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Phil Collins Beats The Odds

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Coping with Phil Collins' success is a bit easier for his new wife, Jill Tavelman, than it was for his first wife. The daughter of a Hollywood outfitter who dressed, among others, Groucho Marx and Greta Garbo, Tavelman actually encourages Collins to indulge in his success a little more than he used to. She was the one who introduced Collins to Diana Ross at the Academy Awards, the one who had to tell him to say hello to Stevie Wonder, who was sitting at the end of their aisle, and the one who got mad when Collins skipped the post-Oscar parties. "Jill got a bit angry, but I just didn't know anybody," Collins said in his defense. "I wasn't about to go up to Jack Lemmon and say hi."

Collins and Tavelman met in an L.A. bar in 1980. He was at a low point following his divorce, and wasn't looking to get involved with anyone seriously, especially someone out to latch on to a rock star. So he was introduced to her as Bill Collick. But the deception proved unnecessary. Tavelman had never heard of Collins anyway, being more a fan of the Springsteen-Cougar style of music.

Still, they hit it off, and by the end of the summer, Collins asked her to go back to England with him. She was there while his creative energies were being refueled during the making of Face Value, and she has been there since. They were married last summer in a tiny church near their home in Guildford, an exclusive London suburb.

Their first few years together were difficult for Tavelman, because she had to watch as he built a solo career exorcising the ghost of his first wife and lamenting the loss of his children on his first two solo albums. "I don't like all that depression-and-divorce stuff," she said. "I thought, If he cares enough to write songs about it, then it hurts him enough that it's still there. Most of the interviews are about his ex-wife, because my story doesn't make for interesting reading. I wasn't the poor girl who made good. When I met Phil I had more money than he did."

Jill kept closer tabs on her husband's career than his first wife did, traveling on tour with him and introducing him to some American music he might not otherwise have heard. "My first wife just didn't understand what I needed to do to be happy, which is work," Collins said. "Jill obviously knows better than to try and fence me in."

During the long months that Phil is busy in the studio, Jill has gotten used to being alone. "Phil almost gets in the way when he's around," she said. "I have to tell him, 'Don't sit in my favorite chair,' or 'The cats don't do that.' I really don't mind being alone . . . He's always busy, but that might all change if Phil and I decide to have children of our own. But it's okay with me, for now."

For a week during the recording of No Jacket Required, the situation reversed. Collins' wife had gone back to L.A. to spend time with her family following the death of her father, and it was Collins who came home to the empty house every night. He looked a bit haggard, admitting that he didn't sleep well alone. The cats didn't get fed for three days, because Collins, who wasn't used to feeding them, kept forgetting to buy cat food. And with only a week to go before they moved into a new home, there wasn't a single gold record packed, not even a box in sight.

Collins did, however, air out the hot-tub room and start up one of two mountainous jukeboxes he had stocked with his favorite 45s, mostly vintage Beatles and Motown – although looking through the dusty glass that shielded the titles, he had some trouble remembering them. The house itself is small by rock-star proportions, really just an oversize cottage with a second floor. It would be hard to imagine Eddie and Valerie living there, for instance, but Collins, like the house, fits right in with the gentrified populace. Driving around Guildford on an unusually warm day in December, his fuzz face might have been the only thing to give away his identity – Guildford seemed a place where men shaved twice a day. Otherwise, in his cotton-checked trousers and argyle sweater, he was a natural, waving to an elderly bicycling couple who let him pass on the lane. This wasn't the typical MTV look, and Collins often feels less comfortable around his more chic pop peers. At the Band Aid taping, he found himself surrounded by photogenia – Sting, Duran Duran, Culture Club – as he sat behind the drums in his argyles. "I looked around and everyone had leather trousers on, jumpers with three-quarter sleeves that would have been girls', ten years ago. I'm so unfashionable, it's embarrassing."

But Collins' unfashion has become his fashion, his gimmick. His videos play up his nonlook – especially "Easy Lover," in which he appears hopelessly unhip next to the superslick Bailey – and they are heavy favorites at MTV. Even Collins was surprised to find he had female fans who swoon over him with the kind of affection usually reserved for such megastars as Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. "What's that they say about Woody Allen being the most eligible man in the world?" Collins said. "I guess that's because he's funny."

In fact, sales of No Jacket Required could exceed 6 million, and it's been said that Phil Collins is on his way to becoming the white Lionel Richie. His star has now clearly eclipsed that of Genesis, and he doesn't have to split the money from those 6 million sales with them. Is there room in Genesis for a white Lionel Richie?

Before the release of No Jacket Required, Collins insisted that he wouldn't leave Genesis, and he had already committed himself to the group's next album, set for late 1985, with a tour to follow. "The next one to leave the band will finish it," he had said. "I feel happier with what we're doing now, because I feel it's closer to me. I won't be the one."

Then the calls started coming in more frequently. Would he have time to produce Tina Turner? Barbra Streisand? Def Leppard, Liza Minnelli, Ronnie Spector, Al Jarreau? Both Bailey and Clapton want him for a return engagement on their next albums. And Collins has started entertaining one lofty notion of his own, producing Paul McCartney. "He's still got it," Collins said. "He just needs someone to knock it out of him. I'd love to knock it out of him." Despite all the offers, there was this Genesis thing Collins had to do.

"Poor old Genesis does get in the way sometimes," he said after the Academy Awards. "I still won't leave the group, but I imagine it will end by mutual consent."

If and when that happens, Collins will be free to do just about whatever he wants. Now, everyone knows who he is, and everyone seems to want him. Even the critics are praising No Jacket Required. Collins has brought the music industry to its knees by being an agreeable man who makes agreeable music, and he still insists that the regular-guy stuff is for real. "Just because you have a Number One album and Number One single doesn't mean you change overnight. Yesterday I bought four pairs of trousers. I could have bought a dozen suits if I wanted, but I didn't need a dozen suits. I'm still convinced this is going to end one day, and that I'll have to live off what I've saved." Words of wisdom from a pop star depositing his Number Ones into his own IRA. "Other people might spend a little more, but I say, 'I'm going to enjoy life when I'm sixty-five.'"

This story is from the May 23rd, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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