Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Scandinavian Skies" And "Where's The Orchestra?": The Nylon Curtain Goes Off The Rails

As of tracks one through seven, The Nylon Curtain was already staking its claim as Billy Joel's most bizarre album, but the final two tracks really sealed the deal.

In my initial post on the album, I half-jokingly referred to it as "Yuppie Rock goes psychedelic." Well, on "Scandinavian Skies," Billy actually goes psychedelic. Seriously. I mean, it's freakin' Magical Mystery Tour time. This British DJ interviewing Billy in 1982 caught on pretty quickly:
DJ: This next one, which is "Scandinavian Skies," and is ... "Strawberry Fields," "I Am The Walrus." The two together, I mean, especially the beginning. The ending of this song is like the fade-out of "Strawberry Fields" and the beginning of it is like the fade-in with the backward bits.

Billy Joel: It's Beatle-esque, um, yeah.

DJ: Very Beatle-esque. All the instrumentation. This must have taken a long time to record.

Billy Joel: It did. I think it took six weeks to mix, even, because there were so many different things going on in it. This is another good headphone song. I kind of liked those old records where you put on those big - not the Walkman. You plug your headphone into your stereo set and you sat in the chair and you just ... "oh wow," you know, "listen to this," and you call up somebody, "Did you know there was a banjo way in the background?"
If you always wondered what Billy Joel would sound like if he dropped acid, here's your answer. The song opens with the distant sound of a stewardess speaking over an intercom in an unidentifiable Scandinavian language, and then the strings come in. As Billy describes:
You know, the Beatles used orchestration in a really clever way. They didn't use strings in a plush way. They used them to do melody lines, and they used them, almost integrated them into a rock ensemble kind of way. And I liked using strings, not as that Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow ... valium strings, I call them. [Instead] they're there in kind of a jarring way.
The track is actually not too weird until the bridge, where off-kilter ... bongos (?) bounce across the stereo channels and the strings become extra warped and menacing; it almost feels like the song is tumbling around in the dryer.

It's quite possible that, for some people, "Scandinavian Skies" might be the only Billy Joel song that they'd ever like. It's also quite possible that, for other people, "Scandinavian Skies" is the most ridiculous song Billy Joel ever recorded. Personally, as much as I enjoy it, I always felt it was more of a stylistic exercise than an emotionally affecting composition. That is, until I heard the rest of that interview with the British DJ, where Billy began revealing perhaps more than he intended. I had always assumed the lyrics were quasi-trippy, nonsensical quirkiness, but according to Billy, they were more or less autobiographical. "Go on ...":
Billy Joel: Um ... it's a little dicey explaining this song, but there are drug references in it. Put it that way.

DJ: Oh yeah, getting of the plane.

Billy Joel: Or getting on the plane.

DJ: And about being part of a European tour.

Billy Joel: Yeah. I suppose it's a personal song in that respect, but ... that's another experience people my age have had, you know? Had their ins and outs with it.

DJ: But not a happy time, I don't think. The sound of the song isn't a happy ...

Billy Joel: It was pretty gruesome, I gotta tell you, it was a pretty gruesome experience. It was a pretty heavy drug too. But that's sort of a summation of the whole drug experience, which is sort of a down ...

DJ: Well this whole trip, you were on a trip, I mean, really.

Billy Joel: Yeah. And there's a reference to playing the blues, which is, really, you know, the junkie's favorite music is the blues, when you think about it.

DJ: "I could have played the blues all night." Ah. I see. I didn't get all this. I thought it was just a grim tour.

Billy Joel: No, this just made it grimmer. Although, there's a dichotomy because the ... flying over the fjords of Norway, the clouds were beautiful, but it was eerie. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time.

DJ: When was this?

Billy Joel: I actually started writing the melody in the early '70s, on the first Scandinavian tour that I did. "Naw, that sounds like an airline commercial, I'm not going to write this." But then when I was writing this album I thought, "I have to talk about this, I have to mention this, it wouldn't be a complete album without having mentioned this experience we had."
Wait, what? Is "Scandinavian Skies" about Billy Joel and his band doing heroin? Uh ... that British DJ isn't the only one who "didn't get all this." I don't think anybody got all this. First of all, how many of Billy's fans know that he ever did heroin? Maybe it was just a one-time deal. Maybe he was taking his Ray Charles fixation just a little bit too far. All right, time to take a closer inspection:
The sins of Amsterdam
Were still a recent surprise
And we were flying over
Scandinavian skies

We climbed towards the sun
We turned and cursed as one
We pulled the shades and closed our eyes

The Stockholm city lights
Were slowly starting to rise
And we were strapped against
Those Scandinavian skies

The landing gear came down
And touched the Swedish ground
And we were all so paralyzed

On the plane
We were mainly sound and lights
In the veins
We could play the blues all night
In the veins? Duuuuuude. This album just got real.
The tour of Germany
Was bleeding into our eyes
And we were sailing over
Scandinavian skies

We had the Midas touch
Until we met the Dutch
And they exhausted our supplies

Who's to pay?
For this international flight
Who could stay
We were only there for the night

We watched the power fall
Inside the Oslo hall
While all the cold Norwegians cried

Who could say
What was left and where was right?
By the way
I could play the blues all night
O-kaaaay. Well then. I'm glad he ultimately decided to stick to alcohol. But without even giving you enough time to work that nasty Baltic Sea dope out of your system, Billy does a complete 180 with the album's closing track, "Where's the Orchestra?," a song that is equally as Beatlesque as "Scandinavian Skies," but in an intriguingly different way. This time he takes a dip into the refined, theatrical, McCartney-esque chamber pop of "Martha My Dear" or "Golden Slumbers," which may not be particularly unusual territory for Billy, except in this case there is no obvious pop hook, or even a chorus. "Where's The Orchestra?" is almost in the style of 19th century leider. It also features some of the most extreme stereo separation in mainstream pop music since ... Queen? The Wall?
Where's the orchestra?
Wasn't this supposed to be a musical?
Here I am in the balcony
How the hell could I have missed the overture?

