Wednesday, June 4, 2014

No. 1 – Supper’s Ready

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Foxtrot
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: Seconds Out, 1977.

Note the time of posting. It was exactly 50 years ago that I came into the world. With that, we’ve reached the end of this journey.

For anyone who is familiar with my music, the selection of Supper’s Ready as my No. 1 song of all-time should be about as surprising as the sun rising in the East in a few hours. When I did my email list in 1999, it was No. 1. If I had done this here blog in 1984, it might have been No. 1 then. It would have been No. 1 in 1994. It would have been No. 1 in 2004. It is No. 1 in 2014. (It might very well be No. 1 in 2024, but you’ll never know, because I am NEVER doing this again.)

I did everything I could to not make the selection of Supper’s Ready a foregone conclusion. In fact, I refused to even listen to it for two years, so when I finally played it and Tarkus (and, later, The Underfall Yard), I would come at the songs with fresh ears.

What was most surprising when I reached that point a couple weeks ago was not that Supper’s Ready remained atop my song list. It’s that I ever doubted it would. The obviousness that it still was the undefeated champion of rock songs hit me the instant I played all three songs in a row. It was inconceivable that any other song COULD be No. 1, and, yes, that word does mean what I think it means.

So why is Supper’s Ready my favorite rock song of all time? It has it all—eight sections in which each brings something different to the table yet when combined form a massive piece of music. The sections change from dynamic to quiet, dramatic to quirky and back again. The song starts slow and finishes with a flourish, interspersed with cool lyrics (quick, what other non-Christian song is about the Last Supper and the Book of Revelations?) and odd costumes—at least back when Peter Gabriel was around.

I mentioned this already, but I got to see Genesis do Supper’s Ready—the last eight minutes of it—in 1986. It was incredible, a real highlight if not THE highlight of my concert-going career. I read recently that when Genesis toured for the last time as an active band in 1992, Phil supposedly wanted to do Supper’s Ready in its entirety, but Mike and Tony put the kibosh on that. If they had pulled this one out—when 90 percent of the people at Ohio Stadium were there to hear only Invisible Touch and I Can’t Dance—I probably would have fainted dead away.

So, Supper’s Ready is my favorite song of all time. Who is my favorite performer of all time? (No, that’s not necessarily a trick question.)

On the one hand, the statistics point to Rush. They have more songs than any other group on this here list; more songs in the top 100 than anyone else (nine to six each by Genesis, The Who and Led Zeppelin); more albums with a different song represented than anyone else—19. Then there’s this: I’ve seen Rush live 13 times. The runners up are Pearl Jam and Eric Johnson, at five apiece. If Rush tours next year as planned, I’ll be there for good ol’ No. 14.

On the other hand, I’m not sure Rush even was my favorite band at any one time, let alone all time. A broad historical timeline might look like this: The Beatles, America, CSNY, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam, Tool, Porcupine Tree. Rush probably has been in my top 3 every year since 1989, when I rediscovered them, but they always seemed to be behind at least one band that generated a little more ardor.

If passion were the measuring stick, no band can touch The Who, except perhaps Genesis. I rule out Pearl Jam—the band of the Nineties—because, well, The Who had to exist for me to have gravitated to Pearl Jam in the first place. The Who was the reference point, as in, seeing Pearl Jam in 1994 (my favorite concert of all time) was as close as I’ll ever get to have seen The Who in 1969.

Genesis wins in sheer music size, as I noted yesterday (good ol. No. 2), and having the No. 1 song doesn’t hurt. I also saw Genesis four times as an active band, whereas I never saw The Who until after they already had been disbanded for seven years.

Where The Who wins is in having the No. 1 album—Quadrophenia. (Genesis’ Duke is No. 2.) The Who also has the No. 2 concert—when they played Quadrophenia in its entirety in 1996. (Genesis—the 1986 show when they played the finale of Supper’s Ready—probably would crack the top 10 but not the top 5.)

Finally, The Who has significant historical impact in their favor. My music changed irrevocably the first time I saw The Kids Are Alright in 1979, as I’ve mentioned. I suppose, given my exposure to Emerson, Lake & Palmer at an early age, I might have found Genesis without The Who, but I can name three dozen acts that I love that I wouldn’t have, including Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and pretty much every band from the Nineties on. Genesis can’t match that.

The Who is my favorite band of all time, except …

Take a look at the list of songs on the right-side gutter of this here blog. (And it’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it, now that it’s complete—after you fan out the months, that is.) Notice anything in particular? Here’s what I see: Of the top 19 songs, FIVE come from one loose confederation of four people—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Guinnevere and Wooden Ships are from CSN; Almost Cut My Hair from CSNY; and Cortez the Killer and Down By the River (CSNY’s version) from Y. That isn’t a coincidence.

A simple argument exists that CSNY is, in fact, my favorite band of all time. It’s one I wouldn’t have contemplated at the beginning of this here blog, which, of course, BEGAN with a song by CSN (good ol’ No. 1,000).

First, the song stats, when the four are assembled as a single unit, are as impressive as those of anyone else.

Second, the first time I saw CSNY in 2000 remains my No. 3 show of all time (even though it was a mostly nostalgia act). In fact, I’ve seen CSNY in various configurations six times since 2000—the same number as Rush over the same period.

Third, as for historical significance, CSNY laid the foundation for The Who. If The Who is the father of my rock music, CSNY is the grandfather. Four Way Street was the first live album I ever heard, which created the framework for my love of live music. Four Way Street begat Frampton Comes Alive, which begat The Kids Are Alright, which begat everything else. It’s a direct lineage.

