Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Belgian Lab Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong AKA The Source Of Phil Collins' Incredible Drumming Power

That Phil Collins is an unapproachable giant in the world of drumming is a fact known throughout the land. But just where (and how) did he acquire this superlative skill? Years of hard work and practice? Careful emulation of the masters? Sunday morning pilates? Au contraire, mon frere.

According to Wikipedia:
He was given a toy drum kit for Christmas when he was five. Later, his uncle made him a makeshift one that he used regularly. As Collins grew older these were followed by more complete sets bought by his parents. He practiced by playing alongside the television and radio, and never learned to read and write conventional musical notation; instead, he uses a system he devised himself.
At least, that's the official story. "Parents buy son drum kit." It all sounds so easy. A little too easy. Finally, after years of being forced to carry this dark secret inside of him, Collins has revealed the true origins of his drumming talent. From In The Air Tonight:
My father's insurance business was running a little slow. It was 1963. We caught an advertisement in a newspaper, "Young boy needed for scientific research: $500 stipend." It was in Belgium - the Brussels Scientific Institute, if I recall correctly. My family had its doubts, but we were desperate for the money, and it was simply too good to pass up.

I stayed in a Belgian laboratory for a week. It was all quite harmless, really. They attached a few wires to my wrists and gave me small tasks with blocks and rods and puzzles, that sort of thing. All the time these men in lab coats were jotting down notes on these clipboards. I was worried that I was somehow "failing" the tests but they insisted that it wasn't about passing or failing. I was young. They gave me some chemical injections in between the tendons of my wrists, assuring me that it was perfectly safe. Finally, on the last day, they gave me several typing tests, but I could tell they were dismayed by the results. It all had something to do with creating some sort of teenage ... super-typist? But it hadn't worked. I've never been much of a typist, you know.

Then, one day about a month later, back in London, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant (rare in those days) and I suddenly started playing with my chopsticks, and ... the most amazing thing happened. I was tapping them against the table, against the glasses, against the dishes, against my own chest even ... I just couldn't stop it. I didn't know what in the blazes had come over me. Finally I ran to the restroom and got it under control. But this ... power, this incredible power inside me ... it was terrifying and thrilling, all at the same time.

The next day, I snuck into my friend's basement - I knew my friend had a drum kit, but I didn't want anyone to know about this. I snuck into his basement, picked up a pair of drumsticks and ... it was like I'd been playing the drums my whole entire life. It was an out-of-body experience the likes of which I'd never had before, and never had since. I was doing fills, and rolls, and what I was doing to the bass drum pedal is not even fit to print. I knew then that the Belgian experiment had been a great success, but not the success they'd envisioned. Instead of creating the world's greatest teenage typist, they'd created ... the world's greatest teenage drummer.

I was terrified of anyone finding out about the source of my power. I knew that I would forever be deemed a fraud, a freak, an outcast. Ultimately they deemed me that anyway, but for other reasons. No, I knew that I would never tell a soul about the Belgian laboratory, and the chemical injections, and the $500 stipend. Besides, it was only $400, after taxes.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The (Unsurprisingly) Brief Affair Between Michael Hutchence And Belinda Carlisle

So let's see, we've had the Ugly Dodger Slugger, the Sensitive Hollywood Auteur ... who could possibly be next in the endless parade of Belinda flings? Try the Charismatic Australian Stonesy Rocker.

For years I only knew two things about INXS: 1) they did that song "One Thing Leads To Another," and 2) their lead singer Michael Hutchence accidentally hung himself in a botched attempt at autoerotic asphyxiation. Unfortunately, neither of those things is true. It turns out "One Thing Leads To Another" is actually a song by The Fixx, and, according to Wikipedia, although his girlfriend Paula Yates offered up the autoerotic asphyxiation theory to the media as speculation, the coroner ruled his death a suicide. Besides ... autoerotic asphyxiation? Really? Who would actually do that? The thing is, it seems like if anyone would have done that, it would have been Michael Hutchence. It's like the urban legend about Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen. Even if it isn't true, it feels like it is.