I like the scenery
Even though I have absolutely no
Idea at all
What is being said despite the dialogue
There's the leading man
The movie star who never faced an audience

Where's the orchestra?
After all
This is my big night on the town
My introduction to the theater crowd
I assumed that the show would have a song
So I was wrong

At least I understand
All the innuendo and the irony
And I appreciate
The roles the actors played
The point the author made
And after the closing lines
And after the curtain calls
The curtain falls
On empty chairs
Where's the orchestra?
Yes, Billy, where is the orchestra? Or perhaps, as one great and very early rock lyricist put it, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing." What's the point of it all? Billy elaborates:
It's basically, on one level it sounds like a guy sitting in a theater, figuring he went to see a musical and it turns out just to be a straight play, and he's saying, "OK, I got it, I hear the dialog, I see what the actors are doing. Gimme a song. You know, entertain me." And it's sort of a symbol for, you know, you get to a certain point in life and you go, well life isn't a musical, it's a play. And it sort of seemed to sum up the album. I understand, da da da da da, I paid my dues, right and, this is the way life is, but ... where's the orchestra?
This theme sounds kind of ... familiar. Wait, I got it: "Well we're living here in Allentown/For the Pennsylvania we never found/For the promises our teachers gave/If we worked hard, if we behaved." Which brings me to the one final Beatlesque flourish in Billy's arsenal. Just as McCartney weaved brief reprises of earlier tracks into the conclusions of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, so astute listeners will notice that, as the song fades, a lonely clarinet plays a snippet of "Allentown." At first glance this might seem like a superficial touch, but there is a method to Billy's madness, for what was the theme of "Allentown"? Disappointment, disillusionment - an overall failure of life to live up to one's expectations! And so just as the aristocratic protagonist of "Where's the Orchestra?" feels like the performance has let him down, John Q. Yankee, living in Anytown U.S.A., feels like modern American society has let him down. It all ties together.

As much as I find the conclusion to The Nylon Curtain poignant and insightful, it's kind of a downer. It's such a downer, in fact, that I almost always feel the need to put on a more cheerful piece of music immediately afterwards. And Billy must have felt the same way, because he swiftly abandoned the album's dark subject matter and late '60s art-rock quotations faster than you can say "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue." Because for Billy Joel, it turns out there was an orchestra. That orchestra just happened to have long blond hair, a nice tan, and a killer smile.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don Henley Can Do My "Dirty Laundry" Any Time

It begins with a keyboard. A sneaky, seemingly harmless keyboard - playing some low, almost imperceptible notes. It's like the tyrannosaurus of sleaze, if you will, quietly lurking beneath the surface, waiting for its moment to pounce. That glass of water on the table is starting to jiggle. Suddenly the drums kick in, and, Lord have mercy, the moment has arrived. The Sleazosaurus has been set free. That Sleazosaurus ... is "Dirty Laundry."

Howard Beale was probably right when he said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore," if by "mad as hell" he meant "insanely desperate for any last crumb of trashy celebrity gossip" and if by "this" he meant "a distinct and unfortunate lack of 24-hour trashy celebrity gossip." Perhaps you've been under the impression that we currently live in an era of particularly rapacious, bloodthirsty, insatiable, tawdry media tastelessness and exploitation, but if Don Henley's 32-year-old hit is any indication, actually, it sounds like it's always been that way.

Sure, back in 1982, maybe we didn't have TMZ, Twitter, YouTube, Fox News, and CNN, but I suppose normal old nightly news must have found a way to give the people what they wanted. Well, on "Dirty Laundry," Henley zips up his Hazmat suit and eagerly swims through the shit, taking a page out of his L.A. buddy Randy Newman's playbook by inhabiting the kind of character he is ultimately trying to mock. The world of "Dirty Laundry" is a world in which feelings must take a backseat to entertainment. "Who cares if the victims are suffering? Look at the ratings!"
I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something, something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry

Well I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they stick
Kick 'em all around

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde, comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a running bet
Get the widow on the set
We need dirty laundry
Buddy, you're hired!

It's funny, most considerate adults would try to give the victims of tragic events some "space." But "space" is not really an operative concept for Henley's eager anchorman and his unconcerned cronies. The widow's crying? Well the moment she knocks it off, slap some make-up on that bitch and get her in front of a God damn camera! Death is money, and money is good. As one of Henley's contemporaries put it a decade earlier, "Even when you died/Oh the press still hounded you/All the papers had to say/Was that Marilyn was found in the nude."

Of course, what could have been a joyless, finger-pointing screed is actually a bouncy New Wave party thanks to that comical roller-rink keyboard riff. Freed from the pressure of the Eagles, I guess Don finally discovered his inner goofball? I mean, the Eagles may have been known for many things, but an overt sense of humor was probably not one of them. Who knew Henley had this kind of gleeful sarcasm in him? Did they get the model mixed up at the plant?

(Side note: according to Wikipedia, the song features solos by two different guitarists: former fellow Eagle Joe Walsh and ubiquitous Toto axeman Steve Lukather. It seems like Joe took the opportunity to really let it rip, while Steve sounds somewhat subdued and cautious by comparison. Perhaps there was a bit of a behind-the-scenes rivalry during the session? I'd like to hear about some of that dirty laundry.)

Finally, there is the army of electronically distorted zombie people. The first time around, the chorus of "Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down" is followed by the sound of a thousand evil, carnivorous typewriters. "Dear God, I just wanted to eat a chicken pot pie and catch the sports highlights!" Well, the carnivorous typewriters sound evil, but they don't sound half as evil as the army of electronically distorted zombie people who start shouting the chorus mindlessly around 3:30, ready to devour any unlucky celebrity in its path. At least I think it's the chorus; coming from the lips of the insatiable mob, it sounds more like "mrick 'em when mwere mrup, mrick 'em when mwere mrown." I knew the nightly news fed off death, but I didn't know it could actually kill me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rot Rot The Pink Hedgehog: Phil Collins' Special Little Friend

It would be terrible to think that Phil Collins struggled through the torment and agony of his existence all alone. Yes, he had family, band mates, fans ... but even those closest to him couldn't always be the sympathetic, wholly impartial confidante he needed so desperately. He yearned for a stabilizing force, a dependable buddy who would stay by his side through thick and thin. One day, when he was roughly eight years old, in his family's attic, he discovered that buddy:
I didn't get on with the other children. Mother and father were quite occupied much of the time, and thus I found myself frequently alone. I would make up games to pass the time, such as counting the telephone poles, or turning the faucet off and on for giggles. One October afternoon, I pretended to play hide and seek, even though I knew no one would be coming to "seek" me. I crawled up into the attic, and after rummaging around in an empty mahogany cupboard, I found a porcelain teapot decorated with a floral design. My curiosity piqued, I opened the lid of the teapot, and there he was.

