"The Living Years" - A review of Mike’s autobiography by Chris James.
A great memoir, but also a missed opportunity.
For dyed-in-the -wool Genesis fans this book is a must read: the first memoir by one of only two of the band’s members who’ve been there since the very beginning. However, for the casual Genesis or Mike + The Mechanics fan, there really isn’t much here that hasn’t been dealt with in more depth in other biographies. As a genre, the autobiography tends to succeed depending on how controversial it is. While there is the occasional surprising revelation in The Living Years, there are very few indiscretions.
The most entertaining aspect is of course, the first-person immediacy, reading about events in Genesis’ history from someone who was there , whereas until now Genesis fans have had to make do with third-person biographies (the most thorough being 2007’s Chapter & Verse), But Rutherford’s life is not only about the music. His father was a captain in the Royal Navy who saw action in the Second World War. Interestingly, Rutherford junior draws parallels between his own career and his father’s, so at the beginning of the book we get excerpts from Rutherford senior’s unpublished memoirs as well.
This is a highly enjoyable literary device which unfortunately only lasts for about the first third of the book. Once Rutherford junior has joined Genesis , the emphasis is very much on the band, and the author proceeds chronologically through the Genesis discography until his father passes away in 1986 when Rutherford was in the middle of the Invisible Touch tour. Afterwards he goes through Mike + The Mechanics very quickly and 2007’s Turn It On Again tour is also not dealt with in any depth.
I can’t help feeling that this memoir should have been substantially longer. The literary device of using excerpts from his late father’s unpublished memoirs was excellent and should have been kept up throughout the whole book. In addition, I think Rutherford could have said a great deal more on how he created his music: we do get descriptions, especially of songs like The Living Years and Land Of Confusion but I finished this book wishing he’d spent several more thousand words going into a lot more depth. On the one hand, perhaps he feels there’s not much more to be said, but on the other I think a lot of people are very interested and would have appreciated a greater creative analysis. Certainly a missed opportunity.
Also on my Kindle version, there are about fifteen significant typographical issues: a few repeated words, a number of words which ran together, and - unforgivably for a traditionally published book - two instances of “less” which should have been “fewer”. However, these mistakes did not spoil my enjoyment of the book and I point them out only because as a traditionally published book, potential readers are being asked to pay top money for it.
In summary: absolutely a must-read for serious Genesis fans, its like having a private interview with Rutherford; some parts are surprisingly personal and more revealing than information in previous Genesis biographies. It is a joy to read about events in Genesis’ history from Rutherford’s own perspective. For the casual fan, there is still much to enjoy, and this is a wonderful insight into the evolution of the greatest rock band in the world. The only drawback is the book’s brevity - it could have, and really should have, been quite a bit longer than it is.
Thanks Chris for that perceptive review. If anyone else has any thoughts about Mike’s book, please send them in!