Take a Look at Me Now: Phil Collins Revisited
Updated: Aug 11
My father called me last night to talk about Saturday’s article. I was immediately nervous. It’s hard to write about the people that you love. Both my parents offer a constant stream of hilarity, but I never want to come off as cruel or disrespectful. Nor do I want to misrepresent them or their beliefs. I was relieved to learn that he enjoyed reading it, though he wanted to discuss one aspect: Phil Collins.
“I’m not anti-Phil,” he said, “that’s your mother. I mean, I don’t like Genesis. I remember seeing a Genesis record and thinking: What a terrible name. But, I had a Phil Collins tape, once. The one with “In the Air Tonight” (1981’s Face Value) and it was okay. I don’t know. Genesis is too dorky for me. “I Can’t Dance”? No thanks. Phil’s alright. I don’t really care about him. He’s just... not someone I bother listening to. I mostly didn’t want your luck to spoil mine. I didn’t know I was whistling Glenn Frey, by the way. I do like that song (“You Belong to the City”), but I couldn’t have told you that guy’s name if my life depended on it.”
“He was in the Eagles,” I said.
“They were okay, too.”
There’s a lot to unpack from this exchange.
1) He decided that he didn’t like Genesis because of their name? I don’t know if it’s fair to reject a band because of what they chose to call themselves. Noted exception: Panic! At the Disco. The use of mid-name exclamation marks is perfectly acceptable grounds for auto-dismissal.
2) I’ll agree that “I Can’t Dance” is a dorky song. Catchy? Yep. Fun to dance to while drinking? Ironically, very much so. It’s intentionally silly, which is kind of cool (the music video ends with Phil being dragged off camera by his bandmates during a Michael Jackson-esque dance solo). The joke is probably too dad-like to be anything but dorky, though. Point for Bob.
3) He used words like “okay” and “alright” to describe Phil Collins and one of his best reviewed albums. Though these adjectives are quite a distance from “lame”, they still suggest he isn’t a fan. I think he found Phil at the wrong time. Tom Petty once described his personal song-writing philosophy in a single sentence: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” It’s an apt characterization of the band’s work and the best way I can describe which music my father gravitates towards. He likes artists like The Cars, AC/DC, Van Halen, Barney Bentall, Counting Crows, and Tom Petty. People who wrote catchy, quick songs, with infectious choruses. He doesn’t have the patience for solos, ambience, or songs longer than five minutes. I later asked him if this was a fair assessment and he agreed, adding “I can’t handle bands like Rush.” That made sense. It also explains why he thought people put their dope in ashtrays. I listened to Face Value on the way to work today and I realized something. Multiple somethings. I immediately understood why there was no way my father would be a Phil Collins fan after listening to it. It’s too experimental. There’s a lot of distinctive drumming, an R&B horn section, and too many songs to slow dance to. It’s more funky and creative than I imagined. There are two lyric-less songs! That must’ve killed him. “Droned” would’ve felt particularly foreign. It sounds like a collaboration with Tangerine Dream. The album is compelling, but I doubt it was what he was looking for. There was a definitive lack of poppy choruses to hold his attention. Had he been introduced to Phil by way of No Jacket Required (or married someone other than my mother), he might feel a bit stronger about the man and his music. [i] No Jacket Required is much more cohesive and straightforward. It features memorable chorused-tunes such as “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Sussudio”, and “I Don’t Wanna Know”. Had my father found these first, I bet he'd (quite literally) be singing a different tune.
[i] When I asked my mother for an official comment on her dislike of Phil, she stumbled a bit. “I don’t know,” she said, “I just thought he was a dweeb.” Not exactly a thorough case. Bonus points for the use of the word “dweeb”. Funny word.
4) The best Phil Collins' songs demand you close your eyes to sing – especially during the choruses. If you’re singing “In The Air Tonight”, “Long Long Way to Go”, or “Take Me Home” with your eyes open, you’re doing it wrong. There are two kinds of people in this world: people who sing emotional parts of songs with their eyes closed and people that don’t. My father sings – a lot – but never with his eyes closed. Tough to fully appreciate Phil that way.
5) The Eagles are just “okay”? I’m going to leave that idea alone for now, lest I lose my entire readership while I burrow deeper into a musical blackhole.
I searched the net for six of the items we bought and created the following list:
My Sales Forecast
Steam Whistle: $500
Fire Extinguisher: $50
Gun Pipe: $150
RCMP Hats: $40
Almost everything I found offered a wide range in prices. There were steam whistles worth as much as twelve hundred dollars and as little as three hundred. To be honest, they both looked close to ours. I discovered similar disparities with the dagger and extinguisher. The prosthetic limb is my biggest guess. I found nothing that looked like ours. There were many prosthetics available, but most of them were wooden and none of them had a black boot on the end. I tried reading about the history of prosthetics and found myself buried in morbid tales featuring torturously ill-fitted devices. I’m also not entirely sure if selling authentic RCMP items is legal in this country. Everything I found online was modern and made by a third-party. More on that another day.
I was curious about the gun pipe and I was surprised to find an exact copy had sold for one hundred and fifty dollars just a month ago. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, I find it’s composition unsettling. I don’t understand why anyone would want to place the barrel of a gun (even if it’s carved) in their mouths. I understand that some people have a “gun thing”, but it still doesn’t make sense to me. I found dozens of examples, though. I started digging some more and discovered that people have been making pipes shaped like weapons for centuries. Some cultures took things a step further, creating pipes that doubled as actual weapons. Several First Nations tribes had pipes that were also fully-formed hatchets. This is thought to have belonged to someone from the Plains Nations in the early nineteenth century.
Clever – unless you’re smoking something stronger than tobacco – in which case, you’re going to want to be mighty careful if you’re returning for seconds.
Smoking in Edo-Japan was an even more dangerous proposition. In the 16th century, both samurai and commoners carried kiserus. Kiserus were specially made tobacco pipes that were heavy enough to be used as “fighting sticks”, or had blades hidden inside them. Carrying weapons was banned in certain places, but the kiseru was a viable alternative – for a time. Eventually violence in smoking shops and cafes spiked (duh) and edicts banning smoking made it illegal to carry these fight pipes.
So, it follows that if you were this guy...
You would be the deadliest pipe smoker in all the land (you would also LOVE to run in every single one of your movies).
After clearing the air re: Phil, my father opted to share his predictions without the aid of any resources. He was on the road with my mother and speaking to me “through the radio”. What a wondrous time to be alive! Here are his predictions.
Steam Whistle: $150
Fire Extinguisher: $15
Gun Pipe: $150
RCMP Hats: $10 each
We have some rather large differences in our projections, but the sharp money should be on my father’s figures. If I had to stand firm against one of his prices, it would be the prosthetic leg. We HAVE to get more than twenty bucks for that thing. It's too funky. It's Face Value funky.
This weekend I'll be reunited with my mother. Our ineptitude will be buoyed by the great Phil Collins – a man I promise never to write this much about again.