Music News

How can we miss Phil Collins when he won't go away?

They seem pretty different on the surface, but NFL football and the music industry actually have a lot in common: Both take place in arenas, both have draconian management structures that rake in grotesquely bloated profits by bilking the talent, both inspire insipid adulation and zombie-like loyalty.

 And both, for better for worse, are young men's games.

 In the case of football, it's because your body just gets old. Your joints give out, your bones get brittle, and you just can't take the hits anymore. In music, it's a little harder to explain.

Maybe it's our culture of relentless youth — and the extent to which we require the musicians we like to be young and attractive is more than a little depressing — but more likely it's the capricious nature of musical trends. At any given moment in music, we require the stuff we like to have the bells and whistles of the other stuff we like attached to it; right now, for example, Euro-beats are popular, and anyone who wants to be relevant has to be doing Euro-beats. But you can't just change your sound to accommodate that, or it comes off as pandering; even from recently top-of-the-game celebri-tarts like Britney Spears, there's the mild stench of desperation attached to the sudden embrace of those bumpin'-ass synths.

Then again, if you don't embrace whatever happens to be popular right now, you end up ten years down the road still playing the same shit, and that's even sadder. Either way, you basically have two options: You can fight to stay in the limelight, swimming like the world's most depressing salmon against the current of everyone else's indifference until the bitter end, or you can wrap it up when you're on top.

Consider football great Brett Favre: In 2007, he had a milestone season at the head of his longtime team the Green Bay Packers, breaking several all-time passing and touchdown records and surpassing John Elway for the record for most games won. He retired at the top of his game.

Then he came back. But his own team didn't want him anymore, so they traded him to the New York Jets, where he had a mediocre season and then retired again. Then he came back again and signed with the Minnesota Vikings, where he played well but nobody cared, and by the time (let's hope it's the last time) he retired again last season, it was hardly worth remarking upon.

When Phil Collins announced he was retiring from the music business last week, it kind of felt like the same thing: First he was retiring because nobody cared anymore. Then he wasn't retiring. Then he was retiring again, but emphatically not because nobody cared anymore. This time it was because he wanted to spend more time with his family. At that point, everyone paying attention was reminded of the 1983 Phil Collins single "I Don't Care Anymore," because, well, they didn't care anymore. And they hadn't not cared for just two years — they hadn't cared for, like, two decades.

And on some level, he knows it: The last time he released an original record was in the mid-'90s, and since then, he's passed his time doing soundtracks for forgettable Disney vehicles, starting a big band devoted to doing Genesis covers and making an album of Motown standards. On that last one, his stated intention was "not to bring anything new to these already great records." I guess there's a certain authenticity to that, but why bother?

And for that matter, why bother being officially retired at all? It's been a long time since anyone noticed he wasn't.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte