Take A Look At Me Now
Legendary drummer-singer Phil Collins thwarts retirement for the comeback of a lifetime
By Steven Joseph
Can you feel it in the air tonight? Phil Collins is coming out of retirement! But for a man who has sold over 100 million records both as a solo artist and as a member of the group Genesis, so little is known about him. His lyrics have run the gamut from love songs and doo-wop covers to more politicized topics and social issues such as homelessness and poverty. But much of his professional and personal life has remained unknown despite his superstar status through the last four decades. In a recent press conference at the Seminole Hollywood Hard Rock Casino, Collins announced his return to music.
Phil has been absent from music for several years now, having lost his ability to hold drumsticks after an undiagnosed nerve problem affecting his hands. “A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have said I was interested in doing any more shows,” says Phil. “I just wanted to be with my family.” But at Phil’s recent performance at the Fillmore Miami in support of his Little Dreams Foundation, Phil was joined onstage by his son Nic, a drummer and member of the band What You Know. Nic sat behind the kit for several of Phil’s hits, including “In The Air Tonight,” sending the crowd into a frenzy when he played the iconic drum solo halfway through. “Now that we’re all living together, and with them encouraging me, I’m getting the feel like I might want to do something. They’re all enthusiastic about me doing some shows.”
Phil has always identified himself as a “drummer who does a little bit of singing,” despite his success as a solo artist, and indeed his introduction to music came via a toy drum set he was given as a young boy in west London. Playing along to the music on television and the radio, Phil began to play drums by feel, never actually learning to read music. The toy set eventually gave way to a makeshift kit and before long he was studying under masters Lloyd Ryan and Frank King. Phil also began acting in his teens, playing The Artful Dodger in a London production of Oliver. Phil also started singing as a young boy, performing “Davy Crockett” at a talent show. “I saw Disney’s ‘King of the Wild Frontier’ as a boy and something about it just resonated with me,” said Phil. Aided by the success in his adult life, Phil became one of the foremost private collectors of Alamo memorabilia, eventually donating his artifacts to the Alamo for a museum on-site.
In secondary school, Phil was a member of several local bands, idolizing Beatle Ringo Starr and big band drummer Buddy Rich. His foundation strives to pair underprivileged children who are gifted in art, music, and sports with financial support and mentoring from professionals in the field. When asked if he had any mentors growing up, however, Phil cites a much less formal source, “My mom was very supportive, she bought my band a van that we could drive around in.” Phil bounced around several bands in the late 60s and early 70s before eventually landing an audition for the band Genesis. After lead singer Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975 to pursue a solo career, the band tried out several singers before letting Collins take over vocal duties. Collins’ ascent to lead vocals directly coincided with the band’s commercial success.
But despite his foundation including athletic children in its scope of work, Phil never fancied himself an athlete. “I played rugby at school, but I didn’t see the magic of diving at people’s feet in the snow.” Still, Phil maintains both a strong connection both to sports and to Miami. His song, “In The Air Tonight” was used as the entrance music for the Miami Heat starting with LeBron James’ arrival here in 2012. “I spoke to (Heat in-house DJ and Little Dreams Foundation benefactor) DJ Irie the other day and they still use it,” Phil recalls with pride. “It’s been a monster as far as being used in different places. Football players warm up to it, boxers come out in to the ring to it.”
In an equally exciting press release by Penguin/Random House Publishing, a “warts and all” autobiography will be released in the fall, finally giving fans the long-awaited “behind the music” access they’ve clamored for all these years. Collins’ former band Genesis spawned the successful solo careers of both Gabriel and Collins, as well as bass player Mike Rutherford’s band Mike + The Mechanics, but the band itself didn’t create a platinum-selling album until well into its second decade. With such a wealth of talent in its lineup, the mystery of the band’s delayed success will finally be solved. One thing’s for sure, Phil’s success definitely wasn’t “Against All Odds” or a “Misunderstanding.” To fans, the historic comeback of their beloved Phil Collins is what I’ve been waiting for all my life, oh Lord!