"Ooh! 'Tis bright, 'tis bright it is!"

Curled inside that teapot ... was a small pink hedgehog.

"Hello little fellow," I said.

"Put the lid on! Put the lid on!"

Instinctively, I shut the lid. But after another minute, I opened it just a crack.

"What are you hiding in there for?"

"It's cozy in here. I don't enjoy it out there."

"What's your name?"

"My name is only for my friends."

"Well I'm your friend."

"My name is Rot Rot. What's yours?"

"My name's Philip. Pleased to meet you, Rot Rot."

"Pleased to meet you Philip."

"I'm going to pull you out of that teapot."

"Oh, no, please!"

I reached in and lifted the furry fellow into my hands.

"I have a very sensitive constitution! It's too musty in here."

"Nonsense, you'll be fine," I said as I tossed him up into the air. "Think of all the fun we're going to have!"

"Ooh! Be careful!" I let him crawl across my shoulders. "I suppose this is not so bad." I scooped him up and plopped him back into the teapot.

"I'm going to show you to my mother when she gets home."

"Philip, that's a lovely idea, but I don't think she's going to be very amused."

"What are you talking about Rot Rot?"

"Well, what's exciting and magical for a young boy like yourself isn't always so interesting to responsible adults, is all."

"Nonsense! She'll be delighted with you." But sure enough, when mother came home, I told her about Rot Rot and brought her the teapot.

"That's wonderful dear. You've such an imagination!"

"But no, mother, look!" I lifted the lid, but she claimed to see nothing.

"It's just an old teapot, dear."

"What's the matter, mum, don't you see him?"

"No, Philip. Now run along and help father with the groceries."

I crawled back up to the attic. "I don't understand it."

"That's all right, Philip. I'll just be your little secret."

From that moment onward, I always had a friend with me. Through three marriages, 15 world tours, 7 platinum albums, six mansions, three decades of critical hostility, all the up and downs of my difficult career ... Rot Rot has steadily, loyally, been by my side.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

You Mean MTV ... Gave Out Awards? AKA Belinda's Brief And Unexpected Brush With Her Idol

The first thing every new art form needs, obviously, is an awards show. Thankfully, Kanye West aside, one rarely hears heated debates about such-and-such a video being "robbed" at the MTV Video Music Awards, because come on, who takes the Video Music Awards seriously? Certainly not, as the following clips demonstrate, the presenters.

In September 1984, MTV aired the first Video Music Awards. Some enterprising young '80s fan, it looks like from Russia (?), has actually uploaded the entire show onto YouTube. Maybe you've got two and-a-half hours to kill (as I did), but in case you don't, allow me to summarize the highlights. Here's your chance to see:
  1. How much the voters really loved Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"
  2. Huey Lewis & The News and ZZ Top give some killer lip-syncing performances
  3. Madonna roll around on the stage in a wedding dress
  4. A bunch of memorably dated commercials for products such as Mountain Dew, Levi's 501 jeans, some shoe brand called Thom McAn, and a car that was apparently called a "Plymouth"
But arguably the most amusing part of all is the entertaining parade of half-drunken presenters presenting categories they barely seem to understand, such as Roger Daltrey presenting "Best Overall Performance in a Video" (as opposed to "Best Partial Performance in a Video"?), and Ronnie Wood presenting "Best Stage Performance in a Video" (um, isn't a video performance obviously not a stage performance?). But at any rate, the organizers may have saved the best for second-last, as once Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes dispense with the presentation of "Best Female Video," out come Belinda Carlisle and Kathy Valentine to present "Best Male Video."

Co-host Dan Ackroyd introduces our dazed and confused pair with the portentous announcement, "In the beginning, there was the beat, and the beat was good." Belinda's voice sounds like she just drank a bottle of transmission fluid, but once again, she and Kathy demonstrate an impressive ability to read cue cards despite most likely being completely high out of their minds. Sure, Belinda has a little bit of trouble around the 0:38 mark, but who wouldn't?
Belinda: "Tell me Kathy, how do you like your male video stars? Do you like the heart on the sleeve, 'I'm not too tough to cry' new age male, or do you like the heavy metal motorcycle macho, macho, hit 'em and hug 'em types?"

Kathy: "Well one thing I do like in a guy is one with a lot of substance."
As one YouTube commentator put it, "Yeah, and I think we all know what substance that was." Belinda is so unconcerned with the gravity of the moment that she even stops reading from the teleprompter long enough to wink her eye and flirt with an undisclosed member of the audience.

All you need to know about the nominees for "Best Male Video" is that one of them is Michael Jackson's "Thriller." This one should be a no-brainer, right? But the award goes to ... David Bowie, "China Girl"? Whuuuuut. Sadly, that's not the most egregious sin of the night. That would have to be Video of the Year going, not to "Thriller," not to "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," not to "Every Breath You Take," not to "Jump," or "All Night Long (All Night)," or "Love Is A Battlefield," or "Borderline," or "Uptown Girl," or any one of the dozens of other amazing videos that must have come out that year, but to The Cars' "You Might Think." I'll tell you what I might think, all right. I might think the 1984 MTV VMA voters were smoking crack.

