Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hello I Must Be Going: Phil Collins retires from music

Someone's going to say, somewhere: "why does Phil Collins feel shame about his face having been everywhere, while Snooki (the Kardashians/ Paris Hilton) rolls along blithely?"

It's a little complex. I think it has to do with integrity in part. It has more to do with mortality---when you are not the hungry young artist who pours his all into his work to create meaning in his or her life.

Neil Young is kind of at the other end of the spectrum, in a similar late career place, but still critically acclaimed, and, if anything, he could be selling more if he took more advantage and less care with his tremendous archives.

But this isn't about "Le Noise" but rather, about the feeling that grabs an artist and forces them to express his or her self. Phil...worries me a little. Famously, comedically neurotic, I honestly think he has some of the worst self-respect issues of anyone who ever skyrocketed to fame and lived to tell about it. I think he understands: it's not like any star "deserves it."

I don't come to bury Phil, but to praise him. As you will see, I am not an impassive observer. When I grew up in a conservative household and culture, it was practically a moral victory to even be free to put on anyone's rock music. Believe me, you should've heard my Dad's reaction when BMG music sent me a Depeche Mode Selection of the Month featuring fey, shirtless men in an undeniable visual code that upset Dad to a degree you would be hard-pressed to understand...unless your Dad was somewhat homophobic, too. But I may save that story.

I think the problem is, so many of his fans have not found anything listenable by him in a couple of decades, even though he continued to have financial success and acceptance with work such as his Tarzan soundtrack. His 92 album with Genesis was the last time I bought his work, as the band tried to re-connect with what had made their identity under the still-credible Peter Gabriel. Say what you will on their success or failure at blending Art Rock back into the smash pop success, but I did find "Dreaming While You Sleep" and "Driving the Last Spike" very memorable songs even after half a lifetime since I last heard them.

But I couldn't hang on to the past; for a long time, I didn't have the sheer indulgence of the Internet to reclaim my lost favorites, anyway, but nevertheless, like many fans, I continued looking forward and backward for something fresh to excite me about the passion of music. When I no longer had to maintain similar listening tastes to, say, a small-town middle class white man in his 40's, I embraced some of the most disturbing and beautiful music I could find. But I no longer looked for it in the safe MOR hits of Phil Collins. He had a lot of youth appeal for some reason---well, 'cause the music was brilliantly catchy. His work with Genesis, to this music newbie, was as evocative as the comic books I loved.

But we all grow up. Or, we try to grow up. Sometimes this means you pop in Mozart, and I tried that, too, while I was trying to get my nineteen year old act together and not fade out of what had seemed a promising life. Sometimes you discover Prince and get in touch with your funk. But the parent-approved and easily-ignored mainstream hit records wouldn't do; they weren't ...individualistic enough. I'd always been raised to try to do right and amount to something, even if the ways and means seemed distant and full of vaguely materialistic demands. The individual streak was my own device.

Phil's history in retrospective would make this column much too long for my purposes. it feels like some kind of statement already on its own, though I'm in the mood to say more. I've dabbled into some introspection on the whys and wherefores of his expressed feelings that "no one's going to miss me much" which almost sounds like a cry for sympathy, you know? I don't want to hang him with "...and that's what's wrong with played-out middle age white men all over Western Civilization!" but he does seem to feel like he prostituted his songwriting skills to build a career for an audience that he, too cool for school, with which he never anticipated identifying. People who were not in the least "rock and rolll" or even "jazzy"---what we used to just think of as ordinary guys.

Once upon a time, Phil Collins could still fit that "edgy" bill if you weren't already steeped in the hurricane history of Rawk. About the time I finally saw him, I was discouraged that "...but Seriously" was chock full of mid-tempo, safe music, when "Mama" and "In the Air Tonight" and "I Don't Care Anymore" were so much better attuned to the kind of gangsta shit and abrasiveness and strangeness one might enjoy as a rebellious teen. Even then, his influence was an ever-further cry from the kind of Art School hip wierdo that Gabriel and King Crimson and Yes looked for.

I've got at least one more column, "...but Seriously, Phil..." left in me, just to discuss my personal favorites, and then, in true ubiquitous Phil Collins style, I will hold over and do yet one more to mine his career highlights, "That's All." Read them! Or don't!

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