Happy birthday, Phil Collins!

In honor of Phil Collins’s 67th birthday, I’m sharing my thoughts on his incredible autobiography, Not Dead Yet.  I hope you find my words half as enjoyable as I know you will his.  Happy birthday and many more to my idol!

When Phil Collins released his long-awaited memoir Not Dead Yet last October, it was something I had looked forward to for years. The Grammy and Oscar winning singer-songwriter who has served as the drumming front man for rock group Genesis for the past 40 years, has been the only celebrity I have ever truly idolized. The eloquent and humorous style in which he tells is wildly fascinating story makes me admire him even more.

He joined Genesis as drummer in 1970, pulled double duty as lead singer beginning in 1976 and then skyrocketed to pop superstardom as a solo artist beginning with the 1981 release of Face Value.  He has sold nearly a quarter billion records, the third most successful recording artist in the world.  The rest is music history.

His father was a stern insurance broker and his mother worked at the famed Barbara Speake Stage School in London, where Phil got his start in show business, performing as The Artful Dodger in Oliver. He even got a spot as an extra in the film Hard Day’s Night starring his musical idols, The Beatles. After becoming a professional drummer in the late sixties, he recalls playing until his hands bled on the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass, only to have his hard work end up on the cutting floor of the recording studio.

Despite the wonderful memories I have a finally seeing Phil Collins live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on June 24, 2010, less than 24 hours after proposing to my wife, Collins has different sentiments regarding these shows period.  While I thought the shows were terrific, among the best I’d ever seen perhaps, the singer writes of his less than enthused view.               “The shows should be wonderful, but my head isn’t where it should be,” Collins says. “To make matters worse, once I’m on stage, I inexplicably have trouble remembering the words to these songs I grew up with. My life on stage has petered out with the underwhelming Going Back shows.”

Phil Collins has always been my favorite male singer; Tina Turner has always been my favorite female vocalist. The collaboration between the two of them on the song great spirits from the Brother Bear soundtrack is, in my opinion, the greatest musical collaboration in history. Collins writes about working with Turner in Switzerland where they both lived and recorded the tune. Turner had apparently learned the song from the original demo tape Collins had sent her and had recorded it within a couple of takes. He got her own board through their mutual friend Eric Clapton, who introduced him to Turner in 1986. He calls her “a supremely professional and a true artist.”               “Tina oozes musicality and class,” he wrote, bragging justifiably about sharing the stage with her at the Brother Bear world premiere in October 2003 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. “It’s quite amazing how Tina turns it on. We’ll walk through the sound check and she’ll ‘pretend’ she’s retired, and then she’ll kill the song and give a solid-gold performance.”

     I would have gladly given my right arm and even my left to have been in the audience that night when Tina sang and Phil performed on drums.  

     At the 1985 Grammy Awards, in which Collins pulls a major upset by taking home the Album of the Year trophy for No Jacket Required, emerging victorious over the expected shoe-in, We Are the World by USA for Africa. The charity super-group featured Michael Jackson, who was seated next to Collins at the Grammy Awards. After performing “Sussudio,” he hears Michael Jackson inquire to him from his seat about the horn arrangement for the song. They will properly meet later when he goes to Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in 1992 to film an award presentation. Jackson apologizes to Collins for the use of makeup, which she says is necessary for a rare skin condition. He also invites his two younger children, Simon and Lily, to see his enormous playroom, the prospect at which Collins doesn’t give a second thought. “He’s very sweet and friendly,” he recalls of the late King of Pop. “I’m left with the feeling that Michael Jackson, though clearly not the same as us mortals, is not the weirdo we’ve been led to expect. But, even though I have no direct knowledge of the murkier side of Michael’s life, I have to say there’s probably no smoke without some kind of fire.”              

             As pure as Phil Collins’s voice was in its prime, I would have never known that he took steroid injections for his vocal cords beginning in 1986. He would seek this remedy for years until his retirement from touring.”So you’re given a shot of prednisone, injected into your bum,” he explained. “The steroid will get you through the show, but once you’re on it, you’re on it for 10 days.”

              In addition to severe side effects such as psychotic mood swings, moon face and water retention, the legend says the medication could also be partly responsible for the weakening of his bones that resulted in his current health problems, coupled with 60 years of playing drums, and vertebrae issues.

               I also was very interested to learn that Collins had originally pitched an idea to famed director Robert Zemeckis for an animated film starring himself, the late Bob Hoskins and Danny DeVito as the Three Bears. The idea went over well in Hollywood and Kim Basinger even expressed interest in being Goldilocks. I was dismayed that the film never materialized. The idea came to the singer after the three of them were repeatedly mistaken for one another.

               These are just a few gems you will receive from reading the best memoir written to date.  While my partiality is dually noted, from a writer’s standpoint alone, this book can be immensely enjoyed by even the casual music fan and, judging by the sound of his voice on the European tour named after his book, Phil Collins is most assuredly not dead yet.