Last night my wife and I went to the "First Final Phil Collins Farewell Tour".
This is a guess. This is the cynical viewpoint. I bet I'm right. Most guys got dragged to this event by the women in their lives. This kind of formula, syrupy pop was partly defined by Phil Collins in the 80's and it appealed to everyone who loved chick flicks. It also appealed to Genesis crossover fans who were rabid to absorb any output spewed by a former member of the Brit boy-school fivesome.
Now a days Phil Collins appeals to graying middle-aged former hipsters with 2.5 kids, expanding girth, and a sports car in the garage. My unscientific poll of the crowd said the median age of the concert attendee was 40. There were some younger people in the crowd, most brought by their parents or guardians. There were some older people. There was a blue-haired lady in a black evening gown shuffling behind an aluminum walker--not something you'd see at your run of the mill Jimmy Eat World show.
But let's take the not so cynical viewpoint for a moment. Unlike Tom from Blink 182, Phil Collins is an amazing musician. His drumming has always been first rate. He figured out how to get most of the world to swoon to his impish, leprechaun’s voice, and he produced tunes that will be rebaked as the classic elevator music of the 21st century. The man has made his mark on planet earth. When he dies, lots and lots of people will cry.
I wonder what it's like to be Phil Collins. What sort of glass bubble he must live in. How he lives with his history. Yesterday he was the cover story of the "Arts and Entertainment" section of the San Jose Mercury News. In the article he apologizes to the listening public at large. He says he didn't mean for us to be damaged by the Waco-like psychological torture of having to endure Sussidio played through every known audio orifice more times than we heard our mothers call our own names. He says that when a radio station in Milwaukee increased its listening audience by advertising, "Collins-free weekends," that he knew something in his career had gone awry.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, Phil says. And those of us who lived through the 80's might sympathize. We wish it wasn't.
But here we are in 2004 and even though most of us haven't even thought about Billy losing the number for a couple years, the body does not forget the physical insult so easily. You only need to get trashed on margaritas once to develop a lifelong repulsion to tequila. Likewise, one is likely to cringe as the stomach acid flows when the first few synthesized notes of No Jacket Required are sent airborne.
My wife and I sat in our near-nosebleed seats for the Phil concert. We sat patiently until the lights went down. Then she jiggled her knees excitedly like a teenager as we waited for the sound. There has been a lot of Phil Collins in our lives. My wife is a woman who cannot carry a tune. Though I have never had it tested professionally, as measured by her singing demonstrations I must conclude the woman has never been responsible for a single note of on key, twelve-tone music. I know, though, that music means something to her. It's inside her even though she cannot create it herself. When the horn section blats out the opening riff to Dance Into the Light, she can't keep still. Never could.
When I saw Phil Collins come on stage I realized the first time I saw him was about 25 years ago. Madison Square Garden. A concert by a band called Genesis that was played mostly on college stations barely filled the floor seats. I was in what was then the red section, what would be courtside seats in a basketball game, stage left. Phil played drums and sang backups to Peter Gabriel.
Since then I have seen Phil Collins about once every few years for one reason or another. One of my first dates with my wife was to a Genesis concert. By that time Phil was the front man, running around stage with various hats and a trumpet he spit a note or two out of. At that time in my life most every musical blurtation Genesis uttered plucked a string in my guts. To say I was obsessive about that music would be understatement. The wife and I saw Genesis one last time in New York and then a Phil Collins solo tour. Then another. And now this one.
I realized that as Phil traded paradiddles with Chester Thompson, I'd first seen them spar on drums back at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in the early 80's. I remember the first time I saw Lee Sklar and thought he was a wayward member of ZZ-Top. I remember when an interloper appeared on stage next to Mike Rutherford, this American Genesis band-member wannabee named Darryl Stuermer--who the hell did he think he was, presuming he could replace Steve Hackett?
And so here I am with the wife at the Shark tank last night, watching Phil's incredible computerized light show, his horn section, his incredible backup singers, and I realized this music, as vapid as some of it has been made to become, is part of my life. It's the SMPTE time code to ice boy.
One of the first songs I played in public in a New Jersey dive bar was In the Air Tonight. I remember being so proud of my new synthesizer, one I had saved for months to buy, and I could get the ominous background drone perfectly. We sang along with Against All Odds on our first road trip to Disney World, before any of our kids were born. I picked out Phil's version of Groovy Kind of Love on the piano to occupy my mind while watching over my first kid, getting through terrifying first time as a new father I was left to baby-sit alone.
I'm coming to the conclusion that this thing--this idea of music--must be related deeply to the core of our existence. The particles of creation themselves are expressible in terms of waveforms which vibrate possibility. All of life is one wave or another. Our thoughts are waves of neuronal impulses. Light travels in wavelengths and frequencies. Sound echoes. Hearts beat. Could it be that music is an abstraction of the very thing of existence? Could it be the reason music evokes such memory and emotion is that the interaction between the vibration of the soul and the movement of sound creates patterns that in of themselves are a form of light and possibility?
Because I have just read some of his work, I think of Joseph Campbell explaining the Buddhist greeting to Bill Moyers--how the hands are pressed together, fingers extended, palm-to-palm as if in prayer, and the individual bows slightly. This is in deference to the spirit part of the being--the fragment of God, which is inside you, which is all God and all you at the same time.
Maybe music is that--the spirit part of us expressed physically. To me, music is the interaction of me and the sound. As strange as this may seem when I say it, I don't think music actually exists independent from the producer or listener. That may elicit a big, "Duh," from the uninspired, but for me, a protophysicist, it means a lot. It means that that what matters about music is the experience of it. The interaction between me and the sound makes it what it is. A Phil Collins CD left playing on a boom box in the middle of an empty desert isn't anything. It's only music when people are around.
Phil Collins is what he is because he found way to interact with us and create an experience inside us we enjoy.
I wound up liking the Phil Collins concert, mostly because I liked being there with my wife and seeing the same guys playing music that I saw 20 years ago. Their sounds went inside me and reminded me that some things in my life are timeless. For better or worse, my life is one which has Phil's music in it.
Phil said it was his last concert. He didn't give the excuses that night, but I have read he is losing his hearing. I heard him miss several notes last night, and in the decades I have seen him sing, that has never happened. Perhaps his deafness is affecting his singing. I don't know, but he was a bit "off". Didn't matter to the faithful though.
When it was done, and he finished with his signature closing tune, singing, "Take me Home,” when the last note finished vibrating the smoky concert hall air and he left the stage, it seemed the fitting goodbye to it all was the Buddhist greeting. As I thought it, I saw Phil do it. He clasped his hands together under his chin in prayer and bowed to the audience. Thanked everyone for 30 great years from his side of the equation. Said he loved us all. Then a whole bunch of people did the same to him in return.
Goodbye. Goodbye not to Phil Collins, who most certainly will go on in one jazz band or another, nor to the library of his tunes which I most certainly will endure for the remainder of my years as a human, but rather to the music which only exists in those moments when I'm there to hear it and be inside it and measure my life along side it. It punctuates my existence and my marriage and marks the growth of my family. That's what's cool about it. Goodbye to me and my baby sitting in the upper deck, tapping our toes, being married and entertained, vibrating in synchronicity to the same tunes for 25 years.
It's love and it's cool.