“He Whom Life Can No Longer Surprise” (Best Skip This Post)

Okay, this is one of those obscure posts about progressive rock that you’re best advised to skip over unless you’re a 70s prog-rock geek like me and Brad Birzer at Hillsdale.  (See ProgArchy.com if you want a geek sample.)  But if you are one of us, this one is really fun.

I just yesterday stumbled across the obscure cultural fact that at the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Phish—one of those hippie-jam band successors to the Grateful Dead—opened the proceedings with a dead-on cover of one of the oldest and least accessible tunes ever done by Genesis: “Watcher of the Skies,” from Genesis’s 1972 album “Foxtrot.”   The thing about “Watcher” is that it’s one of those prog tunes that takes a long time to get going, and once you’re finally under way. . . well, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste and leave it at that.  (Though I’ll admit it is a taste I fully acquired in college in the late 1970s.  Must have been all that second-hand smoke. . .)

Now, if you have the time and patience (it needs patience) to watch this cover below—just over 7 minutes long—the best part is the cutaway shots to the assembled contemporary musicians in the audience, who are all clearly dumbfounded.  You can tell most of them are thinking, “What the hell is this?”  One of the early shots of a baffled Bruce Springstein is worth the whole thing, along with another of Meryl Streep looking for an exit or a fire alarm somewhere.  And there’s a shot of Phil Collins at the 1:50 mark who appears to be thinking, “I can’t believe they’re playing this.  We quit playing this by the early 90s for a reason!”  (Collins just joined Genesis as the drummer back in 1972 at the time of “Foxtrot.”)  If anyone in the audience does recognize the song, it’s clear there’s no nostalgia or enthusiasm for it.  The applause at the end is noticeably tepid.  Pity.

Now, you might think Phish is pulling a really elaborate joke on everyone, including Genesis.  Au contraire.  If you have another seven minutes check out this poor quality video of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio proclaiming the greatness of early Genesis in the formal induction speech.  Pretty clear he means it.  Either that or the LSD hadn’t worn off yet.