In a rehearsal hall somewhere in Switzerland, Phil Collins is belting out some tunes in front of an 18-piece band, getting ready to go on a small tour to support a new album. He looks happy, snapping his fingers, bopping his head. It's all Motown — upbeat stuff like "Dancing in the Street," "Going to a Go-Go" and "Heat Wave." He's not playing the drums, and not a song of his own passes his lips. There's no "In the Air Tonight," no "Sussudio," no "One More Night," nothing from his Genesis days — none of the hits that turned him into one of the most loved and then most unfairly and inexplicably vilified men in rock & roll.
Later on, halfway through lunch in a mixing room, he happily rolls a great big gherkin around his plate and begins sawing into it with a knife and fork. He's 59 and looks pretty much the way he's always looked: kind of small, kind of bald. He's wearing a green polo shirt, the collar popped. As a solo artist, he has sold 150 million records, which puts him right up there with the all-time greats. He's saying that his new album, Going Back, which features only classic-soul songs, is his "best album ever," that he couldn't resist making it because it's the music he grew up with, and that it may be his last album ever, too. Medically, he's got a few serious and life-altering problems: The hearing in his left ear is shot, and a dislocated vertebra in his neck has rendered him all but unable to pound on the drums that first made him famous. But those aren't the reasons why.
Mainly, it's because he's had it with people thinking they know who Phil Collins is. And not in a good way. He has been called "the Antichrist," the sellout who took Peter Gabriel's Genesis, that paragon of prog-rock, and turned it into a lame-o pop act and went on to make all those supercheesy hits that really did define the 1980s. So, he wants to move on. He could make another original album, but he knows that will bring a rehashing of all the old criticism. It's inescapable. Forget it. He'd rather spend his time in his basement, building up his collection of Alamo memorabilia, which, oddly enough, is his great consuming passion these days. "I sometimes think, 'I'm going to write this Phil Collins character out of the story,'" he says. "Phil Collins will just disappear or be murdered in some hotel bedroom, and people will say, 'What happened to Phil?' And the answer will be, 'He got murdered, but, yeah, anyway, let's carry on.' That kind of thing."
He is already taking steps. When he started dating his girlfriend, Dana Tyler, a TV newscaster from New York, he said to her, "I'm tired of being Phil Collins. You can call me Philip." So that's who he is to her, Philip, anyone but Phil, and that's who he'd like to be to the rest of the world, too. Like he says, in his mind, the guy known as Phil Collins would be better off dead.
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