Ah, but there's one other extra bit of chaos here. Believe it or not, some of these world-famous recording artists actually had better things to do that night than to attend the Video Music Awards. Like what? But in the instance of an absent performer happening to win an award, an almost equally famous artist would walk up to the stage to accept it on the absent performer's behalf. In this manner, Diana Ross accepted on behalf of Michael Jackson, and Joey Ramone accepted on behalf of the Eurythmics. Well, David Bowie didn't happen to make it that night, so accepting the award in his place was the co-writer and original performer of "China Girl," Iggy Pop. Which isn't that amusing, until you recall that Iggy Pop is Belinda Carlisle's idol. Look into her eyes and you can see her quietly, secretly, freaking out. Well, well, thought you could just be a presenter at the VMAs and sleepwalk your way through it and everything would be fine, didn't you?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Real Men": A Real "Queer" '80s Pop Song

Joe Jackson released a third single from Night and Day, but it didn't do as well as the other two. Maybe it wasn't catchy? Maybe it wasn't elegant? Maybe it wasn't glistening with sophisticated charm? No, it was definitely all of those things. Maybe it flopped because it was a song about GAY PEOPLE.

And not just surreptitiously. Joe actually says "faggot" in the lyrics. No, "Real Men" flopped as a single because no radio station in the '80s probably wanted to touch, with a ten foot pole, a song that tackled homosexuality with quite so much zeal.

It wasn't the most danceable single either, with Joe trading in the latin congas and maracas for a dignified string quartet. Out with the Tito Puente, in with the "Eleanor Rigby"? Also, by pairing up the strings with an extremely prominent drum machine, he might have been trying to invent the new genre of "synth-chamber pop," but apart from The Cure's "Lullaby," I don't think it caught on. Nor does the song seem to fit in with the album's whole "New York" concept, until you realize that the City That Never Sleeps is also a city full of Men Who Sleep With Other Men.

But if "Real Men" is about homosexuality, it's not exactly an anthem for homosexual rights. And if it's not quite pro-gay, it's not quite anti-gay either. So what the hell is it then? Upon closer inspection, "Real Men" may be the ultimate slice of straight male panic:
Take your mind back
I don't know when
Sometime when it always seemed
To be just us and them
Girls that wore pink
And boys that wore blue
Boys that always grew up better men
Than me and you

What's a man now?
What's a man mean?
Is he rough or is he rugged?
Is he cultural and clean?
Now it's all changed
It's got to change more
'Cause we think it's getting better
But nobody's really sure

And so it goes, go round again
But now and then we wonder who the real men are
As if Joe didn't already feel awkward enough dealing with heterosexual relationships, now he has to deal with homosexual relationships too? Can't an Angry Young Man catch a break? Things were already confusing enough as they were! Which is not to say that he harbors some misguided nostalgia for "the good old days" when girls wore pink and boys wore blue and everything was perfect, since he admits that "it's got to change more." Still, as he projects those "Woh-hoh"s over that "Be My Baby" drumbeat, there must be that reactionary little part of him that has his doubts:
See the nice boys
Dancing in pairs
Golden earring, golden tan
Blow-wave in the hair
Sure they're all straight
Straight as a line
All the gays are macho
Can't you see their leather shine

You don't want to sound dumb
Don't want to offend
So don't call me a faggot
Not unless you are a friend
Then if you're tall
And handsome and strong
You can wear the uniform
And I could play along
Like fellow Yuppie Rocker Mark Knopfler (see "Les Boys"), I think Joe's trying to show that although he's "cool" with gay people, the whole thing still makes him a little bit squeamish:
Time to get scared
Time to change plan
Don't know how to treat a lady
Don't know how to be a man
Time to admit
What you call defeat
'Cause there's women running past you now
And you just drag your feet
Poor, poor Joe Jackson. The rise of the gay subculture has messed up his whole sense of identity! God, it's hard being a straight white male sometimes. To be honest, there are probably any number of ways to read these lyrics, although I'm not sure if such open-endedness was Joe's intention. And if "Real Man" was already a bit ideologically confused as it was, in the last verse, Joe goes for broke and tries to make some big grand statement about the human race:
Man makes a gun
Man goes to war
Man can kill and man can drink
And man can take a whore
Kill all the blacks
Kill all the reds
And if there's war between the sexes
Then there'll be no people left
Wait, what? So, at first, he just names all the stereotypical qualities that, for centuries, have been associated with "Man," all of which are somewhat destructive and negative. But then he throws in these lines about blacks and reds and a war between the sexes and I don't know where he's hoping to go with this crap. Well, maybe Joe didn't know exactly what he was trying to say, but hey, you've got to give him points for being a mainstream '80s artist who was at least trying to say something - even if it just seemed like he was throwing a bunch of controversial ideas into a big socio-political pot.

Then there's the video, in which the seemingly All-American, small town football jock decides to drive off a cliff rather than watch his homecoming queen girlfriend hang out with gay biker dudes? I think? Your guess is as good as mine. I'll bet MTV loved this one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Henley vs. Frey: The Bloody, Brutal, Post-Eagles Battle For Yuppie Rock Supremacy

The Eagles without the '70s would have been like a bagel without cream cheese. There just wouldn't have been any point. Besides, the band's whole "swaying palm tree" image wasn't all it was cracked up to be. They may have looked mellow and easy-going on the outside, but on the inside, they were as vicious as the most homicidal gangsta rappers:
On July 31, 1980, in Long Beach, California, tempers boiled over into what has been described as "Long Night at Wrong Beach." Frey and [lead guitarist Don] Felder spent the entire show telling each other about the beating each planned to administer backstage. "Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal," Frey recalls Felder telling him near the end of the band's set. Felder recalls Frey making a similar threat to him during "Best of My Love." "We're out there singing ‘Best of My Love,’ but inside both of us are thinking, 'As soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill him'", recalled Frey.
Well damn. I used to always chuckle to myself whenever I'd hear Frey sing, "Somebody's gonna hurt someone/Before the night is through," but apparently, he wasn't fucking around.

It appeared to be the end of the Eagles, but the band still had a commitment with Elektra Records to make a live record from the tour. Eagles Live (released in November 1980) was mixed by Frey and Henley on opposite coasts; the two decided they could not bear to be in the same state, let alone the same studio. "The record's perfect three-part harmonies were fixed courtesy of Federal Express," said producer Bill Szymczyk. With credits that listed no fewer than five attorneys, the album's liner notes simply said, "Thank you and goodnight."
And that was different from any of the Eagles' other albums ... how? At any rate, the news must have been a terrible blow to suburban housewives everywhere. It was the day the '70s died. Forty-year-old ex-hippie real estate developers drove their Mazdas to the levee but the levee was dry. The Beatles breaking up in 1970? Yeah, that must have hurt. But the Eagles breaking up in 1980? Who was going to lead Baby Boomers into self-absorbed narcissism now?

