Thursday, March 6, 2014

$32.50 Per Letter, or: How to Spend Your Birthday in Court and Enjoy the Outcome

"I've put this off for far too long."
-- Bilbo Baggins

I was born Adrien Mikel Dooley.

Not a lot of people know that, because I never used to talk much about my family history. I always felt as if it was some big, shameful secret that no one was supposed to talk about.

But the fact is, I was adopted by my maternal grandparents, the Rushes, when I was somewhere around 13 months old. They almost renamed me Christopher Andrew Rush, but they decided to keep my given names and just give me their surname.

They adopted me because my birth mother was incapable of raising a child. She had some serious emotional demons that she fought her entire life, and they made her a frightening person to be around. She was in and out of psych wards all the time I was growing up. She lost her nursing license because she was caught stealing prescription drugs from the nursing home she worked at. She was violent and abusive toward everybody, including me. Suffice it to say that some of my earliest childhood memories are painful ones, in both a physical and emotional sense.

When I was a child, I watched her slit her own wrists with a razor blade. If I hadn't run downstairs to tell my by-then adoptive parents what I'd just seen, she probably would have bled to death.

She finally died when I was in my late 20s. She choked to death in her sleep, on her own vomit, following an overdose of pills.

She lived a very sad and tormented life. And she left a lot of pain and heartache in her wake.

When I was a young guy, probably around 12 years old, I declared my first real act of rebellion against her by changing the spelling of my name. It was my way of distancing myself from her. But I also genuinely hated the spelling of my first and middle names.

She told me that Adrien was the French spelling of my name. That was true, but my French heritage is minimal, and the few Adrians I knew of spelled their name like that -- Adrian. There was Adrian Zmed, the actor; Adrian Dantley, the basketball player; and Adrian Belew, the musician. That's the Adrian I wanted to be. (I wasn't so big into going against the grain back then, I guess.)

But my middle name was what really made me cringe. My bio-mom told me once that she spelled it Mikel to spite my birth father, whose first name was Michael.

So how was I supposed to live with that? She admitted to mangling my middle name to try to settle some ridiculous score she had with my bio-dad. It was no wonder my dad, Michael Dooley, divorced her and took off very early in my life. Knowing how my bio-mom was, I never once blamed him for leaving, and I told him that the one time I got to meet him. Sadly, he was kind of a disappointment, too, never showing any interest in meeting me again after my repeated attempts to reach him.

Anyway, I've used my own spelling of my name for about the past 30 years. Everyone who knows me, personally and professionally, knows me as Adrian, not Adrien. But I never got around to changing the spelling legally, and I hate seeing "Adrien Mikel" every time I look at my driver license, passport, and Social Security card.

So I finally decided to do something about it.

When Lori asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I told her I wanted to legally change the spelling of my first and middle name. And so that's what I did. I filled out the paperwork online, took it to district court, and got myself on the afternoon docket.

When I came back at 1:15, after getting shifted from one courtroom to an adjoining one and waiting my turn, the woman at the front of the courtroom -- was she the judge? A stenographer? -- finally called my name.

"The judge has approved your name change," she said. "Go out front to the clerk's window to collect your documents."

Wow, that was easy! I didn't even have to see the judge. She just signed off on the change and submitted the paperwork to the clerk.

Why did I wait 43 years to do this?

When the clerk handed me the official document, showing the legal change of my spelling, I couldn't help breaking into a smile. Not only had I made my personal name change legal, but I also finally made an important emotional break from my birth mother.

It might seem silly, but adding four little letters -- "a" in place of "e" in my first name, and "cha" in place of "k" in my middle name -- lifted a huge emotional burden off my shoulders. The name I chose was officially mine now.

Total cost: $130. Not exactly cheap, but worth every penny.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Concert Review: The Musical Box, Showbox SoDo, Seattle, Feb. 28, 2014

The first Genesis song I probably ever heard was "Misunderstanding." I would have been about 9 years old. By that time, the band had already been reduced to the trio of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks. I didn't realize until a few years later that Peter Gabriel was their original lead singer. But when I started getting into progressive rock, right around 1984 and '85, I wanted to hear more of their older material with Gabriel steering the ship.

