Monday, October 13, 2014

My Night with Phil Collins

Last night, between work and bed, I watched Genesis: Together and Apart, a recent BBC documentary about the veteran prog-rock titans.  Why?  Because I'm a sucker for rock-docs, that's why.  I'm completely indifferent to Genesis as a band, but sometimes the documentaries whose twists and turns I can't predict are the most fun to watch.  Sometimes, it's a gamble that doesn't pay off: I remember watching a VH1 original movie on the Monkees about a decade-ish ago that was so badly acted that it managed to make the real Monkees (and there's a phrase you're unlikely to ever hear again, at least on this blog) seem like geniuses by comparison.  But the Genesis flick was good: well told enough to keep even an non-fan interested for an entertaining ninety minutes.  I'd recommend it.

Music documentaries always rise and fall on how interesting the subjects are, and that goes doubly for one like this that is entirely comprised of interviews with the band members.  It goes without saying that Peter Gabriel is articulate and interesting; while I may not have much interest in Genesis as a whole, Gabriel's first five studio solo albums are must-haves in my book, regardless of the fact that I've tried and failed repeatedly to get more interested in his Genesis work.  I'll probably give The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway yet another chance sometime soon now that I've just watched this movie; that's an album I've always wanted to like the rest of as much as I do the title track.  We shall see.

The rest of the principal members are an interesting lot: guitarist Mike Rutherford comes across as calm and affable, while keyboardist Tony Banks seems like someone you really, really wouldn't want to spend too much real-life time with.  I found myself puzzled, about halfway through the film, as to why Banks spent so long in a band whose output he doesn't really seem to like very much - and talk about a guy who's pissed that he never had much of a solo career.  Holy bitterness, Prog-Man!

Which leaves us with Phil Collins, whom I found in many ways to be the most interesting interview subject in the film.  He comes across as good-natured and sincere, a gentleman who's got a real handle on all the places his career has taken him, and what was good and bad about it all.  His perspective is sharp, and his demeanor likable and engaging; by the time the movie ended, I still wanted to hear more of what he had to say.  It left me with one inevitable question: why on earth do people hate this guy so much?

I'm not talking about his music, which is as open to subjective like/dislike as anyone's.  I'm talking about Collins himself, whom has been the brunt of a stunning amount of internet vitriol in the past few years.  Look, I know it's Wikipedia and all, but read this anyway and ask yourself one serious question: what, exactly, did Collins do to piss in the world's collective corn flakes?  Because some of this stuff is far beyond simply not liking "Sussudio".

And I don't like "Sussudio".  But I do very much like "In the Air Tonight", as most sensible rock fans should.  In fact, I like it so much that I apparently grabbed a sub-$1 vinyl copy of Face Value, the album from whence that great song hails at some point.  I spun it while getting ready for work this morning - no time like the present, right? - and it's a good album.  No, strike that - it's a very good album.  I'll probably never love it the way I do the Ramones or Replacements or whatever else is a little more in my wheelhouse as they say, but it is a record full of artistry, passion, and a number of well written songs, none of which are lowest-common-denominator pabulum.  I'm glad I own it, and I'll likely enjoy hearing it again sometime.

So what's the problem?  His later stuff wasn't as good?  Well, whose is, really?  No, the problem is a bit deeper and darker than that: we hate Phil Collins with such vehemence because we once loved him so much that he became ubiquitous.  And this is what we do as a culture: elevate to eventually devour whole.  British musician comes up with a very identifiable pop sound that captures a mass imagination for a spell and makes him a superstar in the process?  Well, fuck that guy - we'll take him down a notch or ten!  But why, really?  Is that song that millions of people bought copies of a few years back now shit to them simply because THE INTERNET SAYS SO.  Good lord, people: I hope you treat your friends better than your pop stars.

You know what?  I like to be a friend to the bullied whenever I'm able, so I'll stand up right now and tell you that Phil Collins is alright by me.  I, Will, do solemnly swear that I like "In the Air Tonight" - and, really all of Face Value.  And "Turn it On Again".  And wait - he played drums on Peter Gabriel's third album and Robert Plant's The Principle of Moments?  Because those are both desert island albums for me.  I trust you get the drift.

Addendum:  In that Wikipedia article, there is a bit about Jimmy Page blaming the crap-ness of Led Zeppelin's Live Aid set on Collins.  Really, Jimmy?  It wasn't your heroin-addled slop-fest playing that ruined that one, but Phil Collins' drumming?  Oooookaaaay then, because the video evidence suggests otherwise, there, Jim.

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