Fortunately, all was not lost, for as the Beatles' break-up demonstrated (at least until about ... 1975?), a time of loss was also a time of gain. You see, instead of having just one artist to follow, Eagles fans now had two. It was like that scene in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" where Mickey tries to destroy the mop but instead the mop only multiplies. You couldn't kill the Eagles. Nevertheless, things were going to be different. Former allies were now preparing to be adversaries. It would be ugly. It would be brutal. It would be ... Henley vs. Frey.

The heat was on, as they say. This was the end of the innocence. Henley and Frey became engaged in an epic battle to see who could outdo the other in yuppiness. The first step was to smear their glistening, laid back Southern California bodies in gallons of yuppie oil, as both country-rock icons proceeded to erase any last remaining whiff of "country-rock" from their music. The '80s couldn't have come fast enough for these two. But if they both sucked up the '80s like a sponge, they absorbed their music from entirely different pans of dishwater. While Don Henley re-imagined himself as some sort of cross between John Mellencamp and Devo, Glenn Frey saw himself as a strange hybrid of Gerry Rafferty and Barry White. Henley wanted to lecture you on the state of the world; Frey just wanted to get laid.

In the end, although Frey may have won a couple of battles, I'd say Henley won the overall war - not that anyone cared. For in a sense, we all won.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Marsh, The Convict, And The Mysterious Parentage Of Phil Collins

Just an ordinary, quiet, proper, British post-war childhood: that's what Phil Collins seems to have had. Until now.

Wikipedia tells us that "Collins was born and raised in Hounslow, London, the son of Winifred M. 'June' (née Strange), a theatrical agent, and Greville Philip Austin Collins, an insurance agent" - but don't be fooled. In truth, the Collinses found young Philip abandoned on the doorstep of a cathedral roughly three kilometers from their home, and raised him as one of their own. Rumour has it that he was the biological son of Sir Geoffrey Kindlingsworth of Cambridge and notorious brothel madame Liza Beth Quainsley, but this has never been substantiated. Collins never suspected any unusual circumstances behind his birth until one misty evening shortly past his fifth birthday:
It was a damp, dreary dusk out in the marsh, just after supper. I was skipping pebbles out by the dock, when I heard a terrible, rattling noise from the thickets. Rabbits didn't usually venture out that far from the meadow, and besides, I'd left my shotgun back in my father's barn. Before I could even inspect the reeds, a hand reached out and covered my mouth.

"Now, now, shush boy! You wouldn't tell a soul about old Jack, would ya?"

His grimy face was covered with scars and warts, although I could see that, perhaps in his youth, he might have been handsome once.

"Oh no, sir, I ... I wouldn't tell nobody."

"Good! And you wouldn't tell nobody about these chains, then?"

"Oh, sir, I - I ain't even seen those chains. I was just supposin' you were a fella who liked chains - a chain collector."

"Quiet, boy, quiet! Now you see that little house over there? You know that house?"

"Yes sir. It's where I live."

"Ah, splendid! Now what you're goin' to do is to go into that house, and fetch me a file, and some wittles. You have wittles, dotcha boy?"

"Oh, yes sir."

"Because if you don't feed old Jack, I'll tell ya all about your father."

"But I know all about my father, sir. My father's Greville Philip Austin Collins, of Hounslow."

"Is that what they tell ya?"

"Why yes. He's one of the most distinguished insurance agents in all of London. Ain't he?"

Jack flashed a hideous, gap-toothed grin.

"Ain't he?"

"Nevermind, boy, just fetch me that file and wittles, and you won't have to worry about crazy old Jack any longer."

I ran back to the house in a feverish daze, swiped the pastries from the cupboard, and swiftly brought them to Jack.

"Ah, beautiful, my boy, beautiful!" He ate with a desperation the likes of which I have never seen. "You don't know what you've done for old Jack. I'll make it worth your while, my boy. Have mercy on my soul, I will! It don't look so good for me now, but when I climb my way out of these chains, boy, you'll never know a better man in your life!"

"Please, sir, I'd rather we forgot all about this."

"Nonsense, my boy! Why, God help me if I know how I'm to do it, but I'll make you gentleman, I will. Not just a gentleman, but ... a drummer! And not just a drummer, but a drummer with ... gated reverb! But no time for that now, they're after me, son!"

And with that, he darted back across the marsh, and crawled away through the mist. From that moment on, I couldn't put the sentiment into words, but somehow, I knew then that whatever strange, troubling, circuitous path my life took, it would not be an ordinary one.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Mini Divorce Album Hidden Inside The Nylon Curtain

Poor Elizabeth Joel. Saddled with the tough years, without getting to stick around for too many of the glory years, she was forever overshadowed by her successor to the Billy Joel throne. If it's any consolation, however, she did inspire some great songs. Speaking of: it may not be a legitimate Abbey Road-style medley, but I've always felt like the first three songs on Side Two of The Nylon Curtain form sort of a divorce mini-suite. After closing Side One with Miss Saigon ("Goodnight Saigon," whatever), Billy Joel immediately switches things up with the wistful mid-tempo ballad "She's Right On Time."

The opening piano introduction almost has the feel of a Chopin nocturne, but then the imitation solo Lennon drums come in and fill up the stereo channels with a decidedly non-Chopin feel. There's also a somewhat jangly, Byrd-ish guitar meandering its way through the verses. Extra points for the bridge (at 2:44) where Billy plays the opening piano lick on a harpsichord instead, and adds some sweet, descending "hoh-wohs." All these delicate interludes contrast nicely with the slightly dissonant arena rock chorus, if I may say so.

Lyrically, "She's Right On Time" is almost like a scene from a couple on its last legs, even if they don't know it yet. At the very least, they've been together for some time and have had their ups and downs ("And it occurred to me/While I set up my Christmas tree/She never missed a cue or lost a beat/Every time I lost the meter/There she was where I would need her/Greeting me with footsteps in the street"). You rarely hear love songs about couples that have actually gone through some shit. Well, you do in country music, but not as much in pop music (and you rarely hear songs that rhyme "meter" with "need her," while we're at it). Also, despite the vague Christmas theme, funny how this one never gets played on the radio in December, sandwiched between "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Santa Baby."