Nearly 30 years on, my memory is fuzzy on the exact details, but I remember I was out with a couple of my cousins one weekend and picked up a handful of cassettes by some bands I wanted to explore. One of them was King Crimson, and I'm pretty sure I grabbed The Compact King Crimson, a compilation, that day, along with Three of a Perfect Pair, their 1984 studio album. But I remember for sure which two Genesis albums I got. One of them was called When the Sour Turns to Sweet, which I would later learn was one of many reissues of their first album, originally titled From Genesis to Revelation. It didn't have much of an effect on me, and I think I share that reaction with most fans. Not even the band seems to regard it too highly.

But the other cassette was Genesis Live. And it captivated me from the first glance. The cover itself looks down at the band onstage, bathed in blue light. Everyone is seated and focused on their playing, save for Gabriel, who stands behind a solitary bass drum, center stage but toward the back, wearing a black robe and a strange reddish-orange box on his head. I didn't know what that was all about, but the image drew me into the world that the music created, and it was unlike anything I'd ever heard. From the opening Mellotron feature on "Watcher of the Skies" to the final slashing chords of "The Knife," I was riveted. This was nothing like the Genesis I'd heard on the radio. It sounded like a completely different band from the one I heard playing "Misunderstanding."

I liked this Genesis. A lot.

And Genesis Live remains my favorite Genesis album, by far. As I discovered more of their music, I found that a lot of their early studio albums came off sounding very timid and reserved. Where sections came roaring out of the speakers on Genesis Live, their studio counterparts usually lacked that same fire. I like the albums and the music well enough, but Genesis Live just happens to include all of my favorite Gabriel-era compositions, save for "Supper's Ready," and the performances of those songs on the live album possess a rawness and urgency that I simply don't find on the originals.

Genesis Live came from the tour that supported Foxtrot, my favorite Genesis studio album. I often wished I could have been at one of those shows, to feel the intensity of the performance in person -- and also to hear how "Supper's Ready" sounded on that tour. "Supper's Ready" was, and is, my favorite Genesis song, and as fun as it is to hear the version Phil Collins sang on the Seconds Out album, I always wanted to hear how it sounded with Gabriel at the helm.

Well, then along came The Musical Box. This quintet from Montreal took its name from a Gabriel-era song, and I was excited to find out that they were going on tour and playing the sets from both the Foxtrot tour and the one that followed, Selling England by the Pound. At the time, I didn't live far from Baltimore when they were coming to town to do the Foxtrot show. Just the one I'd always wanted to see!

That was more than seven years ago, and The Musical Box are still making the rounds. In addition to the Foxtrot and Selling shows, they've also performed The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety, and they've done the set from the tour supporting A Trick of the Tail, Genesis' first tour after Gabriel departed and Collins took over as the singer.

But when I found out they were playing Foxtrot in Seattle, going back to see them was a no-brainer.

Now, I'm not really big into tribute bands. But the thing about The Musical Box is that they're more than just a tribute band. We're not dealing with five guys who simply play the songs and talk about how much they love Genesis and are honored to keep the music alive. We're not even talking an Elvis impersonator in sequins, looking the part of the King in the mid-'70s but not trying to convince you that he's somehow the real deal.

No, The Musical Box takes it one step further. They actually re-enact the original Genesis shows. From the staging to the vintage instruments and the costumes, everything is exactly as you would have seen it onstage in 1972.

To give you an idea of how much attention to detail goes into replicating the original Genesis shows, here's the cover of Genesis Live, the one I talked about:

And here's The Musical Box, taken from an ad for the show I just went to see:

Crazy, right?

But that's not all. The members of The Musical Box actually step into the roles of the Genesis musicians. Singer Denis Gagné is Peter Gabriel when he's onstage. He never comes out of character during the show. He even replicates Gabriel's original stage patter, much of which consisted of fanciful tales that set the mood for the pieces about to be played.

