Killian Beeler, Contributing Writer
I refer not to the biblical book of Genesis, but to the band. Most students who are familiar with the musical group probably associate it with its cheesy ’80s pop songs like “Invisible Touch” or “Land Of Confusion.” These songs originated in the dark years when the Cabbage Patch rocker, Phil Collins, led the band into mainstream success with unoriginal pop-rock. Yet if you look back to a decade before this transformation, you’ll find a group of witty, creative and somewhat nerdy young men who had recently graduated from Charterhouse, an English collegiate boarding school, and were now, led by the charismatic frontman Peter Gabriel, using their classical education to christen the wild world of British Rock and Roll. In those days, the band created a beautiful, complex and distinctively English sound, complemented by intricate and insightful lyrics that addressed the problems and peculiarities of modern British life with puns, poetry, Greek mythology, Christian imagery and English tales of old. Genesis albums like “Foxtrot” (1972) and “Selling England By The Pound” (1973) provide a wonderful soundtrack for the inquisitive, passionate University of Dallas student who also wishes to take what he has learned inside the classroom and use it to help address the problems of his own society.
Interestingly, I grew up hating the band’s music. Genesis was my dad’s favorite musical group, but since I was a lover of British punk and American alternative, I deemed anything categorized as “progressive rock” self-indulgent and long-winded. It wasn’t until my semester in Rome that this changed.
I entered my Rome semester not really wanting to indulge in anything specifically American. I put down the Nirvana records and anything else that reminded me of the U.S. I stopped listening to British bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, whose inherent “bluesiness” seemed a little too American. For the most part I just stopped listening to music. Yet, as I beheld Europe in all its glory – the unbelievable cathedrals, countrysides and cities – I yearned for a sound worthy to accompany such beauty. Not having much knowledge of classical music (though certainly an appreciation for it), I searched for something more modern, but I couldn’t find anything that could express what I was experiencing.
It was when I was coming back from 10-day, looking out onto the Bavarian countryside from the window of a train, that one of the many Genesis tracks my father used to force me to listen to popped into my head. It immediately fit and made sense. Growing up in post-World War II England, where American pop culture dominated, the band’s members always made a conscious effort to sound English and European.
But the first place the band found success was in Italy, not in Britain.
“Whenever they couldn’t get any work for us in the UK, there would always be some dodgy disco in Italy that would have us out for the summer … that’s when I developed a love for all things Italian,” said Gabriel.
If there were any place to properly appreciate the band’s grandiose attempts at modern masterpieces, it would be Italy.
Back in Rome, I tried not to listen to the band’s music as I would regular rock music, expecting immediate gratification or easy entertainment, but instead tried to appreciate it as if it were a beautiful Roman church, complete with magnificent architecture, icons, frescoes and statues. I ended up loving the music and spent many beautiful spring evenings on the Due Santi campus listening to it as I fell asleep.
Obviously Genesis is not for everyone. But if you’re a little on the nerdier side – if you play a classical instrument, or are a fan of Tolkien, a lover of mythology or possibly just an English major in Junior Poet – the band may have something to offer you.
If you were to start listening to Genesis, I would suggest starting with the two previously mentioned albums, “Foxtrot” (1972) and “Selling England By The Pound.” Highlights from these albums include “Can-Utility And The Coastliners,” which uses complex and rich music to tell the tale of the fabled King Canute, the vain and prideful conqueror of England; “Supper’s Ready,” the 23-minute masterpiece that begins with the vision singer Gabriel and his wife had of seven shrouded figures in their backyard, reaches its zenith at the ultimate battle of good and evil in the section “Apocalypse in 9/8” and ends with the eternal feast of the New Jerusalem; “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight,” the opening track of Selling England By The Pound that laments the materialism that has commodified all that is sacred in society; and “Cinema Show,” a romantic story that uses the myth of Tiresias to celebrate the consummation of love between man and woman, sea and land, heaven and earth.
One of the things that makes UD special is the ability of the students and faculty here to take the great tradition of Western civilization and apply it in a playful way to their own lives. This is why I think Genesis is a great companion for the UD student. The members of the band never saw themselves as great artists, but always thought it worthwhile to try to recreate what they knew to be true and beautiful. Genesis provides a fun bridge between our own postmodern popular culture and what we learn about Western civilization at UD.