Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Further Defense of Fort Phil

Several years ago, I wrote a brief Rambler about wanting to write a longer Rambler about Phil Collins. And the overwhelming audience demand has finally worn me down.

The impetus for this revisited expansion (expanded revisitation?) is a Genesis dedicated thread on a forum I occasionally participate in.  The forum is actually superhero comics-themed, so I guess the fact that a thread about Genesis runs 159 pages says something about the monoculture of the middle-aged white nerd.

Anyway, someone had mentioned that Phil Collins generally seems pretty depressed.  This is a bit of an understatement, since Phil has actually said in interviews that he strongly considered suicide and thought that to just 'disappear on a bicycling tour' would be 'nice'.

Now, obviously, a lot of what may be getting the guy down is what started his career as a pop icon in the first place - his divorce from his first wife in the late 1970's.  Rather than repeating the whole backstory here, I'm going to direct you to an episode of This American Life, of all things, where he's interviewed as the king of the break-up song.

TAL aside, Phil has a tough public image problem to surmount, although more in the UK than in the US.  It's not entirely unearned, but it's totally baffling how other artists can release a few subpar trifles and then be welcomed back with critical huzzahs.  I detected more than a hint of sour grapes at the surprisingly scathing comments Phil made about Paul McCartney that circulated a few years back.

It's possible that for Phil, the idea that he's a great drummer doesn't carry any weight for contemporary audiences because instrumental ability lacks the importance with mass audiences that it used to.  And he's got the additional hurdle of having the bulk of his technically impressive drumming be in genres that are largely considered passé - prog and fusion.

Leave that out, and what you have are new audiences that would possibly be receptive to his more mainstream music (particularly from the early 80's) that are going to hear about how lame the man is before they've heard a single note.  He's delivered to them as a punch line. He's become the Barry Manilow of the 80's, which is a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, particularly one of my favorite all-time musicians.

And that's what Phil really is.  A drummer who was nearly universally acclaimed in his heyday, a Grammy and Oscar-winning songwriter, a singer with a very versatile voice, and a talent that could move convincingly between genres.  And, like seemingly all British musicians, a charming and intelligent presence.  And that's enough.


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