So, INXS. INXS are sort of like U2 with the flu, or Simple Minds with athlete's foot. I don't know if rock and roll really needed INXS, but INXS certainly needed rock and roll. At any rate, before they became international superstars and filled stadiums at the flick of the wrist, in 1984 they toured the U.S. as the opening act for the Go-Go's. It wasn't quite Jimi Hendrix opening for the Monkees, but let's just say that one of these groups was "on the way up" and the other was "on the way out." There's actually a great clip of Belinda doing an interview on Late Night with David Letterman right around this time (when the show must have practically been brand new), and Dave asks her about the tour, and she says something like "We've got a great opening act, INXS," and there is one guy, one solitary guy in the audience who claps and lets out an enthusiastic "Whoo!" and the rest of the place is dead silent. Yes, lone guy in the Late Night audience, you're on to something, and all those people around you are sheep, I tell you, sheep. It looks like somebody took the clip down from YouTube, but despite that obstacle, I have to say I watched it so many times, I can probably recall the entire interview from memory. In fact, my re-telling of the clip might be more entertaining than the actual clip itself. Some (paraphrased) highlights:
  1. Although the Go-Go's are still very much together at this point, only Belinda is asked to come on stage to be interviewed (looks like the Late Night producers could read the tea leaves here). Awkwardly, about two minutes in, Belinda points to the audience and says "The other girls are sitting up there, let me show you!" The camera cuts to Charlotte, Gina, and Kathy waving from their seats. Apparently Jane is running late, so one of the girls just holds up a photo of Jane. Remarkably prescient, symbolically fitting.
  2. Paul Shaffer informs the audience, "Did you know that I was the sixth Go-Go?" Dave replies, "I did not know that." Paul continues, "And I was also the third Hall and Oat."
  3. Dave asks Belinda about her hardcore punk past with "Darby Chase." She explains that she acted as the Germs' publicist and prop girl. Dave pauses, then responds, "Publicist for a band named 'the Germs.' Sounds like you had your work cut out for you." Belinda explains that, as "prop girl," she would stand on the side of the stage and hold the salad dressing and the Red Vines for Darby's eventual usage at one point or another. About 99% of the audience has no idea who Darby Crash is or was.
  4. Dave congratulates Belinda for singing the national anthem at a Lakers game. "Well, I had Charlotte there on keyboard helping me out," she adds modestly. She explains that she'd only sung the national anthem in public once before, in a boxing ring. "I had this little skirt on, and I got so nervous, and by the time I got to the end my skirt was all bunched up between my legs." Dave responds, "I'll bet they liked that." Belinda sheepishly adds, "Yeah."
This would actually be the first of several Belinda appearances on Letterman, with Letterman progressively becoming more and more adventurous with each interview, and I'm almost tempted to do a sub-series called "Dave and Belinda," but that might be going too far. Where was I? Oh, right, the tour with INXS. Apparently both bands just used the tour as an excuse to screw each other. From Lips Unsealed:
The Australian rockers weren't just an amazing band; they were pretty amazing partiers, too. They were riding high on the single "Original Sin" off their newly released album, The Swing. All of us clicked immediately. We were kindred spirits. I don't know if that was a good thing, but it made for fun on- and off-stage.
That was particularly true in the case of INXS's lead singer, Michael Hutchence, and me. We were attracted to each other as soon as we met. He was a sexy, sensual man, with great eyes that didn't suck you in as much as they made you want to jump in. He had all the goods to make him a great lead singer: hot looks, an animal-like sexuality, a mysteriousness, and the ability to deliver to an arenaful of people and touch the person in the back row. That's raw power, and it was packaged perfectly. Imagine trying to deal with that force of personality when he's right across the table from you.
My God Belinda, he's going to detonate right in your face! Wear a helmet at least.
I knew something was going to happen between us before there was any discussion or a move in that direction, and I warned myself in the strongest of terms that he wasn't the kind of person to get serious about. Once I was satisfied that I could handle that, which was about two days into the tour, I gave in to Michael's charms and we hooked up.
Gee, why wait so long?
We had fun, and I had to keep reminding myself not to let him get under my skin. He had a serious girlfriend, but he admitted that he also had many "friends" and preferred that arrangement. That was one more reminder that if I let him into my life he would be the death of me. I didn't need to have any more messes in my life.
I don't know, Belinda. What's one more when you've already got so many?
We watched each other perform, partied after the shows, and eventually disappeared into one or the other's hotel room for the night. His charms were strong, and I quickly felt close to him. I felt like he understood me. He had that way about him, yet I constantly reminded myself to keep a distance and protect my heart. I was partying pretty hard at the time, harder than even Michael, and at one point the girls in the band asked him to speak to me after I lost my voice from doing too much coke.
I'm going to make a wild guess and say this was probably not going to get the job done.
He wasn't the kind of guy who was going to save anyone, but he tried. He talked to me about the responsibility the singer had to the band, the record label, and the fans. He was extremely thoughtful and insightful and the special place we occupied in the imaginations of our fans.

