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.

1 comment:

Herr Zrbo said...

Sorry to comment so late but I just got around to reading this post and I loved every second of it. That is all.