I spent Boxing Day 2016 reading a book I had received for Christmas from my parents – Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins. The book is his autobiography, retelling stories and capturing moments from his past. I read the entire book in a day.
I’ve been a huge Phil Collins fan for as long as I can remember. His music has always seemed like a guilty pleasure to me, because it was seen as somewhat safe and very mainstream. He writes accessible songs, mostly to do with love and loss, which contributes to giving him this false reputation as just another artist. To me I think he writes some of the best pop songs we’ve ever heard.
His book spends most of the time focussing on Genesis and how he got started, their early troubles and successes, the ‘fallout’ with Peter Gabriel and the subsequent skyrocketing of their fame. He also talks extremely in depth about his recent alcohol addiction. Interestingly, he was pretty clean for most of his music career, and it was only once he took himself away from the limelight that he struggled to fill the void with something, which is where alcohol came in. Definitely a sad time for him, but he doesn’t hold back and is brutally honest about what must have been a difficult time for him and his family.
Collins writes with a self-deprecating style of humour, constantly taking pot shots at himself and his music. He understands his place in music history, and knows that while many critics have completely the wrong idea about him (the chapter on ‘faxgate’ is particularly interesting), he has a loyal following and is respected by peers and the general public. He is one of only 3 musicians to sell over 100 millions records as both a solo artist and in a group (the other two being Sir Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – not bad company to be in!).
Also, a great few chapters is where he reflects on Tarzan, and his contribution to the film score and songs. He goes in depth into the writing process, the influence of Disney, and the critical reception which threw him back into the public eye. He reveals some facts about the soundtrack which completely surprised me, I had no idea that it was such a game-changing soundtrack for Disney.
One of the best chapters is where Collins dissects ‘that’ Live Aid concert. He goes into detail about playing in the Led Zeppelin ‘reunion’, with Sting, with Clapton and as a solo artist, and the public perception of what happened versus what he really understood to be happening.
Other highlights were his reflective humour on almost being on a George Harrison solo record when he was still in his teens, being sought out by Adele to collaborate with, writing a song for Clapton after the death of his son, and intriguing comments about Dustin Hoffman during the filming of ‘Hook’.
In all honesty, I would have liked the book to focus a little bit more on his solo career. Collins seems to brush over a lot of the songs/albums which I have loved for years (He quips that the only reason ‘Something Happened On The Way To Heaven’ is on an album is because Danny DeVito turned it down for one of his movies). He does talk a little bit about his biggest hits (‘In The Air Tonight’ and ‘Against All Odds’ for example), but mainly focusses on the album they’re from as a whole and how it came to be recording or releasing that album. I would also have liked to hear more about his relationship with other musicians (he does spend time on Eric Clapton amongst others, but not enough in my opinion) as I am always fascinated by who played with who in the early days, or who helped with this or that etc.
Collins has written a book of memoirs that anyone with even a little knowledge of himself or Genesis would appreciate. He is a man who just could not say no (professionally) and how that drive to always want to work hard and play music took him to great heights but at times ruined his life completely. He offers his advice and learnings from over 40 years in the music industry, and perhaps unknowingly inspires you to never give up on what you want – that if you’re good at something then go and make it your own.