In that 1982 interview Billy did with a British DJ that I keep quoting, the DJ gives Billy a pretty hard time over the song, stating, "After Side One, this one ... didn't fit ... somehow." But Billy is non-plussed and seems to have a pretty good understanding of what makes it effective:
I think, after "Goodnight Saigon, it's a bit of a "phew," you know, you gotta take a breath. And this song, "She's Right On Time" is actually about a reunion, kind of a love song but it's like a mature love song. And it's kind of "up," without being crazy "up" ... It's sort of a positive song but there's still an edge of anxiety in it.

Turn on all the Christmas lights
Cause baby's coming home tonight
I can hear her footsteps in the street
Turn the choral music higher
Pile more wood upon the fire
That should make the atmosphere complete

I've had to wait forever
But better late than never

She's just in time for me
She's right on time
She's right where she should be
She's right on time

I'm a man with so much tension
Far too many sins to mention
She don't have to take it anymore
But since she said she's coming home
I've torn out all my telephones
Soon she will be walking through that door

I may be going nowhere
But I don't mind if she's there

Left to my own device
I can always make believe
That there's nothing wrong

Still I will choose to live
In the complicated world
That we share for so long
Good or bad
Right or wrong

And it occurred to me
While I set up my Christmas tree
She never missed a cue
Or lost a beat
Every time I lost the meter
There she was when I would need her
Greeting me with footsteps in the street

I guess I should have known it
She'd find the perfect moment
Given that it wasn't a single, I was surprised to discover that not only is there a music video for "She's Right On Time," but it looks like it had a reasonably high budget. Let's just call this a date night that doesn't go exactly as planned. As entertaining as it is, I actually don't think the farcical nature of the video compliments the more contemplative mood of the song, but if judged on its own, it's pretty wacky, with Billy doing his best Inspector Clouseau impersonation, battling some pesky window blinds, an uncooperative Christmas tree, and a renegade cork.

Well, Billy must have felt a little silly having written a song about how great his wife was, right before they ultimately got divorced, but I guess he decided to throw the song onto the album anyway. If "A Room Of Our Own" is any indication, he wasn't terribly upset about the dissolution of his marriage. On an album that's overall rather claustrophobic and oppressive, "A Room Of Our Own" is sort of a jaunty, goofy breather, with Billy in jazzy imitation Ray Charles mode. Here the couple is splitting, but the man at least seems to feel pretty sanguine about the whole deal. In the spirit of Gershwin's "Let Call the Whole Thing Off," the song is a giant list of things that the woman likes vs. things that the man likes - with a cynical '80s twist?
You've got diamonds and
I've got spades
You've got pills
And I've got razor blades

You've got yoga honey
I've got beer
You got overpriced
And I got weird

But it's alright
We're the same even though we're alone
It's alright
Yes we all need a room of our own

You've got love, darlin'
I've got sex
You've got cash, mama
And I've got checks

You've got business, baby
I've got the kids
You got crowded just the way I did

But it's alright
Cause we all need a place to call home
It's alright
Yes we all need a room of our own

Well, he may have been laughing on "A Room Of Our Own," but there's nothing funny about "Surprises," the creeping, crawling, bitter kiss-off, smothered in icy synths and featuring arguably Billy's most Lennon-esque vocal of the album, out-Lennoning even "Laura" (!). "Surprises" is the sound of promises gone sour and optimism gone rotten. Not that I would know, but it seems to capture that sense of betrayal that a couple must feel when they realize that something they put so much effort into, and something they once assumed would last forever, has actually proven itself to be mortal. I love the subtle accusation buried within the phrase "It shouldn't surprise you at all." It's the kind of thing you only say to someone you know intimately, along the lines of, "Come on baby, don't play dumb with me" or "If you're so smart, then you should have seen this coming":
Don't get excited
Don't say a word
Nobody noticed
Nothing was heard
It was committed discreetly
It was handled so neatly
And it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

Break all the records
Burn the cassettes
I'd be lying if I told you
That I had no regrets
There were so many mistakes
And what a difference it makes
But still it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

Don't look now but you have changed
Your best friends wouldn't tell you

Now it's apparent
Now it's a fact
So marshal your forces
For another attack
You were so young and naive
I know it's hard to believe
But now it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

What has it cost you
What have you won
The sins of the fathers
Are the sins of the sons
It was always within you
It will always continue
But it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know
I said it shouldn't surprise you at all
You know

It turns out, of course, that Billy wouldn't be sifting through the ashes of his first marriage for long. In a sudden twist of fate that most members of the human race probably considered a surprise - Billy included - a certain supermodel fiancee was about to inspire a very ... different batch of love songs.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Irony Of Talk Show: While Attempting To Sound Like Huge Rock Stars, Go-Go's Make Their Least Successful Album

Talk Show, Talk Show. What are we to do with you?

In some ways, one could say that Talk Show is better than Vacation, in that it has a more unified feel, isn't just a regurgitation of the album that came before, and it shows the band's sound evolving. On the other hand, it's also the sound of the Go-Go's becoming more conventional, more streamlined, and dare I say it, a little more ... boring? Just look at some of these song titles: "Forget That Day," "Turn To You," "Capture The Light," "You Thought," "Yes Or No." Did they just start picking random titles out of a hat? Where's my "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"? Where's my "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict"? Granted, song titles aren't everything, but in retrospect, this particular batch is indicative of one element that is noticeably missing from Talk Show: an overt sense of humor. I think by this time, the members were feeling so hostile toward each other, and yet were experiencing so much external pressure to pretend that they were still super best buddies, that they started taking things a bit too seriously. On the plus side, all this tension meant that, like almost all of the Go-Go's' output, at least none of the songs on Talk Show came out particularly happy or optimistic. Even so, Talk Show is the one Go-Go's album that sounds most like it was recorded in the '80s. It's their Heartbeat City, with Martin Rushent doing his best Robert "Mutt" Lange impersonation.

