Book review: The Living Years by Mike Rutherford

The Living YearsA 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 which 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’s 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 and Verse).  But Rutherford’s life is not only about the music.  His father was a captain in the Royal Navy who saw action during World War Two.  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between his own career and his father’s, so at the beginning of the book we get excerpts from Rutherford senior’s unpublished memoirs as well.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 around 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  The literary device of using excerpts from his late father’s unpublished memoirs was excellent, and should have been kept up throughout the whole book.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 thousand more words going into a lot more depth.  On the one hand, perhaps he feels there’s not that 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 were around 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, it’s 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’s 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.

Mike Rutherford’s favourite Genesis track (not a bad choice at all, to be honest):

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8 thoughts on “Book review: The Living Years by Mike Rutherford

  1. I was shocked and saddened that Mike did not do more financially for his father apart from an annual cruise.
    Unless of course his father would not take any money or any other fiscal reward off Mike due to his own principles.
    The book seems to indicate that Mike was unaware that his father was struggling financially somewhat towards the end of his life…I had automatically assumed all those in Mike’s type of financial position would automatically make their immediate family comfortable,safe and secure…
    It’s a lesson we readers can learn from in regard to how we appreciate our own parents if they are still with us,I know I will…..

    • Hi Gary, thanks for dropping by. At first glance, I agree with you. But in the book we’re really not given enough information. I strongly suspect that Mike’s father was quite unapproachable in that respect given his own life. Families can be tricky like that. I also thought the book left a lot of unanswered questions (small spoiler ahead!), for example his cocaine use in the 70s. While maybe not that shocking, it is known as a highly addictive drug, yet Mike makes no mention of when/how he gave it up.

      • Yes,you are right.I was also trying to guesstimate the age of Mike’s American groupie too,given that she was about twenty years his senior in the 1970′s…would that make her around eighty three years old now???

      • Chris .. your review summarises my feeling of this book completely.

        I actually found it a disappointing read for the same reasons you mentioned. It just fizzles out at the end.

        • Thanks for dropping by, Mat. I don’t know if it was Mike’s choice to be so brief, or his publisher’s insistence that he had to be to make the book more appealing to a broader audience. Shame, really. But with some luck we haven’t seen the last autobiography from a member of Genesis.

  2. Hi Chris.

    Thanks for your review.

    Can i ask you a question?
    The kindle version contains the same images that are in the hardback version?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Valenti, thank you. In the Kindle version, the pictures are all at the end of the book, and (as usual on the Kindle) don’t appear very clearly. I haven’t seen the hardback, but I’d assume they would be the same – there are about 12 pictures altogether.

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