The end result is that as you're watching The Musical Box play, you feel as if you've gone on a time machine, transported back to 1972, to watch a genuine Genesis live performance.

It's pretty spectacular, and if you enjoy Gabriel-era Genesis at all, I highly recommend checking these guys out when they come to your town. They're so good that they've won praise from Genesis themselves. Genesis helped The Musical Box reassemble the slide show for the latter's Lamb re-creation, and Gabriel is said to have taken his son to a Musical Box show, so the lad could see what Dad used to do when he was young! Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have even sat in and played with the band in concert, on separate occasions.

Having seen The Musical Box before, and being aware of how the original Genesis concerts went, I pretty much knew what to expect going into the Seattle show. But that didn't make it any less exciting when the band came out in the dim blue light and took their seats, followed by Gagné, who stepped through the curtain at the back of the stage wearing a black jumpsuit, UV makeup in rings around his eyes, and huge bat wings protruding from his head. He walked to his place on the stage and stood still, arms crossed, while keyboardist Guillaume Rivard, as Tony Banks, began the Mellotron into to "Watcher of the Skies."

The illusion is complete when the lights come up and Gagné starts singing. It is truly uncanny just how much he looks and sounds like the Peter Gabriel from the '70s. He even learned the flute for the role, so he could play onstage exactly the way Gabriel himself did. I wish I had pictures to share, but The Musical Box apparently has a very strict policy on photos: Anyone caught taking a picture would be asked to leave, the venue said. I wasn't about to risk getting kicked out and missing the show, and I'm all about respecting the artists' wishes, so my phone remained in my pocket throughout the performance.

I was seated stage-right, three rows back, so the person in my line of sight for the evening was François Gagnon, playing the role of Steve Hackett. Not only did he replicate the guitar parts flawlessly, but watching him play gave me a new appreciation for how much Hackett brought to the band's sonic pallette without being a typically flashy lead guitarist. He could play an arresting solo when he wanted to -- see "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" -- but a huge part of his role in the band was to add texture and subtle flourishes -- things that don't immediately draw attention to themselves, but which you couldn't imagine the songs without. Gagnon's studied performance made me realize how much Hackett was in many respects a guitar anti-hero, a bespectacled guitarist sitting on a stool and hunched over his instrument, like a craftsman at work. At times -- specifically during portions of "The Musical Box" and "Supper's Ready," he was only one of three guitarists onstage, as both Rivard/Banks and Sebastien Lamothe, as Mike Rutherford, were creating melodies of their own on 12-string guitars. Yet no one else but Gagnon/Hackett was doing quietly innovative things like two-handed tapping on the fretboard. That was just one of many subtleties in Genesis' music that The Musical Box picked up on and replicated to perfection.

It's a testament to how much times have changed since the early '70s that you could go to a rock show and not think it odd to see all the musicians sitting down to play their parts. Before MTV, before image became paramount, you could go to a show and actually focus on people focusing on the craft of playing their music. (Lamothe/Rutherford did stand when he was playing bass, but he sat whenever he was playing a 12-string and bass pedals. And Gagnon/Hackett stood for "The Knife," the first encore. But other than that, it was an all-seated affair for the musicians.) Yet at the same time, even back then things could probably get a bit too static during a performance. And that was surely one reason Peter Gabriel began coming up with costumes to illustrate the stories he told in his lyrics. It gave everyone a visual element to focus on. At this show, Gagné brought out the bat wings, the flower headdress for the "Willow Farm" section of "Supper's Ready," and the Magog outfit -- the geometric box on the head with the black cape that I mentioned earlier -- for the "Apocalypse in 9/8" part of "Supper's Ready."

Peter Gabriel.
Peter Gabriel.
The Magog costume was particularly menacing, as Gagné made a sudden shift of his feet from right to left and back again with each line he sang. Bending slightly forward in that ominous outfit, accentuating the end-of-the-world lyrics inspired by the Book of Revelation, he looked and sounded like some kind of alien fire-and-brimstone preacher sweeping his gaze across the audience and condemning us all to our doom. It was a really powerful moment, and I can imagine how it must have knocked out the crowds at the original Genesis shows.  