The thing is, if you squint your eyes, Talk Show feels like a great Go-Go's album. Or rather, if you asked me to name the "bad" songs on the album I'm not sure I could; I certainly wouldn't call any of them terrible, and if anyone suggests that any of them are, I will personally spit in their french fries. But, as with Vacation, I tend to listen to certain songs rather than listen to the album proper. Part of the reason is that, oddly, for years Talk Show wasn't available on CD, and I think the copy I downloaded was actually ripped from vinyl, so it sounds kind of crummy. I suppose I could try to download another version, but that would take, you know, effort. Still, I'm not sure a higher quality version would change my mind. In his AMG review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine does a nice job of summarizing the album's strengths and weaknesses:
For their third album, the Go-Go's abandoned all pretense of being punk, or even new wave, and went for an unabashed mainstream pop masterpiece. They nearly achieved their goal with Talk Show, an album filled with great pop songs but undermined by its own ambition. Talk Show has a sharper sound than its predecessors, with bigger guitars and drums, which helps drive home the accomplished pop hooks of "Turn to You," "I'm the Only One," and "Yes or No." However, the record is cluttered with half-realized songs and an overly detailed production which occasionally prevents the songs from reaching their full potential. But when the production and song are teamed well, the results are incredible, such as the surging "Head Over Heels," another classic single. Unfortunately, those moments don't arrive frequently enough to make Talk Show the new wave classic that it wants to be.
Although he sounds disappointed, I did notice that when AMG published their "All Music Guide Loves 1984" blog article a few years back, Erlewine listed Talk Show as one of his favorite albums from that year, which suggests that his three-star rating may no longer accurately reflect his true affection for the work. A-ha! Here's another writer who thinks the album might be underrated: Belinda Carlisle. From Lips Unsealed: "In many ways, it's remarkable we were able to make an album given the nonstop drama. Even more remarkable, I think it's the best Go-Go's album. There's no doubt that when we were in sync, the five of us had a special chemistry and spirit."

I don't know about "best" Go-Go's album, but I'm glad she likes it. In particular, she singles out "Head Over Heels" and "Beneath the Blue Sky," the latter which she calls "a beautiful song whose vocals were, unfortunately, too complicated for us to ever do live." Hey, that never stopped Queen.
Hey over there what's going on
Where I am they say you're wrong
When my sun is setting
Yours is breaking dawn
Say over there I want to talk
I wonder if we think the same thoughts
What do they teach you
How much have you bought

These days I feel too wise
I think we're sharing the same lies

Beneath the blue sky we're all alone together
The calm hides stormy weather
And if we stand apart we'll kiss goodbye
Beneath the blue sky

Almost sounds like an epitath for the band, does it not? "The calm hides the stormy weather," AKA "It may look like everyone's having a great time, but actually, at the moment, we hate each other's guts." Or as Smokey Robinson once put it, "People say I'm the life of the party/'Cause I tell a joke or two/Although I might be laughing loud and hearty/Deep inside I'm blue." By the time I.R.S. released the last single from the album, "Yes Or No," I think the band had all but announced its break-up, and the label barely bothered to promote the song (it peaked at a whopping #84). As a result, the video is just a cheap montage of concert footage and home movies somebody took of the Go-Go's dicking around by a pool, obviously with all the coke-snorting scenes edited out.

Amusingly, the band quietly hoped that the album's stratospheric commercial success would alleviate their interpersonal conflicts and wash away all the tension like a magical '80s potion. They were in for a rude awakening when Talk Show peaked at #18 and failed to even go gold. What the hell happened? I mean, yeah OK, it wasn't Thriller, but it was at least good enough to sustain some of the momentum, right? Maybe the public had simply become bored with the Go-Go's in their endless quest for the Next Big Thing. "The Go-Go's? Oh my God, they're so ... 1982!" This was 1984, and female pop singers were becoming weirder, wilder, sexier, more controversial, more provocative. That old water-ski schtick just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Even to this day, Belinda still wonders why the album didn't do better, but, in her own special way, manages to blame herself:
A Los Angeles Times review a few days after the album's release called it "awkward," noted the absence of catchy pop hooks, and said "the songs demand more work from the listener, and the elaborate melodies certainly demand more of singer Belinda Carlisle." Unfortunately, I agreed. Deep down I knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew on that album. Unlike the other girls, I hadn't worked on my craft as hard as I should have ... I would develop into a decent singer later, but at the time I didn't improve as much as I would expect myself to if I was able to go back and do it over again.
"Decent"? "Decent"?! The sweetest voice my ears have ever heard, and she calls herself "decent"? Oh, the modesty. She does sound a little lost on "I'm With You," but other than that, she should give herself a freakin' break. Although she does a nice job on the anguished closing track, "Mercenary," I actually prefer some of the stripped-down live versions the band performed during their first reunion tour in 1990 (one of which is included on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's), which do slightly make Belinda's case for her claims of vocal development. Or maybe Gina's eccentric martial drumming wasn't quite the touch the surprisingly bitter song needed:
He's crying inside
Can't tear the hurt out
Life's rushing by
Like and old movie backdrop
The radio's blasting
Song after song
About the big romance
That went all wrong

She says, I just wanted to make you
I never meant to break you
He says, have some mercy on me
Do you have to be
Such a mercenary

She's scheming inside
Can't stop the wheels turning
Been through it before
There's no profit or learning
She's not really bad
Just a gold-plated heart
So scared to be alone
It rips her apart

Bottom line: as imploding break-up albums go, Talk Show is pretty respectable.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins

Phil Collins. We all think we know him. He is that bald, diminutive little drummer in the sweater who sings about easy lovers and invisible touches and wishing it would rain down and all those other primal, existential issues. In fact, one of his songs is playing at your local supermarket right this very minute.

But there's another side to Phil Collins. A secret side, a troubling side, a disturbing side - a side that not even his closest friends and family members have been allowed to glimpse. To most of the general public, Phil Collins was the most tame, harmless, inoffensive pop star the '80s ever produced. Little did we know that underneath that vapid, non-threatening exterior, lay the tortured and twisted mind of a maniac.