"They fantasize about much more than is really there, don't you think?" he asked.

"Very much," I said, and for a moment I considered confiding how little I thought of myself, and how frightened I was that people were going to find out that I was nothing more than an imposter.

It would have been very easy to go there, but I feared it would have been letting Michael too far inside me. Ultimately I knew that revealing myself to him would only result in disappointment. As a result, I thanked him for sharing his concern but kept on doing my thing, which disgusted my bandmates so much that at one point on the tour they actually quit talking to me. It didn't last long, and neither did my summer fling with Michael. At the end of July, we said good-bye and Michael and I had a sweet, romantic, and passionate last night together that was a little sad and something of a relief and, in retrospect, kind of interesting in that we promised to remain friends, which we did until his death.
What? Belinda make a mature choice? The girl's getting soft.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"The One You Love": Glenn Frey And The Birth Of Fireplace Rock

While Don Henley, bless his smarmy soul, seemed to view his solo career as an opportunity to establish himself as a leading proponent of Lecture Rock, Glenn Frey decided to head in a noticeably different direction. Perhaps taking the slow, Quiet Storm groove of "I Can't Tell You Why" as a starting point, "The One You Love" (which peaked at #15 pop and #2 Adult Contemporary) instantly catapulted Frey into the front ranks of early '80s Fireplace Rockers. Also, I'm partially convinced that Frey was inspired to write the song after accidentally putting Nicolette Larson's "Lotta Love" on the record player at half speed. Of course, no Fireplace Rock song is complete without that essential Fireplace Rock instrument, the saxophone.

As the video demonstrates, Frey was clearly aware of what his audience came to hear, given that the very first thing we see is a lone saxophone player, spotlit on an empty stage. Is Glenn Frey even around? Gradually the camera pulls back to reveal that - surprise - Frey's been there all along, playing his Fender Rhodes keyboard and swaying to the jam! Of course, the sight of Glenn Frey and his helmet hair isn't exactly the sexiest image, which is when we cut to the sultry female in black lingerie lounging on red sheets (around 0:58). Whoa, hold on a second, let me put the kids to bed here. She's on the phone and looks like she's having a good time, but there's a twist once again, as the camera pulls back to reveal ... Glenn Frey standing in the corner! He's everywhere! Also, it's some disturbing room with a floor straight from the Holodeck and a window with a creepy Martian sunset in the ... I think it's a sky?

Now Glenn's back at the keyboard, and the voluptuous girl is dancing with ... another man? That skank. Or maybe Glenn is in two places at once? Maybe she's not such a skank after all. But wait, it gets better/worse, because Glenn and the girl suddenly find themselves in a Thomas Kincaid painting, slow dancing on a dazzling cloud (at 2:11). The camera cuts away and ... wait, she's dancing with that other man! Wait, now she's dancing with Glenn again. For the love of God, who is dancing with whom??

Suddenly the dancing's over, as the girl and her tuxedo'ed lover start making out in a convertible ... in the snow? Don't they have a cabin somewhere at least? I mean, they better not leave the headlights on, or the car's gonna run out of batteries. But the camera is panning back, panning back, and you just know Glenn has got to be around somewhere, getting his jollies off, watching this sordid scene. Yes, there he is, huddled around ... a trashcan fire? Damn. That girl has really fucked him up. She's turned Glenn Frey into a hobo. (Also: if it's so cold, how come I don't see any condensation coming out of his mouth?)

But save your concern for Glenn's health, because in the last shot, all is ultimately revealed. Perhaps there was no dazzling cloud. Perhaps there was no trashcan fire. It was all ... just a dream! A sweet, sweet Fireplace Rock dream. In the end, it was just a saxophone within a saxophone.

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.