The Case for Phil Collins


September 23, 2004

By Troy Reimink

The Grand Rapids Press



Hi, I'm Troy.

Hi, Troy.

I, um ... I'm not quite sure how to say this, but, well, I'm 23 years old, and I love Phil Collins.


At this point during the meeting of the Twentysomething Fans of Unbelievably Cheesy Music support group, the other members thank me for sharing this embarrassing information. Then we embrace and have cookies. It's good to know I'm not alone in my inexplicable appreciation of obsolete dad-rock. There's also Bob, a college student who loves Michael Bolton. There's Susan, a waitress who is obsessed with Billy Ocean. And then there's Lou, a mechanic who is torn between Hall and Oates and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I, on the other hand, am nuts for Phil.

It began in high school, when, while perusing the old-fogey stations preset on my father's car stereo, I came across "In the Air Tonight," and boy howdy, when those drums kicked in, it stirred something deep and primal. That, or I just dug bad synthesizers. Either way, I ran out and bought his greatest-hits collection, which would remain in my car CD player for months at a time. I didn't date much. Evidently, there's something about seeing a Phil Collins poster on a guy's wall that makes young women recoil in horror.

So until now, I buried my dark secret. But no longer will I hide in the shadows, having to keep my enthusiasm for "Sussudio," "Another Day in Paradise" and "One More Night" hidden under layers of self-conscious pseudohipness. It's time, as Phil would say, to "Dance into the Light."

See, my generation has a dangerous preoccupation with being "cool," and on the coolness spectrum, Collins falls somewhere between Yanni and David Hasselhoff. In other words, not remotely cool. While '80s rock and pop is going through a period of retroactive popularity among young people, it's only cool in certain circumstances. Your enjoyment of Journey, Rick Springfield, Toto or whomever must be filtered through a thick layer of ironic detachment. You can't like it, but you can "like" it, which means having a peripheral respect for the artist relative to his time period while accepting the fundamental lameness of his or her work. These days, sincerity is a big no-no.

This is bad for society, so I refuse to participate. That's because, despite my would-be coolness, I genuinely love the music of Phil Collins. And anyone who has a problem with that can shove it. I know all the arguments: He ruined Genesis, he's middle-of-the-road, he scores Disney movies, he has a not-too-subtle fondness for disco. But I find it comforting that a straightforward, physically unimpressive guy can have a music career that has spanned five decades.

His show Friday at Van Andel Arena will be a great chance for my support group to reconvene, and I suspect the group will be much larger this time. That's because we know Collins is every bit as cool as he needs to be.

Here's why:

His tour is cool

Collins' show at Van Andel is part of what he's calling his "First Final Farewell Tour," which is an obvious jab at contemporaries (Kiss, The Who, The Eagles, etc.) who just can't seem to let it go. Cher's "farewell" trek now is called the "Never Can Say Goodbye Tour." Well, no kidding. When she returns to Grand Rapids in November, it will be the third stop here in a tour that began during the Carter administration and is scheduled to continue well past the Apocalypse. If I drop my savings on an exorbitantly priced ticket for what is advertised as someone's last show in town, I'd be pretty ticked off if they kept limping back every year. At least Collins has a sense of humor about it, and when he inevitably returns, we can't say he didn't warn us.

Genesis once was cool

True, when Peter Gabriel left the group and Collins took over on vocals, this product of Britain's '60s art-rock movement gradually traded freakazoid prog for bland adult-contemporary. Still, Collins began as the group's drummer, and he played on "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," easily one of the greatest concept albums ever made.

Drummers are cool

Speaking of that, you gotta respect any percussionist who can take the reins when his band is in a pinch. Stepping out from behind the kit takes guts. If Collins would sing and play simultaneously, Don Henley-style, then we'd be in business.

His ballads are cool

Next week, Collins will release "Love Songs: A Compilation Old & New," a retrospective collection that celebrates the awesomeness of his balladry. Even the most cynical music fan can't deny the power of "Against All Odds."

'Easy Lover' is cool

Collins' 1985 duet with soul singer Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire fame is a textbook guilty pleasure, full of silly lyrics and overblown instrumentation. "Easy Lover" is such a guilty pleasure, in fact, it's not uncommon to find a certain Press reporter (who will remain anonymous) dancing like a fool every Thursday night at Drink Ultra Lounge, 81 Ionia Ave. NE, as DJ Jef Leppard spins this and other slammin' retro tracks.

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony think he's cool

In 2002, the kings of melodic thug-rap sampled Collins' hit "Take Me Home" for their single "Home," juicing up the verses with their trademark double-time rhythms and letting Phil belt out the chorus. Talk about boosting your street cred.

He may not be cool, but that's cool

I'll admit the phrase "he's so uncool that he's cool," is used way too much, often undeservingly (Barry Manilow: still not cool). But the label seems designed for a guy such as Collins, who, like Billy Joel or Neil Diamond, has nothing to prove. Collins is the sort of guy who couldn't care less what you think of him, and that, my friends, is mind-blowingly cool.

Now, if only we could do something about those Disney soundtracks.