Sunday, June 21, 2020

"I Wish It Would Rain Down": Can I Get A Yuppie Rock "Amen"? AKA Phil's Rehab Buddy Spins A Far-Fetched Yarn ... But Boy, Can He Play A Mean Guitar

Ah, the gospel choir. Like I've said before, the oldest trick in the book. It's shameless. It's obvious. It's tactless. But you know what? If the old, time-honored "gospel choir" trick could work for Foreigner, if it could work for Madonna, then you bet your sweet bald cranium it could work for Phil Collins. After all, Phil's music was baptized in the fires of the African-American experience. Somewhere amidst the toil and hardship of the lash and the chain, Yuppie Rock was born.

I remember once reading a review of ... But Seriously where the reviewer tossed "I Wish It Would Rain Down" something resembling, shall we say, a left-handed compliment, essentially stating that the song got a lot of mileage out of one chord change in the chorus. Here is why that reviewer will never be an '80s Adult Contemporary superstar and why Phil Collins has more intuitive musical magical dust in his pinkie finger than anyone who is reading, or will ever read, this blog post. Because sometimes ... one chord change is all you need. Phil understands this. Phil does not question this. Phil does not listen to nitpicky rock critics who ask for more than one chord change in the chorus, because he knows what moves people. Besides, it's not simply the one chord change; it's the choir shifting from "Ooooh" to "Rain downnn" right when the change occurs. Let me ask you something: is there more than one chord change in a rain storm? Is there more than one chord change in a breaking heart? The defense rests, your honor.

On this (presumed) homage to The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," Phil sounds like one fairly subdued divorcĂ©e until he gets to the bridge, where he almost out forces the last 68 remaining strands of hair out of his scalp with arguably the most intense middle-aged wailing this side of "Against All Odds." "Well it's eating through, it's eating me through to me nowwwww, yeah-heah..." What's eating through? Acid rain? No wonder he wishes it would rain down - he probably wants all the normal rain to rinse the chemicals out of his eyes. "Cause I-I-I know, I-I-I know, I never meant to cause you no pain" - clearly pain is being caused here by someone, but it's Phil who sounds like the unlucky recipient. As the choir extends its ascending arms to the sky on the final "Let it rain," I imagine the final droplets of precipitation giving way to ethereal moonlight, the quite dated bass gurgle at 5:18 conjuring up the impression of a forceful pile of mud and sludge finally making its way into the nearest sewage drain.

Oh yeah, and Eric Clapton plays lead guitar. Maybe in 1989 this was viewed as some sort of exciting guest appearance ("Slowhand himself! Fresh from the glory of The Color of Money soundtrack!"), but I feel like making a big deal out of Eric Clapton guesting on a Phil Collins song would sort of be like making a big deal out of Willie Nelson guesting on a Waylon Jennings song. Whatever. I just kind of figured they hung out all the time and had known each other for years and lived five mansions down the road from each other, so what was the big deal? And frankly, I do not personally possess deep knowledge of guitar-playing technique, but I have never quite figured out what makes Clapton's guitar playing particularly distinctive. If I hadn't read that Clapton plays guitar on "I Wish It Would Rain Down," I don't think I would have recognized that it is indeed Clapton, as opposed to some other highly skilled electric guitar player from the same generation. Could someone tell me the difference between Clapton's playing and, I don't know, Peter Frampton's, or Steve Lukather's, or Rick Derringer's? On the other hand, play me a song with a guest appearance from, say, George Harrison, or David Gilmour, or Mark Knopfler, and I could tell you immediately, without even glancing at the liner notes or my trusty Wikipedia, who is playing the guitar. I'm not knocking Clapton, or his guitar-playing prowess; I'm just saying my ignorant ears can't pick up on what makes his style unique. I like Clapton because he's written or co-written many songs I enjoy, and has collaborated with many other musicians in order to create recordings I find pleasurable. If his songs were terrible but his guitar playing was excellent, I don't think I would give a rat's ass about the guy. On that note ... I like what he does here!

