenty-one when Farrow learned of their affair. Allen has made his partner choices on impulse and little rationalisation and suffered the consequences of those choices. But that shows he is only human in his naivety and he is certainly not unique in having naivety as one of his flaws.
On his career, both as a filmmaker and part-time musician, Allen remains winningly self-deprecating. In his own view, he has never made a great movie. There will undoubtedly be many who agree, possibly based on preconceptions or just a sheer divergence of taste. Most authoritative commentators and scholars of film history would put a strong case for at least four masterpieces in his filmography. For me, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanours stand with the very best American cinema has to offer. Many of his other films come close. he has also made his share of average movies, or movies that do not achieve his ambition. Allen firmly lays the blame for any quality divergence at his own door – acknowledging his lack of perfectionism as a director or his inability to convert his writing vision to celluloid. He looks to surround himself with the best people he can get. His choice of legendary cinematographers and top-class actors is unquestioned. The freedom he gives these artists to explore their craft is his real skill. Allen will only pull them up if their interpretation of his script or direction is off-key.  He has been known to wholly re-shoot movies or re-cast parts. Again he does not blame the actor or artist’s skills, merely that his own initial judgement in the choice was wrong.
Where the book may disappoint is in the insight Allen offers on his own body of work. We rarely get to scratch beneath the surface of the themes he explores in his movies. Allen’s way is to write film, edit, release and move on. he never looks back and never rewatches any of his movies once they have been completed and released. he no longer reads critiques and has never accepted awards. Many of his movies are covered in 1-2 pages, which to some extent in a sizeable filmography is understandable, but offers nothing to the fan or scholar wishing to get further insight into his films or the creative process in their making.
Hopefully, before he leaves this world the truth around the allegation that has dogged his career since the early 1990s will win out and Allen’s stature in motion picture history will be rightly acknowledged. In the meantime, this autobiography at least enables him to state his case and for those who retain an open mind, it will help them arrive at their own balanced judgement.

Book Review – MY BOOK OF GENESIS by Richard Macphail (2017)

MY BOOK OF GENESIS (2017) ****
by Richard Macphail (with Chris Charlesworth; Foreword by Peter Gabriel)
Published by Argyll & Bute, 2017, 234pp
ISBN: 978-1-5272-1504-7

My Book of GenesisBlurb: School friend, aide-de-camp and tour manager, Richard Macphail was for almost five years the glue that held Genesis together, and in his affectionate memoir My Book of Genesis he tells his own unique story of the group’s early years. Richard was the singer in Anon, the Charterhouse school group that included Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, which would later merge with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks’ group The Garden Wall to become Genesis. Richard then became their one-man road crew, shepherding them from gig to gig, providing a cottage where they could live and rehearse and offering support when it was most needed. Richard was there when Phil Collins was auditioned, when Steve Hackett was recruited to replace Anthony Phillips and when Peter Gabriel left for a solo career. He was in the thick of it as they fulfilled their ambitions, signing to Charisma, touring Europe and America and recording a series of albums that fans fondly remember as the bedrock of Genesis’ extraordinary career. In his book’s final chapters he describes his ongoing relationship with Peter, Mike, Tony, Phil and Steve, a friendship that has endured for over 50 years. Featuring contributions from all the members of Genesis and co-written with former Melody Maker journalist Chris Charlesworth, My Book Of Genesis is both revealing and forthright, an insider’s account that fans will treasure.

An interesting account of the rise of a rock group in the days when bands had to work for their success. Some lovely stories and anecdotes of the author’s time with Genesis, from their beginnings at Charterhouse through to them cementing their prog-rock status in 1973 with “Selling England by the Pound”. Macphail was the unsung hero and his enthusiasm and encouragement helped to see the band through some early setbacks. He was the band’s champion, driver, technician, sound engineer, road manager and cook through their formative years and all the band contribute to his story, confirming their gratitude toward a free spirit who they saw as a sixth member.

Book Review – NOT DEAD YET: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2016) by Phil Collins

Image result for phil collins not dead yetNOT DEAD YET: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2016) by PHIL COLLINS (2016, Century, 448pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Phil Collins tells his life story as he would put it, “warts and all”. It is a fascintating, touching, funny and sad read showing how his dedication to his career resulted in domestic disharmony and ultimately psychological issues, alcoholism and failing health. A man who could do no wrong in the 1980s became pilloried in the 1990s, following what he terms as “Faxgate” – for which he puts the record straight here, and ultimately retreated into a form of semi-seclusion following his so-called “retirement”.

Collins has always been honest and forthright in his interviews and he is brutally honest here about his descent into depression and alcoholism over an 8-year period from 2005-2013. He is frank about how this affected those around him and he is big enough to lay the blame with no-one else but himself. He is riddled with guilt over how he put his career before his family and this is a constant theme throughout the book. It is sometimes hard to read as Collins lays bare his soul and his increased self-loathing, which obviously fuelled his near self-destruction. Fortunately he had people around him who cared enough, but it was a long hard and ugly road that has left many scars on himself and those close to him.

But the book is also balanced and is often very witty and funny.  Collins tells of his adolescent years as a child actor and his early musical influences visiting clubs like the Marquee to watch his favourite bands; a strange tale of how, as a 19-year old star-struck percussionist, he was left off George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass; his audition and early touring years with Genesis then his ascension to group singer following Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975. He describes 1987s four-night stint at Wembley Stadium (touring Invisible Touch) as the point where Genesis hit their peak and demonstrates great affection for all his former band mates.

His divorce from his first wife, Andy, set the tone for his song-writing inspiration and led to solo success and his elevation to the pop stratoshpere. He becomes in demand from the musical good and the great (John Martyn, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Bob Geldof, et al) and flattered he finds it hard to refuse his friends. The result is a constant workload throughout the eighties that bred contempt from non-fans and music journalists. When his second marriage broke down in the early nineties – this time through his own infidelity – the press had a field day and this was the catalyst for Collins’ gradual withdrawal from the limelight.

Fans of Collins will likely be shocked as to how self-destructive he became in the 8-year period from 2005-2013, when he was lout of the public limelight for long periods, excepting a brief Genesis reunion, work on a Broadway production of Tarzan and his Motown covers album Going Back. It’s incredible none of his issues became public at the time – although the press had probably moved on to other targets. Non-fans may find Collins’ humility refreshing and be prepared to re-assess their views of a likeable man who undoubtedly likes to be liked and is hurt by “unwarranted” criticism. But, he is ultimately harder on himself than any of his critics.

That Collins has retained his sense of humour is encouraging and this book will undoubtedly have acted as a release for him. It is a sobering parable of how a single-minded dedication to your career will ultimately lead to unhappiness and loneliness. But there is always the hope of redemption if you are willing to see past the psychological wall and admit your failings. Collins is loved by all his children and is on good terms with two of his three ex-wives. An unwritten postscript to the book is that Collins is now reunited with Orianne, his third wife, and living a family life again,. He has also come out of retirement to tour again – on his own terms – with his son, Nic, on drums.

When I finished the book there was a sense of a story incomplete. Maybe there will be a happy ending for Collins after all – his music is being re-appraised and many modern artists have come out to say he was an influence. His fans have not deserted him and the tour sold out instantly. So, there may be a few more twists to the tale. Collins says at the outset the book is his story as he remembers it and no-one can deny it is a compelling and cautionary tale.