June 23, 2020

At a dinner party, (Robert Fripp) reprimanded me for eating too much of his cheese. To his displeasure, I ate another piece…forty years on, I’ve never been invited back.’ …that may not be the most intriguing, revealing or touching quote from Steve Hackett’s new autobiography A Genesis In My Bed, and it probably says more about Fripp than it does Hackett. But it’s one of the more amusing, lighthearted moments that occasionally float to the surface, providing welcome levity as Hackett takes to recounting his sometimes troubled past. Not to suggest he plays the maudlin figure steeped in pathos – far from it – but he is a sensitive soul, looking back with warm nostalgia on life’s joys and with stinging sadness at its traumas. We observe the defining moments of his childhood and adolescence and how they influenced the famous life and career he was to have later.

Steve and brother John with friends in Canada, 1957.

Decidedly weightier than the shallow, indulgent reminisces sometimes found in such memoirs, A Genesis In My Bed is an honest (and occasionally brave) account of Hackett’s seventy years on the planet, and a glimpse into how the aforementioned joys and traumas can sometimes intertwine. His family’s emigration to Canada in the 1950s, for example, is at first narrated with tremendous fondness; his wide-eyed wonder during their voyage across the ocean, the ease of making new friends in Vancouver after a mesmerizing cross-country train ride (‘No journey in later life could come close to the thrill of seeing the map of Canada unfold at my fingertips.’), a school he finally loved attending and the new national anthem he sang earnestly. The palpable heartbreak at his parents’ sudden decision to return to England four months later is crushing, as we are perhaps reminded of our own first experiences with such immense childhood disappointment. Pressing salt into our wounded heartstrings, Hackett vividly depicts the deflated journey back ‘home’, where the downtrodden child is promptly beaten and humiliated by a teacher. On his first day back. In front of a classroom of students. ‘It was as if I was serving a prison sentence in a penal colony from which I’d escaped… I’d been knocked right back to the beginning in this game of snakes and ladders some call destiny.’ And here we thought the Charterhouse lads were the ones who had it rough at school!

Hackett chronicles these times with a balance of cheery memories as well. Illustrating his early love of films as necessary escapism for the young artist-in-waiting, and his harmonica prowess that eventually led to his first guitar in his early teens, we trace his formative years of girlfriends, bad influences, jobs, bands, school, drugs, and coming of age in 1960s London. Through it all, we can almost feel his playing growing more accomplished with each new technique he uncovers, and by the time we hit 1970, he has placed his now famous magazine ad: “Guitarist writer seeks receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms.” And history is made.

I still view Tony Banks as one of the greatest English composers…

A detailed journey through the entirety of his time with Genesis dominates the middle third of the book. Beginning with his audition for Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel (‘Pete did all the talking and Tony sat there silently, blank expression’), and introduction to the bedridden Mike Rutherford (‘Like coming face to face with a Martian… he sat up and greeted me, extending a long bony hand, whilst his low cultured voice and facial expressions resembled Christopher Lee’) …all the way to his decision to break away from the group seven years later, a string of classic albums under their collective belt and his sights set on his own destiny. Truth be told, some die-hard fans will already be familiar with a handful of these stories. But they are too integral to omit, and there are plenty of newly unearthed nuggets woven throughout. Besides, even the more familiar tales seem fresher when told from Hackett’s viewpoint (ask five Genesis members and you’ll get five different versions of the story).

Third gig with Genesis, London’s Lyceum, 24th January, 1971.

As with every band throughout history, not every moment was spent skipping through the daisies with arms linked. There were internal struggles, and Hackett doesn’t shy away from addressing them here. But Genesis was not exactly a band fraught with personal drama or tales of debauchery. Their disagreements were largely musical ones, so nothing here comes across as spitefulness or dirt-dishing. Nobody slept with anyone else’s wife, or got anyone hooked on heroin, or got together with a Japanese artist and insisted on having her in the studio while they recorded. Disputes in the Genesis camp tended to revolve around rather tame and sometimes trivial matters in those days. In fact, it was Hackett who once told the story that Banks and Gabriel would erupt into screaming matches over bygone events such as one swiping the other’s wine gums at school… hardly the stuff of legend or tabloid fodder.

Hackett clearly holds his former bandmates in high esteem, praising their musical gifts on multiple occasions: ‘I still view (Tony Banks) as one of the greatest English composers.’, and he seems particularly fond of Gabriel. He holds the elaborate music they made together in the highest regard of all, as evidenced by his proud focus on much of its creation. I was pleased he devoted a fair amount to the making of his debut solo record Voyage Of The Acolyte as well, as it’s an important chapter of his career, and many fans have long considered it worthy of standing alongside the full band albums on either side of it.

I made the decision to take another leap of faith into the abyss…

The final third of the book is devoted to Hackett’s post-Genesis life and career. From his classic early output like Please Don’t Touch, Spectral Mornings and Defector through to the recent Seconds Out tour that COVID-19 ground to a halt, Hackett plays the raconteur with anecdotes aplenty. A few of the latter-day albums tend to feel glossed over though, with just a small paragraph devoted to each of them. This feels a shame, especially to those of us who admire all eras of his music. But then, maybe by the time album number twenty rolls around, one runs out of things to say if one is to maintain interest – not every reader will be clamouring to hear arcane details about every release. Nonetheless, I learned a lot from reading this book – even more than I thought I would – and it prompted a lengthy listening spell as I was continually reminded of the wealth of sterling music across Hackett’s vast catalogue – with or without his Genesis bedfellows.

The theme of his life’s journey from timid, lonely child to renowned musician and seasoned globetrotter is ultimately one of triumph. He has an admirable, infectious passion for the arts, and a romantic eloquence when speaking of the places he loves – like Rome, for example: ‘It feels like the city has seen it all, from the worst nightmares to the most serene dreams that rise up from every Roman fountain. It’s long been a source of inspiration.’

Above all else, I was taken with his surprisingly tender nature. He’s clever, articulate, and witty, but there’s a sweetness at his core that shines through in his love of animals (he merrily recalls feeding a grape to a four-inch gecko, playing with a male lion, feeding foxes in the midwinter… even sitting among a pack of wolves for an album cover shoot). He comes across as a kind soul and a staunch ally to the people close to him, speaking beautifully and devotedly about his wife, his family and friends, and his fellow musicians. Casting his mind to sadly departed mates Chris Squire and John Wetton, he divulges: ‘I’ll always miss them both. I still talk to them in my dreams and we continue to discuss musical ideas together.’ That sentiment encapsulates the essence of this book… and of the man behind it.

A Genesis In My Bed is published 24 July and available to pre-order now.