I know what you're thinking. "Little Earl, quit yanking my chain." If only I were. I could certainly sleep much better at night, or hear "Take Me Home" in the lobby of my neighborhood bank and not break out into a cold sweat. But the terror of Phil Collins' music is real - all too real.

Back in March 2011, Rolling Stone published an interview titled "Phil Collins' Last Stand: Why The Troubled Artist Wants To Call It Quits," an interview which, by now, has achieved a certain infamy. Loyal readers may recall that I wrote a blog post about this very interview upon its publication, but just in case you're a little rusty, allow me to refresh you:
He's 59 and looks pretty much the way he's always looked: kind of small, kind of bald. He's wearing a green polo shirt, the collar popped. As a solo artist, he has sold 150 million records, which puts him right up there with the all-time greats ... Medically, he's got a few serious and life-altering problems: The hearing in his left ear is shot, and a dislocated vertebra in his neck has rendered him all but unable to pound on the drums that first made him famous ... Due to that neck injury, his hands can no longer hold the sticks. Worse, to him, he can't help his youngest kids build toys. He can't write his name with a pen. He has trouble wiping himself.
Yes, even God hates Phil Collins. But the most surprising twist of all might be that even Phil Collins hates Phil Collins:
He has been called "the Antichrist," the sellout who took Peter Gabriel's Genesis, that paragon of prog-rock, and turned it into a lame-o pop act and went on to make all those supercheesy hits that really did define the 1980s. So, he wants to move on. He could make another original album, but he knows that will bring a rehashing of all the old criticism. It's inescapable. Forget it. He'd rather spend his time in his basement, building up his collection of Alamo memorabilia, which, oddly enough, is his great consuming passion these days. "I sometimes think, 'I'm going to write this Phil Collins character out of the story,'" he says. "Phil Collins will just disappear or be murdered in some hotel bedroom, and people will say, 'What happened to Phil?' And the answer will be, 'He got murdered, but, yeah, anyway, let's carry on.' That kind of thing."
Alamo memorabilia? Yes, Alamo memorabilia:
Aligned in glass cases, mounted on the walls, secreted away in drawers and stacked in corners are muskets and rifles, Sam Houston's Bowie knife ("Just look at that!"), a signed copy of Davy Crockett's autobiography, a Davy Crockett military-service receipt, a howitzer, pistols, gunpowder pouches, a whole mess of horseshoes, Jim Bowie's visa allowing him to reside in Mexico, swords, musket balls, animal teeth, human teeth, maps, cannonballs, brass powder flasks, a painting of Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, a poster of John Wayne as Davy Crockett, a receipt for a saddle bought by John W. Smith, a courier who happened to be out on a run on the day of the fall of the Alamo and went on to become the first mayor of San Antonio.

Collins' delight in all this seems total. "Just look at that overcoat pocket pistol! Just feel that! This is the Bowie knife I was talking about! And this was supposed to be Bowie's boot knife! Look at that! Want a horseshoe? Here, take a horseshoe!"
Phil Collins is one sick dude. It gets sicker:
"At one point, the Mexicans were killing each other. It was dark, and you killed anything that moved. And then when they attacked the last line of defense, it was hand-to-hand fighting and they went around decapitating all the bodies and making sure they were dead. 'What must that have been like?' I think. And you have things like that coming over your head all the time." He bites his nails. "I'm fascinated by what people will do to each other," he goes on. "Actually, I'm sort of interested in the gory details of life."
Well, me too, Phil, but at least I know where to draw the line:
"I have had suicidal thoughts. I wouldn't blow my head off. I'd overdose or do something that didn't hurt. But I wouldn't do that to the children. A comedian who committed suicide in the Sixties left a note saying, 'Too many things went wrong too often.' I often think about that."
At this point in my original blog post, I vehemently admonished Phil not to do anything rash: 
My God Phil! Don't do it! We love you! Really! It's just not worth it, man. Those haters, man, they're just jealous. Did they ever play on Brian Eno's Another Green World? Did they ever perform on both stages of Live Aid? Didn't think so. You are Phil Fucking Collins. And don't let anybody tell you differently.
Well, not only does he seem to have heeded the call, but it turns out this Rolling Stone interview was just the beginning. For I have discovered a text that will change the way you see Phil Collins - and the way you see the world.  Ladies and gentlemen, Phil's soul-bearing search for self-examination has finally borne fruit. He has done what many brave rock stars have done before him, and yet none have been braver in doing it than Phil. He has wrestled with the cavernous beast inside him, and pinned that beast to paper. I have in my hands a rare copy of Phil Collins' 2013 memoir, In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins.

How I got my hands on a copy is a story unto itself (let's just say it involved Condoleeza Rice and a 6-pack of Mountain Dew). Turns out the book is available only through a small Bulgarian publisher, in an extremely limited edition. Nevertheless, I cannot allow it to languish in obscurity. This man's story must be told, and it must be told now. For only by telling the real story of Phil Collins, can we truly understand his art, and wipe away the years and years of critical injustice. If you doubt the stunning power of this book, allow me to quote a harrowing passage from the introduction:
Coughing, drooling, cursing, I groped my way through the shelves of that Halifax hotel bathroom, looking for just one more dose of horse tranquilizer. I'd barely made it through the show alive, but thankfully the audience didn't even notice when I'd fouled up the keyboard part to "That's All," and I think I'd forgotten the lyrics to "Don't Lose My Number," but they didn't care. Everyone in that stadium was having a good time ... everyone, except the singer. The sick, pathetic singer. Anyway, that concert seemed like it belonged to another world by then. The bottle of tranquilizer that Emilio had given me back in Montreal wasn't nearly strong enough, and besides, it wasn't even the right kind. He'd given me Azaperone, but what really got me off was Haloperidol and Immobilon. This other stuff just wasn't doing it. It was 3:00 in the morning, but I couldn't wait. I put on a coat, stuffed with $100 bills, and stumbled my way into the Nova Scotian night.
Toto, I have a feeling we're not talking about Alamo memorabilia anymore. Still, although at times the material in the book can be shocking and depraved, for the committed '80s music fan, these stories are crucial - necessary even. However, I must warn you: once you read In The Air Tonight, you will never hear Phil Collins' music the same way again - although you may wish you could.