Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Phil Collins: My Brush With Classic Rock History


As a teenager growing up in the mid-1980s, I spent much of my life cringing - and I mean cringing -- every time Phil Collins' songs came on the radio. Then, in one of life's ironic twists, a decade later I had the chance to interview him.

I was working in Bangkok, Thailand at the time, as an copy editor with the Bangkok Post, an English language daily newspaper. It was March of 1995, and our staff of Thai reporters had their hands full with other stories, so when the record company called with the offer to interview Collins during the Bangkok leg of his Far Side Of The World Tour, my boss asked me if I was interested.

I jumped all over it. The only problem was, at that point in time, I had almost zero reporting experience. But having always been someone whose ambition has far exceeded my ability, I figured that the worst that could happen was that I'd ask some stupid or inflammatory questions and Phil would shoot me one of those withering, "Who the fuck are you?" looks that rock stars often give to rookie reporters.

Now, let me just say that I recognize that Phil Collins is a rock legend from his time as the drummer and lead singer of Genesis. He deserves respect. Kinda.

But here's the problem I have with his music: When I was growing up, Phil Collins' solo songs were as inescapable as the sunrise, with a steady stream of radio hits like 'Sussudio', 'Against All Odds' and 'Groovy Kind of Love' insinuating their shallow platitudes and romantic visions in my naive teenage mind. To the point where I began to believe that in life's endless bends and turns, I might actually find me a "groovy kind of love". Or at the very least, a 'Sussudio' (which to me, to this day, still sounds like something dirty. Is that weird?).

Needless to say, in the circle of friends I grew up with, it wasn't cool to like Phil Collins. One kid I know had a cassette tape of Collins 1985 album 'No Jacket Required' found in the back of his car by some other kids, and he was actually beaten up. I mean, c'mon, he might as well have had a collection of Cabbage Patch Dolls!

In the run-up to the interview, I spent lots of time thinking of questions and rehearsing them, to get a picture of what the experience would be like. I really wanted to ask him what it was like to be in a band with Peter Gabriel (who, in my opinion, is ten times the musician Collins is), but decided that would probably wouldn't go over well. I had also been urged by the record company to ask Phil about his film career, which at that time consisted of a lead role in the 1988 film 'Buster'. Yeah, I never heard of it either.

The day of the interview, I was pretty nervous as I gathered my tape recorder and the notebook in which I'd scribbled a bunch of questions that I thought would be both provoking and insightful.

I arrived at the hotel and met up with Jang, the record company rep who had set up the interview. There was a crowd of other media people already there, most of them television reporters and camerapeople, and the lobby was buzzing with excitement. Jang led me through the crowd and down a carpeted hallway, and into a very large banquet room. Sitting there, alone at a table in the middle of the room, was Phil. Looking pretty jetlagged, actually (he'd just arrived from Jakarta that afternoon, in fact).

The interview didn’t get off to a great start. I figured I’d kick things off by asking him what age he began to develop an interest in drumming. Big mistake.

Phil sighed -- theatrically and with obvious frustration. “Five,” he snapped.

OK, this wasn't good. Phil hadn't given me the "Who the fuck are you" look yet, but I could tell it wasn't far off. As I glanced nervously at my questions, I saw him glance at his watch. I thought to myself: 'Quick, come up with a good one, you're going down in flames here!'

So I asked him about what it was like to play both the London and the Philadelphia legs of the legendary 1985 megaconcert Live Aid. "Oh, it is the 10th anniversary now, isn't it?" said the suddenly interested Collins.

Phil then proceeded to launch into a long winded but interesting account of July 13, 1985, the day he played with Genesis at London's Wembley Stadium in the morning, then took the Concorde to New York, and a helicopter to Philadelphia, making it in just enough time to greet old friends Robert Plant and Eric Clapton and then take the stage as the drummer for Led Zeppelin's first ever reunion.

The rest of the interview went smoothly, as I had apparently hit a good nerve with Phil by asking the Live Aid question. He even answered my 'straw man' question about what he would say to critics who've labeled him "a mindless crooner of insipid love ballads", a description I told him I'd seen in Rolling Stone, but which actually came from me.

Before long, I shut off my tape recorder and said my goodbyes, shaking hands with a guy whose solo music I always loathed, but who, at least, had rubbed shoulders with what I consider to be true classic rock legends.

P.S. - Here's the article that appeared in the Bangkok Post, April 5, 1995

1 comment:

  1. great story..good recovery with the live aid question.