Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet

Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet


Routinely tagged as the ‘80s soundtrack of choice for every venture capitalist yuppie in a Saab convertible, Phil Collins has put two decades of ridicule behind him and is now entering an age of critical reappraisal. Name-checked by platinum-selling contemporary stars including Kanye West and Lorde, Collins’ autobiography Not Dead Yet arrives as he announces a return to the stage and releases the solo career-spanning hits compilation The Singles.

Like the lyrics to his massive hits “Against All Odds” and “In The Air Tonight”, there’s a raw emotional honesty to Collins’ writing. Racked by self-doubt, vocal about his imperfections and endlessly apologising for his ubiquity during the ‘80s, Collins comes across as a star who’s nonetheless ceaselessly inspired by the possibilities of the next creative endeavour. Whether it’s initially finding fame as Genesis’ drummer, collaborating with Disney on a stage show, working on albums with his childhood heroes Eric Clapton and Robert Plant, acting in a low budget Australian film or building a collection of Alamo memorabilia valued at $100 million, Collins throws himself into each new project. The success of Collins’ solo career and endless collaborations come at a cost, though. Collins expresses disappointment over being married three times, but the book ends on a positive reconciliatory note. In between the marital turmoil, Collins’ dry humour keeps the tale ticking along. Expressing surprise at Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel’s Dublin gig decision to wear his wife’s nightgown and a fox mask, Collins pragmatically notes “Mrs Fox… immediately puts a nought on Genesis’ booking fee”. When Gabriel leaves and Collins tentatively steps into the Genesis vocalist role, he suggests hiring the band’s drummer for the job is like finding “a fiver down the back of the couch”. Recounting the highs and lows of his star appearance at 1985’s continent-straddling Live Aid event, his sweaty fingers on the drumsticks cause a “bum note that’s heard around the world”.

While he doesn’t go into gory details such as his million-dollar divorce settlements, Collins refuses to back away from his alcoholism and the guilt it causes. Among the painful contemplations are a wealth of intriguing anecdotes that add a ‘what if?’ quality to Collins’ narrative. There’s his early guest appearance on percussion on George Harrison’s epic All Things Must Pass album (edited out of the final mix), a missed opportunity to join The Who and a scrapped live action film of Goldilocks And The Three Bears (mooted to feature Collins alongside Bob Hoskins, Danny De Vito and Kim Basinger!). Enlightening and entertaining, Not Dead Yet is a frank and fascinating autobiography from one of the biggest selling musicians in the history of rock. Collins’ memoir is a cracking read, whether you’re a lover or a hater. After all, as some old pop star once proclaimed, “we always need to hear both sides of the story”.

Going Back: Phil Collins explains the stories behind three key songs

In The Air Tonight

“One day, from out of the ether, I get together a nice chord sequence. I improvise, the lyrics coming off the cuff when I record the guide vocal. Without even thinking about it, I soon have a working title based on the lyrics I’ve sung: “In The Air Tonight”. I still have the sheet of paper with the original scribblings. “In The Air Tonight” is 99.9 per cent sung spontaneously, the words dreamt up from out of nowhere. It’s simple, it’s ghostly, it’s full of space, it’s a cri de coeur. It should definitely not be a single.”

Against All Odds

“I’d ignored “Against All Odds” when I was recording Face Value, viewing it as a B-side at best. It didn’t even get a look-in on Hello, I Must Be Going a year later. Then it becomes by first American number one, wins my first Grammy and secures my first Oscar nomination. Why do these words and this song mean so much? Well, it was written at the height of my troubles with my first wife Andy, and, forced at gunpoint to analyse it, I’d have to say it’s a good break-up song, with universal resonance and empathy. People hate a break-up, but they love a break-up song.”


“Over the course of 1984, I’ll work through ideas and record my little demos. I have a notion of what I want to do: break out of this ‘love song’ box that I’ve found myself in. I’ll make a dance album. Or, at least, an album with a couple of uptempo tracks. I programme a drum-machine track and improvise some syllables over the top. The rhythmic word ‘sussudio’ comes out of nowhere. I can’t think of a word that scans as well as ‘sussudio’, so I keep it and work around it. If I could have a pound for every time I’ve been asked what that word means, I’d have a lot of pounds.”

Not Dead Yet is now available through Penguin Random House. The Singles collection is now available on 2CD, 3CD, 4LP and digital.

- SM

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