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Believe in Yourself, Phil Collins
If a guy who sold 150 million albums can't be happy, what hope is there for us normals?
In 1997, Phil Collins, the rare celebrity musician who is also a political conservative, threatened to move out of England if the Labour Party were elected to control Parliament. They were, and he moved to Switzerland.
In 2005, Noel Gallagher urged: "Vote Labour. If you don't and the Tories get in, Phil is threatening to come back."
Over the years, Gallagher has carried on an entertaining “feud” with Collins, made even funnier by the fact that if there is a primary criticism of Collins, it is that he is insufficiently inoffensive. Collins’ music is made for people who think the Dave Matthews Band is edgy; when asked what it took to be a top-level musician, Gallagher once said, “You don’t have to be great to be successful. Look at Phil Collins.”
If it was just Gallagher carrying on, it would be a fun musical footnote. (For the record, Collins has sold over 150 million records during his career, while Oasis, Gallagher’s band, currently hovers at around 70 million - fewer than half as many.)
But when the party was over, the critics came for his exceedingly hairless scalp. As Collins’ dominance in the 1980s wound down, he endured a vituperative brand of criticism that may have exceeded any artist of the decade (save maybe for Milli Vanilli, look it up kids). And it wore him down.
As The New York Times wrote in a 2016 retrospective of his career, the ‘80s were a time when critics thought “Collins was a rock star who couldn’t rock, and a pop star who was far too happy idling in the middle of the road. Catchy but contained, his music was beloved by people who didn’t actually listen to much music.”
When he finally announced his “retirement” in 2010, he actually offered an apology.
“I’m sorry that it was all so successful,” he said. “I honestly didn’t mean it to happen like that. It’s hardly surprising that people grew to hate me,” he said.
"In my defense, I only wrote the songs once," he pleaded.
How distressing is it that PHIL FREAKING COLLINS - winner of seven Grammy awards and foundational name in the history of 1980s pop - has such remorse for his wildly successful career?
Even before his white-hot solo career, the guy played drums in Genesis, one of the transformative art-rock bands of the 1970s, then began singing their songs when frontman Peter Gabriel bolted for solo stardom.
Then, according to Chartmasters, Collins was the third-highest-selling artist of the 1980s, behind only Michael Jackson and Madonna (and besting critical darlings like Prince and Bruce Springsteen.)
And not only was he a top-flight singer and drummer, he occasionally popped up on television shows like Miami Vice, where he played a notorious drug dealer. Even though he resembled a toll booth operator, the guy was Lady Gaga with an unfortunate hairline.
All that considered, if Phil Collins can’t be happy about his career, how can any of us?
So as unlikely as it seems, I feel like it’s necessary to offer Phil Collins (and any other pale best selling artists with meaty foreheads) a bit of support.
For one, not all music - or any type of art, for that matter - has to be enjoyed in a specific way by a specific person.
Back in the early 80’s, before I had even hit my teenage years, Phil Collins was ubiquitous. In 1985, the year I turned 12, I walked into a store and bought “No Jacket Required” - the first cassette tape I ever purchased with my own money. (The second album, in case you were wondering, was “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” by Sting.)
In one respect, buying the album was a bit of peer pressure. My coolest middle school friend, Tom, used to brag that after school he was going to “go home, crack open a Coke, throw on the headphones, and listen to some Phil.” He didn’t even have to offer a last name - we knew who he meant.
After my own copy was purchased, my father, perhaps yearning for me to grow up in a more Tom Sawyer-ian America, tasked me with painting our family’s wood fence. It took me weeks to complete the task, but Phil was always with me. I wore that tape out.
I included this solipsistic biographical note simply to demonstrate that while the teens listening to Minor Threat or the Descendents or R.E.M. in 1985 would scoff at anyone enjoying such commercial work, it is fine to have an audience outside the world of cultural tastemakers. I am now 37 years older than I was in 1985 (as is anyone born that year or earlier), and I still have fond memories of listening to the album all this time later. Who couldn’t use more youthful reflections like that?
There will always be those who think culture - movies, music, books, etc. - must be consumed the way they think it should be consumed, primarily because they don’t have the imagination to conceive of people who might not be them. But different people enjoy entertainment differently - there is no correct way to listen to music or watch movies, just ways that make you happy.
And in that vein, don’t be apologetic for what you like. There are no guilty pleasures, only pleasures.
That doesn’t mean one has to like everything - I am baffled by Taylor Swift’s stranglehold on the American music industry at the moment - but I don’t begrudge anyone who enjoys her music. There may be a 12-year-old girl out painting a fence whose life is being made tolerable by “Anti-Hero.”
And who knows, history tends to exonerate a lot of artists once cast aside as unserious gimmick acts. In 2020, a video of two young African-American kids listening for the first time to Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” quickly went viral. At that point, the song was almost 40 years old, but the kids (going by the handle Twins the New Trend) light up when Collins’ famous drums kick in midway through the song.
To date, almost 10 million people have watched the video.
So be proud, Phil Collins – you have nothing to apologize for. You have made people of all races and genders happy and continue to do so today. May we all be able to say the same thing when we decide to hang it up.
Last week, I wrote a piece for National Review arguing that while President Joe Biden’s proposed plan for the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t perfect, it is better than the chaos we are seeing down there now. To wit:
But even though it is basically an orphan at this point, the Biden plan would dramatically reduce the amount of illegal immigration the U.S. currently faces. If implemented correctly (and that is an “if” the size of Snoop Dogg’s weekly weed budget), the plan would provide a more orderly and manageable framework to handle people flooding into America at the U.S.–Mexico border.
Of course, if more legal options are available, fewer asylum-seekers will have to risk their families’ lives on dangerous treks through Central America to make it to the Mexico border. Along the road, they face threats from cartels, police, and starvation. With a more orderly path available, fewer immigrants will flood U.S. ports of entry.
But a cynic might wonder how truly dedicated Republican politicians are to fixing the problem given its potency around election time. Every two years GOP candidates warn of waves of immigrants coming to America to spread crime (wrong), fentanyl (wrong), and disease (wrong). If Biden truly made the immigration system better, do you honestly think 2024 hopefuls (such as Greg Abbott) would admit it or give him credit? There’s a better chance of Kyle Rittenhouse getting his own MSNBC show.
Biden’s plan isn’t perfect, and it depends on his willingness to stand up to members of his own party — which will likely end up being too much to ask. But increasing legal immigration while strengthening border security would ease the bottleneck and begin to put the “order” back in “border.” The chaos America is seeing now isn’t a reason to oppose legal immigration; it is even more reason to support it.
Read the full article here.
Last week, I began publishing my comic novel, “1916: The Blog,” right here on this very website. I will continue to release two chapters a week so people can read along at the same time. Right now, the book is only available to paid subscribers, so boost your membership and start getting access to premium content!
It’s always a sinking feeling when you put out a best albums of the year list, only to then immediately listen to an album that should have been on it. Such was the case with the album “Making a Scene” from New Jersey band Dentist. Here’s “Don’t Let Me Catch You” from their superb fourth album: