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The River Of Constant Change


Helmut Janisch looks back from the anniversary

Where do you start if you want to bring twenty eventful years of a varied hobby into the condensed form of a not too long article? I will knot the beginning of the thread to the year 1991 and throw the ball of wool towards the present, and we will see how many turns and knots it will form or if it even tears off...

In 1991 Germany had a Genesis fanclub called „Der Genesis-Fan“. It was one in a series of several fanclubs that provided German fans with information. I had offered to help that club with the layout of the very basic fanzine, and early 1991 saw the first edition of the new design. I did the layout on my first Mac, an Apple Macintosh Classic, at a time when Apple was something exotic for  an elite. Indesign was called Pagemaker then and was not owned by Adobe either. Non-commercial scanners weighed 20 pounds and cost DM2000. Thanks to my brother, who had discovered the Mac for himself a couple of years before, I could turn most of my ideas into visual reality, and I began to get ever more interested in layout, image processing and desk top publishing.

So I worked on „Der Genesis-Fan“ vom 1991 to 1993 until both the editor and myself lost interest and the project was abandoned. Since then there is no Genesis fanclub anymore in Germany...

It could have been that way. What really happened was that, after a brief stint with the „Genesis-Fan“, I had an argument with the guy in charge and was suddenly along with my ideas for a Genesis fanclub and an ambitious fanzine. I knew no other fans, but I heard that one Peter Schütz of Ding-Dong-Records (where I would occasionally order CDs) liked Genesis, too. In November 1991 we spoke on the phone, and I asked him if he was interested in working with me on a new fanclub. That is how it all began.

The first fanclub magazine came out in December 1991 in a printing run of 30 copies – copied and folded and stapled together by hand. Soon Bernd Zindler joined the staff, and we met for the first time. It turned out quickly that this trio could work together very efficiently. All of us wrote articles; later Peter took over the fan shop and Bernd managed memberships while I made and maintained contact to artists and record companied, coordinated, made layouts, produced and shipped the fanzine. A smallish group of people slowly became a club, the fanzine a real magazine. More and more people joined, and we also found fans who wanted to actively work on it, who could write articles or help otherwise. Things were looking up.

You will find it hard to imagine how we worked in those days. The Mac Classic had a screen that was hardly the size of a postcard. That was the machine we created the first fanzines on (and they already had A4 size)! The internet had not yet entered our private lives. We researched the matter of our articles in various lists, magazine articles and books. There were no e-mails – if we wanted to exchange ideas or material we sent it by letter. Phone services were only provided by the monopolist Telekom and cost a fortune if you, like us, had to have very long calls to work out something. Flatrates had not been invented yet. When I had finished a magazine, I went to the DTP studio with a stack of 1.4MB diskettes or, later, with a Syquest swap harddisk that could store a whopping 44MB; a few days later I picked up the print films and took them to the print shop... the idea of burning a CD, storing several hundred MB on an USB stick of shoveling it from A to B via FTP was as utopian as time travelling. But the way we did it worked. And all the innovations of modern technology would find their way into the offices of it staff sooner or later.

I must admit that I frequently found the layout of an article and the whole magazine more important than the actual content. Since nobody would bug me about the layout and the graphics I would use all the possibilities my limited self-taught knowledge of Pagemaker and Photoshop allowed. Sometimes the result was quite decent. In the end I was still in the hands of the printer, and the moment when I took a first look at a freshly printed magazine was always an exicting one. Usually there were no problems, but sometimes an article I had carefully designed or even several pages of a magazine were simply butchered by the printer. The odd typo also survived. But in the end each magazine was good and a small piece of art, at least in my eyes. And most of them are still available!

The most exciting part of my work for the Fanclub, besides making the magazine, was meeting most  current and former members of Genesis and various artists they worked with for interviews. Bernd and Peter would usually accompany me for dates inside Germany; if we went abroad – usually to the UK - we would have to leave Peter behind (except for one tour). At that time Bernd and I did not have so many familial obligations yet. So we met them one by one, and it was always a special moment, regardless of whether it was one of the big guys or someone whose name would be listed towards the end of the credits on the album cover. All of them had interesting stories to tell about their lives and their work on Genesis (solo) projects. They all received us in a very friendly manner and they all took their time for us. Some of them we have even met several times, and there is even a friendly contact with the one or the other. Others were perhaps only available for  a brief interview, but all these meetings have left pleasant memories.

We travelled not only for interviews, though. Various tours prompted us to travel all over Germany and sometimes all over Europe. Looking back it is hard to understand how we could stand to see so many shows in so many distant places in so short a time. It probably helps a lot to be very young and very crazy. As one gets older one gets more sedate. Now and then our “job” also brought a few perks. The VW VIP pass for the German shows of Genesis in 1992 was legendary; it saved us hours of waiting and queuing up in some stadiums and helped us to snacks and giveaways in the sponsor’s VIP area. This was only topped by Steve Hackett’s Italian tour in 2000 where Bernd and I almost belonged to the crew (including selling Hackett merchandise  with John Wood). Some people in the Genesis camp really meant well for us...

By the mid-90s I had achieved what I had set out to do, and could have lived happily and contentedly ever after. Two things stood in the way of that: my urge to everything I do in the best way possible, and my desire to keep as much control over things as possible. So I drove myself as well as Peter and Bernd on and on and suggested innovations and extensions of our club work: Fanclub meetings, the fanshop, lots of new columns and specials in the magazine, lots more interview partners – all this took on a dimension that went far beyond a hobby that was meant to fill the spare time job and family left. It turned out to be the other way around for me: My job and family left the time the fanclub did not fill. My life was planned radically and completely to fit the release dates of the magazine and to accommodate club meetings, concerts and interview trips. I was driven by my perfectionism, always under pressure between two editions of the it magazine. A change became necessary. But how do you keep the club going and shift your priorities? The half-hearted solution of publishing only two magazines per year and sending out two newsletters in between did not bring any relief, because the work was only procrastinated and to pile up much higher. In the autumn of 1999 Peter, Bernd and I decided to quit producing the magazine and found a website. My hobbyhorse, the printed magazine, was history.

After a couple of false starts and a short but intense learning curve we found our feet in the new world of the internet. After we had worn out two webmasters who became quite pale when they heard what we wanted Peter took over that job. I quit doing the layout and created only the graphics required. Quite apart from the fact that web design was not my thing (and never would be), I also wanted to spent less time for the club. That did not work out either, because the website kept needing new graphics for the website. I was very close to leave the staff. That was in 2002, and the knight in shining armour turned out to be called Christian Gerhardts. He had offered to join the it staff or to continue the club in case we felt like calling it a day, and so he rejuvenated the staff. I remained in the team but handed over all of my jobs (except for the graphics and planning the club meetings) to him. That was the beginning of version 2.0 of the German Genesis Fanclub it, the way it exists to this day. Christian had lots of new ideas of what a web presence has to offer to fans. The forum in particular, but also the international version of our website would never have been implemented so quickly without Christian. When we introduced the All-My-Web software to administrate the site the internet presence of the Fanclub grew more important to me again – simply because doing a layout became almost as easy to do as in a print medium. Christian also provided other new impulses and helped us overcome the stagnation we had fallen into with the end of the magazines, the luke-warm beginnings of the website and a diminishing interest in Fanclub meetings. A fresh breeze began to blow that gave up optimism and a feeling of “We’re back!”

A word about the club meetings. The first time we offered the fans to meet up for a club meeting began in a very simple and almost completely improvised way in Aschaffenburg in 1993; it was tried out further in Nuremberg and Braunschweig and finally sophisticated to perfection year after year in Eichenzell-Welkers. Not only most of you did meet each other for the first time, but we, too had the opportunity to get to know you in person. Friendships were formed, there was much laughter and celebration of our favourite artists; we tried to let you have an entertaining time with rare videos, interesting live acts and various games. Much of it has become a fond memory, for example, Eddy’s shaking flowers, Bernd and Steffen’s version of Congo (with backing vocals from the audience), John Morell’s great shows and many other memorable moments from 20 years. In 1996 we established the “it event” besides the regular club meeting. it events were to focus on a special thing. That year it was about Selling England By The Pound, and we had several other events about various topics for which we always had special guests. Serge Morissette, for example, brought  Genesis from the 1970s to Welkers for the fans. Ray Wilson in 2004 was the first (former) member of Genesis to take the fanclub stage. Richard Macphail, Armando Gallo, John Mayhew and Dale Newman were other high-profile guests in Welkers. The Musical Box even played a special show for us in Duisburg in 2007, which we simply declared the Nursery Cryme Event. In 2009 Steve Hackett followed our invitation to an event. We had to move to another venue to accommodate all the visitors and ended up in Remscheid where for two days we showed everything a fan could desire. This was certainly the most important thing we ever organized as a fanclub. But I appreciated and enjoy all the on-stage interviews and all the live performances of all our club meetings and it events alike. Everybody who has performed there or answered questions has done their share to make the events special. The it staff could have offered twice as many fun activities, and it would not have been the same as with the big and not so big stars on our stage.

I had planned to give you a list of what have been my personal highlights of my twenty years in the German Genesis Fanclub it here at the end of my retrospective. Pondering this countless moments come to my mind, and I have mentioned some of them above. What really counts for me are not the 27 fanclub magazines, the 19 fanclub meetings and events or the 25 groupies backstage in Welkers (uhm, no, there were, in fact, none!) but the personal contact and the friendships that have evolved over 20 years. Of course, this concerns not only my colleagues in the it staff...

The whole mess began with Peter Schütz. Without him by my side this fanclub would probably never have existed. I admire his dedication throughout all these years and all ups and downs, particularly since he already had as much family in 1991 as Bernd and I a decade later. I take my hat off to you! We share the same kind of humour, the same taste, we love historic knickknacks, Scotch whisky and many other things. I thank you for 20 years of your friendship, dear Peter!

My friendship with Bernd Zindler has grown as long as with Peter, and I have had more fun travelling around with him and heard and seen more interesting things about Genesis than you could possibly imagine. With his articles and his work he has shaped the face fo the club for ten years and kept the engine running. This has ended long since, and while I understand that his job and his family prevent him from doing much for the club anymore, I do miss him as an active staff member. What remains is the memory of an incredible time in the 1990s – Thank you, dear Bernd!

Finally I cannot but thank Christian Gerhardts for a long time together. In the past there have been times when we had different opinions and therefore did not talk with each other for a time. But I think that he and I have so very different approaches to many things that it is frequently hard to find common ground. Mine is the world of visuals, design, printed, old-fashioned things. Christian’s priorities regard facts, content, the virtual, modern, the community. Fortunately we do have enough in common that I regard him no less an excellent friend as Peter and Bernd. Therefore, dear Christian, my thanks to you!

So much has happened in the world of Genesis since 1991. In each of the last twenty years either the band or one of its (former) members have released a new album or been on tour. However, even the most optimistic people cannot assume that this will not change in the next two decades. It is only a few years until our idols qualify for retirement – and whether Phil Collins will still perform on stage aged 70, or whether Peter Gabriel actually releases Son Of OVO or I/O in September (2018 or 2024) remains to be seen. After a more or less successful career and a full life the boys have earned their right to take it slower. The fanclub will have accommodate for that. There may also come a day when fewer new fans find their way to our website. And there will one day come the time where the it staff have to decide whether the effort and the costs are still worth it. I do hope that that time still lies far, far ahead.

In November 1991 I have dug a well. Peter and Bernd helped pave its way and the stream began to flow and soon turned into a river. Christian added new waters to it. Many Genesis fans have drawn water from the river, others have contributed to it. Floods and dearths have changed its shape. It has always been changing, but it has always found its way to the see. That is how it should remain, and, above all, may it never run dry, this river of constant change.

it Fanclub