Genesis and Theology

Genesis and Theology October 18, 2019

The Genesis referred to in the title of this post is not the book in the Bible, but the band. Obviously the two are related. But they are not identical. I have started work on a book I have under contract, which I am writing together with my colleague in the Butler University School of Music Frank Felice, on Progressive Rock and Theology. This is a genre I love, but as I’ve dug into the genre through this lens, I’ve been learning and discovering much more that I never knew.

Genesis is one of my all-time favorite bands, and it was seeing Tony Banks playing the keyboard in a video that led me to want to learn to play. It was cousins of mine who first introduced me to more recent Genesis, and slightly older cousins who introduced me to Peter Gabriel era Genesis, giving me their copy of the LP Foxtrot. Initially I wasn’t sure what to make of the surreal lyrics and jarring listening experience one encounters in songs such as the album-length Supper’s Ready. Nothing I had listened to – even more recent music by Genesis – had prepared me for it. I have a different perspective now. Today in an era of video I think that something like this illustrated edition of the song can help one grasp the extent to which the song, like so many prog rock songs and especially extended-length suites, tells a story. And what a story it is! The ending, if nothing else, will make clear to you why this song has to get attention in any book about theology and progressive rock. Yet the band members never seem to have been explicitly interested in theology per se. And so how does one make sense of the imagery taken straight out of the Book of Revelation that brings this song that fills almost an entire side of an album to its remarkable conclusion?

Here’s a live performance that provides a sense of what a concert experience was like in the Peter Gabriel era. Their music and Gabriel’s on-stage persona and costumes were inseparable in the minds of many.

I am going to need to give the lyrics to “Happy the Man” some more attention. The echo of the beatitudes is noticeable already in the title. This feature in Louder Sound is also interesting. See too:

Genesis and Other Storytelling

I also came across a couple of books in a specialist bookstore in Paris, focused on Italian progressive rock, which I’ll probably need to read. Both are by Louis de Ny. I didn’t just grab them on the spot since I wasn’t sure how relevant they will be to this project, but I’ll definitely need to take a look at them more than I was able to in the bookstore. They are Le petit monde du rock progressif italien Une discographie amoureuse and Plongée au cœur du Rock Progressif Italien Le théâtre des émotions. Genesis, of course, had a big influence on Italian progressive rock.

Prog rock gets a mention as one genre that converged in a particular form of Soviet-era music, the VIA phenomenon. Atheist Rev talked about music and revolutions, musical revolutions and social change.

Here’s a prog rock guitarist last supper, featuring two guitarists from Genesis, the only band to have two representatives in the image, which I think says something about their importance in the genre (as if there were any doubt about that).

The amount of material from Greco-Roman classical literature in prog rock is noteworthy and so this piece about popular music in antiquity seems worth linking to here.

I also want to mention The Tapes Archive which may or may not end up featuring anything normally characterized as progressive rock. But the genre itself is by nature transgressive, and so there are bound to be some candidates. Either way, though, I would share this link to an endeavor of a dear friend and former colleague.

The Beatles in many ways provided the initial impetus to get what became progressive rock started (my colleague and co-author Frank Felice has referred to their work on Sgt. Pepper as “proto-prog”). And so it seems fitting to mention here some new information that causes us to rethink the accepted narrative about the last days of the band, as reported on in The Guardian.

And finally, Ben Witherington went to hear Styx perform…

Styx in the Sticks

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  • John MacDonald

    My favorite Genesis song is “I can’t dance:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGI2d31M7Ns

    • Is that because of the video?

      • John MacDonald

        I like the video. The lyrics are fun. It’s catchy!

  • Peter Gabriel is perhaps my all time favorite solo artist, and the work Genesis did when he was with them was amazing. WRT intersections with theology, the “Passion” album comes to mind, of course, but as an evangelical college student, I found many of Peter Gabriel’s songs to be spiritual and co-opted them in that way. Phil Collins is more of a guilty pleasure.

    Have you ever listened to Tom Waits’ gospelly songs?

    • Wow, I think you’ll like this book we are working on, then! It is interesting that the members of Genesis, despite their name (and previously considering Gabriel’s Angels as an option), are not overtly interested in religion. I went to Bible college with the drummer (Robbie Tyrrell) who was in the band Anon that fused with The Garden Wall to become Genesis, with the remnants from the fusion doing nothing that drew comparable attention. He was phenomenal on the drums, the best drummer I’ve had the chance to play with. I’m hoping perhaps I can reconnect with him in connection with this project, although we didn’t stay in touch subsequent to that.

      I’m also hoping to try to trace a line from “Supper’s Ready” through “One With The Vine” to “Jesus He Knows Me” on the theme of false messiahs. The material is so musically and lyrically rich!