The video features a prickly casting director (I presume the actor was chosen to throw Phil's level of baldness into relief?) suddenly deprived of a singer for one of his show's main numbers, and in desperate need of a last-minute replacement. Clapton (sporting a Gavin Newsom-esque level of hair gel) suggests, "How about Bill here, he's got a good voice ... he used to be the drummer in a really good band, and when the singer left, he took over." Yeah sure, Mr. Greasy, and I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you. Suddenly "Bill Collins" imagines he is the toast of the theater world, taking the nation by storm via an old-fashioned montage, complete with shots of spinning newspapers, railroad tracks, and the classic "line moving westward across a giant map." Phil rockets to movie stardom, landing roles alongside Bogart, Cagney, Marilyn, and Groucho, but alas ... 'twas all just a dream.

It turns out that not only did Clapton crank out some major riffage on "I Wish It Would Rain Down," but he also inadvertently inspired the title. From In The Air Tonight:
So after three weeks of detox, my rehab counselor, by court order, forced me to attend a support group. Fucking hell. Last thing I needed was a bunch of twitchy little street people giving me advice about "recovery," you know? Anyway, I wore a wig, some fake sideburns, and a fake mustache, and made sure to get there a few minutes late, so I could sneak into the back row. Some Latvian woman was sitting at the front, babbling on and on about how her family had "disowned" her and a bunch of boring drug addict crap like that. Suddenly, who do I see about two rows in front of me, but Eric Clapton! Christ almighty. I knew about his troubles with the bottle, but man, I thought that had been years ago. I sure as shit wasn't going to be caught dead at any horse tranquilizer support group in ten years, you feel me? I tiptoed past some other strung-out hobo types and sat down right next to him.

"Umm, hello ... do I?..."

"Eric!" I whispered.

"I'm sorry, what do you ..."

"Eric! It's me! Phil! Phil Collins!"

The shock gradually traveled across his weathered yet sexy face. "Phil? But why ... what ... what's with the Groucho Marx get-up?"

"Shhhh! Don't let anyone know it's me. This is embarrassing."

"Oh come on Phil. We all know about the horse tranquilizer thing."

"You do?"

"The truth is, everyone seemed to know you had a problem ... except you."

I sagged forward with shame.

Eric leaned in close. "Listen man, I've been down that road. You want to hear some embarrassing stories, boy, have I got some doozies."

"Like what?"

"OK, so one night after a show in San Antonio - I was checking out that Stevie Ray Vaughan kid, not too shabby - I downed a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels and wandered out into the parking lot."

"'Hey Crapton!' Three rednecks in Stetson hats were leaning against a white Ford pick-up."

"'What's it to you?'"

"'Why'd you do that weak-ass cover of that Bob Marley song?'"

"A bad night was already getting worse, but let's just say that cooler heads didn't prevail. I replied, 'Why do you let your weak-ass redneck buddies fuck you in the ass?'"

"Before I knew it, they knocked me out cold, stuffed me in a burlap sack, and tossed me into the back of the truck. I woke up with a ball gag stuck in my mouth. 'This is finally it,' I thought to myself. 'The greatest British guitarist of his generation, about to be Grade-A Texas barbecue.' They shouted back insults as the truck skidded over the potholes: 'Hey lay down Sally ... in back of our truck!' 'Looks like we "got you on your knees," eh Layla?' 'After midnight, we're gonna let it all hang down, all right ... and burn this fucker alive!'"

"So ... they threw me in a ditch, poured lighter fluid all over my jacket, tossed a lit match onto my back, and sped off into the dusty southwestern night. As the flames crawled over my skin, I began humming my old song, 'Let It Rain," but it began morphing into something else. Suddenly I remember thinking 'God, I wish it would rain down ... you know I wish it would rain down on me now.' Twisting and turning in the dry Texas evening, my flesh crackling from the heat, I swear Phil, I even heard a gospel choir joining in on my desperate prayer."

"Well what happened?"

"It certainly didn't fucking rain, I can tell you that. But I guess someone saw the orange glow from a road in the distance, came by, and doused me with a gallon of water. He carried me back to his jeep. Turns out he was a big fan. Once he realized who I was, well, you know, he pulled out copies of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Five Live Yardbirds and Blind Faith and asked if I could sign them. Since I couldn't really hold a pen, I just signed them with the charcoal-like flakes of skin that were now coating my fingers. Anyway, the point is Phil, you don't ever need to feel embarrassed about where your addictions have taken you."

I didn't want to say anything, but personally I thought he'd just made the whole story up. Here's a pledge you can take all the way to the bank: Every single story you've heard from me in this book ... is the God's honest truth.