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    When the phone rings …


    Christian Gerhardts looks back


    The upshot of it all will be this: The German Genesis Fanclub it is my great passion, working for it is great fun; though it is sometimes a kind of love-hate relationship it is something I would not like to give up.

    For ten years I have been „the new guy“ in the team and readers and forum users frequently perceive me as „the website guru“ or even „the boss of the fanclub“. The latter is not correct and the former was never planned. But to proceed in an orderly fashion.

    I became a Genesis fan around 1990. The first time I heard of the fanclub was precisely on July 03, 1992. Genesis played in Gelsenkirchen and somebody thrust a fanclub flyer into my hand. I do not remember who it was. The flyer sank into the depths of my desk, survived my high school final exams and was found again when I embarked on mission „sort and throw away“. That was in 1996, and so it magazine #19 became my first one. More than 700 membership cards had been given out before that. I had conquered the Gabriel universe, worked my way backwards through the Genesis catalogue, listened to Both Sides incessantly though it was already three years old and took a peculiar liking to Guitar Noir, though that was already three years old, too. Starting with Genesis Revisited I began to explore Hackett's music. Without magazine #19 I would probably not have heard anything about it. I completed my collection of solo albums and solo projects and, having contacted Peter and especially Helmut, began to write the odd article.

    I attended the club meetings in 1997 and 1998 with another member I got to know when I was looking to get a ride there (I did not have a driver’s permit then). After that I could not go to any more club meetings, for they used to take place on Whitsun when university excursions or other obligations occupied my time. Back in those days my friends envied me the Fanclub. Two of my friends were in the Queen Fanclub; they were impressed with the quality of the it magazines, particularly when they compared them with those of the Queen Fanclub back then. The same goes for the Pink Floyd Fanclub that used to be called Eclipse back then. There is a story I will be getting to later...

    The austerity plans of the it staff worried me – only two magazines instead of four, and most of all, they lacked the time! I offered Helmut to work closer with the staff if they wanted me to. Helmut acknowledged the offer gratefully, but I did not hear anything about that. Genesis news slowed down around the turn of the millennium, and things moved into the internet. It was obviously faster to obtain information in various newsgroups or on up-to-date websites like The Way We Walk or, initially, The Path. Setting up an it website was therefore the logical step. This happened in a somewhat cumbersome way with protected content that still required membership to access. This was soon abandoned, and the website became completely public.

    2002 was a very full year for me. I was involved in university politics and became chairman of the General Students' Committee at Essen University. By summer I decided to disengage myself from that to focus on my studies. No sooner had I decided on this that the phone rang. It was Bernd Zindler and after some small talk he explained that Helmut was going to quit for personal reasons and that they needed reinforcements. They decided to approach me, probably because I had been of the few who had vehemently offered to do more than just write reviews. The peculiar thing about this was that I had had hardly any contact with the three. We only met at the two club meetings I attended and briefly at the memorable Genesis 'show' in Bielefeld 1998. In Welkers I at least managed to discuss my idea for a Genesis book about their tours with Helmut, but that did not lead anywhere.

    I did not need to think long about Bernd's offer, and soon after that I arrived in Braunschweig for my first editor's meeting. Helmut Janisch was absent, but it turned out that he did not leave completely. I was to reinforce the team and Helmut would do his bit as much as his time allowed it. That was fine with me, because it made easier to learn the ropes; after all, I was to take over most of Helmut's jobs.

    Roundabout at that time both the English MOJO and Classic Rock magazines ran large Genesis features. Because I had a student's job at a station bookstall I was able to organise a centralized order for the fanclub. The landlord of my boss also turned up and asked my boss whether it was possible to offer the Pink Floyd fanclub magazine Eclipsed in his stores. My boss asked me because he knew I was in the Genesis fanclub, and I promised him that the magazine would find takers. When this turned out to be successful he also asked about the it magazines, but those had, of course, been abandoned. The rest is history, and Eclipsed exists to this day but in a different format.