Naming CSNY as my favorite band of all time seems to be the right thing to do, because it brings my music almost full circle. I like that. I was 7 when I discovered baseball and that good music went beyond Snoopy and the Red Baron. Now, at 50, I’m still in love with CSNY’s music, perhaps even more so.


So … after 33 months, 1,004 songs, 1,675 pages of material and 773,255 published words, what have we learned from all of this, aside from the obviousness that I’m a perfectionist geek whose love of Nineties alternarock is surpassed only by that of really long, boring progressive rock?

I suppose you probably learned more about me than you wanted, but, as I’ve said a number of times, this isn’t about you. I said what I wanted to say, for the most part, nothing more. I didn’t say everything I could have said, true, but I didn’t lie.

Laurie only recently began to read this here blog, posting comments along the way. That led me to reread some of the early posts. As a rule, I don’t like to go back and look at older work, because invariably I find mistakes or ways I could have improved something.

So it is with this here blog. I wasted a lot of posts early that could have been devoted to better stories. It wasn’t until I was a little further along, in the 800s, that I sketched a timeline, so I would know what events took place when and match a story with a corresponding song. Many stories I knew from memory would synch up with certain songs, but others, I needed help.

You can see me—well, I can see me—floundering a bit with those first posts early on before better organization and more experience and maturity as a writer provided me with better focus. To a certain extent, that’s a microcosm for my life. I can see me floundering about—perhaps longer than was helpful—with plenty of good intentions. It was only through better organization and more experience and maturity that I gained clearer focus.

Well, I can’t change my past and all its imperfections. I’ll just leave those early posts as they are—a reminder that change is relentless and improvement always is possible. No looking back and no regrets.

Maybe that’s what we’ve learned here. It’s impossible to revise history—at least until Big Brother installs the Ministry of Truth. (I made 1984 the final book I read my first half-century.) There’s no sense in constantly revisiting it and ruing all its imperfections.

So I’m not going to, any more. The end of this here blog represents the end of me ruminating about my past, at least in terms of the mistakes I made with the best information I had at the time. I apologize to those I hurt unintentionally, and I wish those who hurt me in return no further ill will. No one’s perfect.

The memories of what happened are here if I need them. I’m uncoupling the train that’s been hauling them—and the corresponding emotions—around for 50 years and moving forward. I want new experiences—and new music—to carry me along the road ahead.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to clear out my iTunes of everything that’s in there, but I’m looking forward to checking out a lot of music I’ve missed, like that of Arcade Fire, The Arctic Monkeys, Dream Theater and, yes, even older acts like Gentle Giant. One of the first things I plan to do is sign up for Pandora and create a Will streaming station. I figure I’ll tell Pandora I like Tool, Porcupine Tree, Pearl Jam, ELP and My Morning Jacket and see where that leads.

In my opinion, the only way we continue to stay vital as we age is through learning new things, meeting new people, expanding horizons. We’re like sharks: If we stop swimming, we’re dead. I have a lot of things to do, including several things I’ve never done before.

Besides cutting my hair and signing up for Pandora, of course, I’m going to finish my book. I’ve dragged it out far too long as is, out of what it represented at one time and having no plan for what I’d do after I finished. My book is a project that has had a 13-year gestation. It’s long overdue for birthing.

Writing this here blog every day for most of the past 1,000 days has created a good writing discipline in me, so it should be easy to transfer that to my book. That’s why I don’t anticipate any oddness when I no longer am writing the story of my life. I’ll keep writing, just now about baseball. I hope to have a proposal ready in the fall and the whole thing more or less done by my 51st birthday. I still have no idea what I’ll do after that, but I’ll figure that out when I get there.

I also plan to change where I live, although that won’t be for a year. Laurie and I signed another lease in our current apartment. We’ve been there seven years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere consecutively. It’s a great apartment, but I’m ready for something different. I want a yard and gardens and trees again. I want more space. I want a house.

Finally, I plan to make a relationship change sometime soon. Another in an endless parade of old phrases crammed in my noggin is: Whiz or get off the pot. The 10th anniversary of Laurie and I being together is coming up this fall. Ten years is long enough. It’s time to whiz (get married) or get off the pot (go our separate ways). I know which direction I’ll take … but I’m not going to tell you.

That’s right: I’m leaving you with a cliffhanger. No one’s lazier than a writer who doesn’t know how to finish his or her story and just leaves it hanging until the next installment, and nothing’s worse than a story that has no ending.

But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s only at the very end that you know how, or even when, it’ll end, and only if you’re lucky does it end logically, conclusively, with no cliffhangers whatsoever.

I have no idea how my life will end—hopefully, many years from now, although certainly fewer years than have come before. It could end tomorrow, no more conclusively than had it ended today. All we know for sure is that, because you’re reading this, I made it to 50, and I made it to the end of this here blog. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know any more than that … until it’s time.

If I could leave you with one final piece of wisdom out of all of this navel-gazing wankery, it would be this: Don’t be afraid to change. Treat people with courtesy and respect. And to quote the great Satchel Paige, don’t look back, because something might be gaining on you. We’re only human, but we can continue to evolve. The future awaits no man, and if I had any more clichés in my toolbox, I’d brandish them.

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate you being my therapist. Now go out and do something else. After all, I will.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man!


    I enjoyed making this blog one of my first stops every morning for the last 1,000 days, getting to know better someone I thought I already knew well.

    It's been a wonderful ride, and I'm looking forward to the road ahead!