What didn't come out at the Seattle show, though, was the fox head and red dress that Gabriel wore onstage, launching his excursion into stage costumes after the press made a big to-do about it back in the day. The cover of the Foxtrot album features just such a creature -- a fox in a red dress -- and Gabriel decided to bring that character to life.

Peter Gabriel.
We also didn't get the mask of the creepy old man during the performance of "The Musical Box." I'm not 100% certain Peter Gabriel wore it on the Foxtrot tour, but its inclusion certainly would have been a treat, and added to theatrical feel of the tale. (Long story short: A little girl kills a little boy, and his spirit rapidly ages into an old man after it's released from a musical box the girl finds. The old man makes lascivious advances toward the girl, at which point a nurse throws the musical box at him, destroying the box and the spirit. See? This is why these old Genesis songs cried out for visual illustration!)

Peter Gabriel.
A few other minor quibbles with the show: I noticed that drummer Marc Laflamme, as Phil Collins, didn't offer a lot of backing-vocal support the way Collins did in the original Genesis. He also committed a few small flubs in his drumming, but not so much that most people would notice. I also saw that Gagné, at the end of "Supper's Ready," didn't mimic Gabriel's use of a black-light tube, which Gabriel slowly raised toward the heavens as the stage lights dimmed, presumably -- given the subject matter of the song -- as a symbolic show of light prevailing over darkness. Gagné did use the black-light tube at the Baltimore show several years ago, so I was surprised to see it missing this time. As for the drummer, Laflamme wasn't there in Baltimore. He did a commendable job at the Seattle show, but Martin Levac was behind the kit for The Musical Box back in when I saw them in Baltimore, and just about anyone else would pale in comparison. Levac was as much a dead ringer for Collins as Gagné is for Gabriel.

Other than that, there were only three things about the show that, if you know your Genesis, would break the illusion of being at an actual Genesis show circa 1972:
  • Gagné, a French Canadian, spoke in accented English, which wasn't so obvious when he was singing, but you could hear it clearly during his between-song patter. 
  • On the Genesis Live album, there's a moment before a song where Rutherford is tuning up, and Gabriel dryly announces, "That was an unaccompanied bass pedal solo from Michael Rutherford." Gagné and Lamothe replicate that moment, except that Gagné says, "That was an unaccompanied bass pedal solo from our bass player." Even though we're supposed to get lost in the fantasy that the guys onstage really are Gabriel, Rutherford, et al., I suppose it would be a bit much for them to come out and use the real names.
  • Lamothe and Rivard both played their guitars left-handed, while Laflamme's drum kit was set up right-handed. In real life, Rutherford and Banks are right-handed, and Collins played a left-handed kit.
Again, not things that most people would notice. Only those of us who pay fanatical attention to detail.

There was actually one musical twist during the evening that I didn't see coming. The first encore for this show, as expected, was "The Knife." But after that, the band returned to the stage to end the evening with "Can-Utility and the Coastliners." I'm pretty sure when I saw the Foxtrot show in Baltimore, the second encore was "The Fountain of Salmacis." I think the real Genesis did play both songs on the Foxtrot tour, but I figured The Musical Box would stick to the same script. Interesting to hear them mix things up a little bit.

In all, it was a wonderfully enjoyable night. I was born too late to enjoy firsthand the music I love the most -- I was all of 1 year old when the real Foxtrot show hit the road1 -- and that's why I'm grateful there are bands like The Musical Box out there who are committed to keeping some of this great old music alive. For some of us, The Musical Box has given us our first chance to experience what it must have been like at those original shows. Until someone builds a time machine for real, this is the next best thing. I look forward to seeing these guys come to town again.


Watcher of the Skies
The Musical Box
Get 'Em Out by Friday
Supper's Ready
The Return of the Giant Hogweed


The Knife

Second Encore:

Can-Utility and the Coastliners