    The it webmaster at the time was Peter, and he did great things with GoLive that I did not understand anything about. When Peter Gabriel's album UP was about to come out I had the idea to set up a microsite all about the album and the tour. This, in turn, was more than Peter could do as a self-taught webmaster, and I was scarcely any good at it, so I asked a good friend of mine, Martin Timmerbeil, to create something for us. The microsite looked very different and prompted my desire to become more involved with the website. In an insistent e-mail I tried to convey this to the others, and the outcome was the relaunch of the website in 2003. It would not remain the only one.

    In 2003 I was at the clubmeeting again. At a planning meeting Helmut expressed his joy that he could hand over the role of the master of ceremonies to me. That was fine with me, because I enjoy doing things like that. So I have MC-ed every club meeting and event since then. I will, however, always remember the 2003 meeting. It was my apprenticeship, as it were. Apart from incredibly heavy boxes we had to lift there were several other things to be respected that I would probably have smiled about. It was, for example, Karin Woywood's job to place the posters in appropriate frames. She did this with a meticulousness I could not believe. And just like the posters sat absolutely spot-on in their frames all other aspects of the club meeting were lined up very precisely.

    There were five fanclub projects I wanted to realise and with which I really got involved. They were:

    1) Luring a special guest to Welkers

    2) Making the news section of the website more dynamic and up-to-date

    3) Having a full-blown international version of the website

    4) Filling the website archive and

    5) Expanding the IT forum

    The special guest came to Welkers in 2004. Ray Wilson played two shows at the community centre with Steve Wilson and Irvin Duguid. Getting that organised was a mixture of a farce and calmness, but this first time was, in fact, a stress test for all the staff's nerves. Looking back, it was a great event for the guests, but we the organisers were not quite happy and learned our lessons for events to come.

    The IT news were quite static; we would update them only every fortnight or so. I found that not frequent enough, Bernd found it too much work, so I took over the news and set my heart on having an English version of our site. The news column was implemented in 2004, and the review of Still Growing Up: Live And Unwrapped was the first article to be published on genesis-news.com. I translated it myself at the time, but I soon realized that we needed someone else to do that. In one of the Genesis newsgroups I noticed Martin Klinkhardt, known to the forum users as martinus. Since then he has been translating everything we have thrown at him – some 300 articles and countless news items. Looking back I think we must have been crazy. Looking forward, I guess we are crazy...

    With every relaunch, with every restructuring the website archive shrank – we simply did not feel like converting all the old articles to the new design. This changed in 2008 when whe went online with a fully dynamic website. We also transferred many articles from the it magazines to the website. We are not nearly through with that, but there is probably no Genesis-related website that offers such a density of information.

    The forum was Bernd Zindler's domain. This was a result from the days of the magazine when Bernd handled memberships. In 2004 and 2005 I began to invest more time into the forum as Bernd began to withdraw when neither his job nor his private life permitted him to keep up the amount of work he put in. The forum grew when we introduced a new software (vBulletin), which was something we were forced to because the amount of users grew rapidly. Incidentally, the band's official website had the same problems.

    All this is to explain why I sort of became the face of the fanclub at club meetings and events, took over an increasing amount of responsibility and activities and became the person to contact in the it staff in the forum. I think none of the editors would deny that of us four I have been spending the most time on club activities since 2005. The visibility of my jobs had the effect that the importance of the others was often underappreciated simply because their work was not as conspicuous. Club meetings and events (except for the RayVent) were organised and prepared for almost completely without me – it is Helmut and Peter who are the bosses there. Much of the content on the website came from me (unless they were, of course, written by others), but the complete design and visuals of the website are Helmut’s. In the last year a number of graphics have also been provided by Martin Timmerbeil. This division between content and visuals has created a certain tension between me and Helmut that is sometimes difficult, but usually very productive. While I want to get the news out as soon as possible while they are hot, Helmut wants to get the visual side sorted out meticulously and clear all spelling ambiguities; he strongly dislikes typos on the website. Helmut’s roots are obviously the it magazines, while my passion is the website with all the consequences of web 2.0, which Helmut is not really into.

