Gratitude for Genesis and Jody Johnston

Genesis’s 1972 album, Foxtrot, includes their epic “Supper’s Ready.”

Last Sunday night, I fulfilled a childhood dream—sort of. I saw in concert the nearest facsimile possible of Genesis with Peter Gabriel, a band I fell in love with when I was 13. This version of Genesis mostly disappeared after Gabriel quit in 1975 (an experience Gabriel recounts in his 1977 song “Solsbury Hill”). Phil Collins, who was merely one of rock’s best drummers at the time, finally assumed lead vocal duties after a long search for Gabriel’s replacement.

The rest is history. Both Genesis and Gabriel found success in different pop-musical spheres. Except for a one-off reunion concert for charity in 1982, Gabriel never looked back. And Genesis would only briefly revisit the older material in concert. There was talk of a reunion tour seven or eight years ago, but it never materialized.

So for people like me, who discovered early Genesis long after Gabriel (and, later, lead guitarist Steve Hackett) left the band, the closest I’ll come to seeing the “real thing” was last Sunday night, when I saw the Genesis-authorized tribute band called The Musical Box at a sold-out Variety Playhouse. The band performed Genesis’s 1974 double-album rock opera The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety, using vintage instruments, with props and slide-show accompaniment from the original tour (featuring photos of New York, frozen in time in 1974).

You can tell that I loved this, right?

Genesis was an incredibly important part of my life. In the dark of my bedroom one night in 1983, after listening to the band’s 22-minute side-length song “Supper’s Ready”—which was at least partly about (I kid you not) the Second Coming—I felt afraid… for my life, for my soul. And I prayed my first real prayer, asking God to save me and make me a Christian, although I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. This experience began a journey that culminated a few months later in my public profession of faith and baptism.

Here’s a live performance of the song “Supper’s Ready,” from 1973, complete with Gabriel’s nonsensical introduction. (Before you wonder, Gabriel was not known to take drugs.) Wouldn’t this song frighten you?

While watching The Musical Box on Sunday, I was reminded not only of becoming a Christian, but also the person who introduced Genesis to me: Jody Johnston, my guitar teacher from 1982 to ’84. Jody taught lessons at Wallace Reed Musical Instruments, a music shop in a strip-shopping center called the Briarcliff Village in northeast Atlanta. Jody loved Genesis, and before long he taught me to love them (along with Jethro Tull, another favorite band of mine—or ours).

With Jody’s guidance and encouragement, I eventually acquired the early Genesis catalog on LP. It took a while. I couldn’t simply ask my parents for money to buy records. I mean, I could… if I wanted to buy one record every once in a while. My problem is I wanted to buy a dozen records now. What to do?

Some of you will fondly remember Turtle’s, and these things called cassettes.

For much of my eighth and ninth grade years, I saved the dollar bill my mom gave me each day for the cafeteria and fasted during lunch. This gave me $5 a week. My dad kept an ashtray on top of his dresser into which he emptied his pocket change every evening. Forget the pennies and nickels—quarters were what I wanted. If he noticed change missing, he never said anything.

The point is, I could usually scrounge enough money to buy a new album nearly every week. But I couldn’t let Mom and Dad know I was buying them. They wouldn’t understand or approve.

The good news was that Turtle’s was located in the same shopping center as Wallace Reed. So here’s what I did: After Mom dropped me off for my guitar lesson, I waited for her car to pull away, dashed down the sidewalk to Turtle’s, bought that week’s record, and hid it in my guitar case for the ride home.

Jody understood this behavior perfectly. He understood my passion for music. In fact, we would spend much of my 30-minute lesson talking about it. We also talked about friends, school, peer pressure, girls—my inability to fit in. If my parents knew how little we focused on guitar, they would have thought that they were wasting money. I would tell them now that guitar lessons were cheaper than therapy!

Jody helped to instill within me an abiding love for music, including guitar-playing (which I learned to play after a fashion) and, alas, record-collecting (a habit that continues to this day). But not only that: Jody listened to me. He encouraged me. He believed in me at a time when I struggled to believe in myself. For at least those 30 minutes, I didn’t feel like the weird, gawky outsider that I felt like the rest of the week. Jody showed me that there was a world in which I could belong.

What a gift that we have people like that in our life! That’s God at work. I’m very grateful.

If you’re out there somewhere, Jody, I hope you know that I love and appreciate you. Thank you.

I also hope you were at the show! It was awesome.

4 thoughts on “Gratitude for Genesis and Jody Johnston”

    1. Thanks! Did you take from him when he was still at Wallace Reed? I know he left to go to work at CNN in 1984. When was the car crash?

  1. I took guitar lessons from him at Briarcliff Village back in the late 70’s. I have been trying to track him down also. I had a short conversation with him late 1999, or early 2000’s.

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