Phil Collins: No More Mr. Nice Guy
Both times I interviewed Phil Collins he was married, albeit to a different woman on each occasion. If I were to talk to him again, I would say (with apologies to Seinfeld), “Phil, you’re an Adonis! You should be swinging.” And I’d offer to stage an intervention should he ever announce plans to abandon singledom and walk down the aisle for a fourth time.
Marital woes aside, clinical studies have concluded that Phil Collins is the most normal rock star on the planet, and he’s happy to oblige in interviews. “If anybody in this business was to be closest to reality, if there was a box with all these rock stars in this box and the bottom fell out, I’d be the first out — purely because I’ve got my feet on the ground as much as I can possibly get them,” he told me in 1993, during our first encounter.
Five years later Collins was mortified to be introduced to the world as the latest addition to a widely mocked subspecies, the rock star who paints. I attended a soiree thrown in his honor backstage at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. A simple watercolor depicting an abandoned rowboat on a sun-soaked desert island was unveiled by his corporate sponsor. It was an uncomfortable “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment that he quickly defused by shaking his head and burying it in his hands as the guests surveyed his modest accomplishment. He joked that he was going to call the artwork “All washed-up and nowhere to go” before settling on “But I thought you packed the oars!”
If there’s a reporter’s microphone within 50 yards, a cheery Collins will speak into it, full of self-deprecating humor. Q magazine, which he read devotedly, once called him a “professional good bloke.” When your hair falls out at an early age, you really have no choice but to drop the Eddie Vedder seriousness. Collins is one of those lucky guys who looks more handsome as he gets older. Free of the remnants of a short-lived civilization, he looks rather cutting edge. Oddly enough, his former Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel went in the other direction: adorable back in the day, now a singing garden gnome.
It was with high hopes of mutual backslapping bonhomie that I showed up to interview Collins in November 1993 for his first album in four years, a collection called Both Sides. His music isn’t my cup of tea, though I guiltily enjoyed his 1985 hit single “Sussudio.” (Anything with horns in it is fine by me.) And “In the Air Tonight” is great. And so is “Follow You, Follow Me.” And . . . But the new album was a chore to listen to, and I never played it again after the interview. Maybe I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it.
“It’s just songs about actually hitting 41, 42, looking back at the first half. Time out, intermission. Have your orange and a cup of tea,” he said, awkwardly employing a string of sporting metaphors. “Now look back at the first half of your life, the goals you missed, the chances you didn’t take. Will you get a chance to see through, or will you be sent off?”
Since I’m 42 as I write this remembrance, I gave Both Sides a spin to see if I could better relate to it. Nope, still got nothing. Every song sounds like a variant of “In the Air Tonight” but without the climax. Maybe it’s my limited attention span. The 11 songs average six minutes each. This is the problem when you not only write all the songs and produce the album but also play all the instruments. Working alone in his home studio, Collins didn’t have anyone to rein in his meandering impulses.
I didn’t raise my concerns to him at the time. That would have been impolite. I took another tack that immediately backfired and turned the interview into a disaster. I emerged 30 minutes later feeling shell-shocked, knowing full well that Mr. Nice Guy was likely telling his handlers that I was an asshole and worse.
(Well obviously, there’s more from Phil Collins. Buy Strange Days here to see what happened next.)
Copyright 2023. Dean Goodman. All Rights Reserved.