    I have always had a zillion ideas for the website. Some of them were non-starters, some picked up on ideas from our forum users. The Genesis League of Albums, the Track Of The Week, the not yet realised project of the Album Of The Month, the tour and song databases and so on – I ended up having to put in a lot of hard work to keep it all going.

    As a fan and member of the IT staff I frequently went on a kind of business trip, because there were interviews to do, press conferences to attend and more. While this is always exciting, it is not entirely stress-free. The fanclub came to be seen as an institution one cannot bypass – or appreciates for the years of work they have put in. We have long since established good contacts to the managements, record companies and tour promoters, and that is how we manage to give you interesting reports, review albums long before they actually come out and also run lots of competitions for you.

    There have been moments when I considered giving up the fanclub work. One of these was when I moved to Dresden. Sometimes I just felt burnt out or overloaded with too many projects. At times, the Fanclub is a job beside my daytime job. And I had to learn not to let the occasionally bizarre events in the forum get to me. I have made my mistakes there, and I have adopted a more relaxed attitude. However, I cannot rule out that my priorities may shift one day. The forum has not quite been a source of pleasure when times were hard. Threats, insults and such like were low points. I will never understand why some people who naturally prefer to remain anonymous would want to wreck what others enjoy.

    But I am still at it with great passion, and I feel I have guided Helmut’s baby, our fanclub, on the right way through its adolescence, with all the nerve-wracking discussions that entails. Now I am curious to see how the fanclub continues to develop in its adulthood until it will, one day, eventually, retire.

    It is almost impossible to pick out special moments from almost a decade on the it staff. My first interview (with Ray Wilson) was such a moment, but I have never had stage fright when meeting our heroes. That is why I have always enjoyed the interviews and particularly the on-stage interviews during the club meeting. The Genesis press conference in 2006 was another special moment, but rather because of the occasion and less because of the event itself. Our numerous editor’s meetings have always been a lot of hard work, but most of all quite entertaining. In all these years we have never despaired about each other, the humour has always had the upper hand.

    Ray Wilson’s first visit to the fanclub for the RayVent was special, his second time in 2007 was much more relaxed. Richard Macphail’s and Armando Gallo’s visits are also a pleasant memory. John Mayhew’s spontaneous participation in the EVO event was historic for other reasons. We had lots of fun with Dale Newman in 2008 though the event was quite a disappointment as far as the audience turnout was concerned. The Musical Box playing an exclusive show for us was a highlight. All of this was topped by the Steve Hackett Event 2009. Steve keeps talking about it to this day. We could not imagine a bigger compliment.

    I can hardly express how much the fanclub has left its mark on my adult life. This is most of all because of the people I met throughout the years only through the fanclub. It was, of course, an advantage for me that people knew me from the fanclub; that made it easier to talk to other fans at concerts. I do not feel the need I felt seven or eight years ago for everyone to love me, but I do not think I am difficult to get along with. We have good contacts to the musicians, to various degrees, of course. They respect us, and yet it is always gratifying to hear from Steve Hackett or Ray Wilson that they enjoy meeting us or to hear that Peter Gabriel reads our website. We have also made a name of ourselves in the industry. Numerous advance reviews, competitions &c. underline that. I confess I am proud of this, but I will not rest on our laurels – as far as the fanclub work is concerned I remain, to say it with Ray Wilson’s current album, “unfulfilled”. There will always be something we can add. It will never be finished, really.

    As I look back across those ten years I realize that I must be completely crazy. But that is okay, actually. With much more composure than I had a couple of years ago I would like to thank my colleagues on the it staff, Helmut, Peter and Bernd, who did not know me, for putting up with me for almost ten years now and for becoming my friends, the authors of many articles who I frequently do not know in person, the helpers at the events, the readers of our website and the forum users. As a summary assessment and pointer towards the future I would simply like to quote from Genesis’ most important album: Like it or not...



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