March 7, 2011

Phillip Collins, I Absolve Thee

In a world where the media is absorbed as Muammar Gaddafi and Charlie Sheen try to out crazy each other, you might have missed an equally massive announcement from last week:  Phil Collins is retiring.


Well, he really means it this time.  Probably.  Plagued by medical problems that keeps him from drumming, Phil's decided to hang it up.  But that's not exactly news, to anybody who's been paying attention.  What is somewhat new is the depressing view that Phil thinks the public has of him.

After wondering whether "a great way to end the story" would be to "go on a mysterious biking holiday and never return," Phil goes on:
Surprisingly, it gets even darker from there, with Collins lamenting that years of 'Easy Lover' and 'Against All Odds' on the jukebox have 'made people ‘want to strangle’ him,' adding, 'It's hardly surprising that people grew to hate me. I'm sorry that it was all so successful. I honestly didn't mean it to happen like that.'
As the AV Club report points out, Phil' career batting average (particularly if Genesis is included) is really pretty good.  On the other hand, he has had the kind of over the top success that pisses people off.  According to the January issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog, Phil is one of only three performers to sell 100 million records as both a solo artist and as part of a band (the other two you might have heard of - Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson).

But I'll put that to one side, as I don't give two shits about Phil's solo career.  From a prog perspective he will always be an integral part of Genesis, as well as a guy who got dragooned into a lot of other people's projects (such as Brand X, Brian Eno, and Eric Clapton, not to mention solo efforts from Genesis alums Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, and Ant Phillips).  If he was shit, you'd think those guys would know.

Nevertheless, as a prog guy, I want to absolve Phil of a crime of which he has long been charged (hey, if the Pope can do it):

Phil Collins did not destroy Genesis.

There.  I said it.  That's not the popular narrative.  It usually goes that things started to go downhill for Genesis, somewhat, when Peter Gabriel left and Phil took over duties as front man.  The rot greatly accelerated when Steve Hackett left two albums later and the band soldiered on as a three piece, eventually becoming little more than Phil's backing band.

But the facts don't actually fit that perception.  I won't get into when things started going wrong - I've seen people argue that once Ant Phillips left things were grave and there's probably someone who things it all went wrong once John Silver went away.  But it's clear that the shifting direction of the band was due to all Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks as well as Phil.

For one thing, the two tracks that old Genesis fans generally see as the beginning of the end weren't Phil's doing.  "You're Own Special Way" from Wind and Wuthering came from Rutherford.  Phil's writing contributions on that album, on the other hand, were in the jazzier instrumentals and the brilliant "Blood on the Rooftops" (co written with Hackett).  Rutherford was also responsible for the lyrics on "Follow You, Follow Me," from  . . . and Then There Were Three, for which all three shared a music credit.  By the time the band was a huge pop machine (the self titled album), every song was a shared credit.

As you can see, while Phil might have been the face of the band as it shifted from pioneering proggers to world conquering pop act, the transformation was truly a group effort.  After all, Mike and Tony's efforts outside of Genesis aren't exactly evidence of a great unquenched desire to plum the proggy depths.  Phil's merely been a convenient fall guy.

And so, Phil, to the extent that it makes you feel any better about your career and being hated by the public, I absolve thee of the crime of ruining Genesis.  Go forth and sin no more, my son.

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