Phil Collins's return to the road

Musical journey

Phil Collins's return to the road

The legendary drummer and musician Phil Collins’s resurgence has been unhurried. He talks to Joe Coscarelli about music, fatherhood and routine...

The return of Phil Collins has been extraordinarily slow. That is on purpose. After decades as the drummer and post-Peter Gabriel lead singer for Genesis, as well as a commercially dominant solo run as the poster boy for pillowy 80s pop excess, Collins retired as a not-quite-beloved rock elder in 2011. As with most musician goodbyes, the dormant period didn’t last. (Presciently, Collins had called his tour in support of the 2002 album ‘Testify’, his most recent release of original material, the First Farewell Tour.)

Since announcing his resurgence last year, Collins, 65, has performed at a handful of charity events, in addition to starting the process of reissuing eight of his solo albums.

He’ll be the musical guest at the opening ceremony for the US Open tennis tournament in New York — the biggest stage he’s graced in some time; Leslie Odom Jr, the Tony-winning Hamilton alum, is scheduled to join Collins in a duet.

The gig serves as a warm-up of sorts for a busy fall: In October, a three-CD collection, ‘The Singles’, is due out alongside Collins’s memoir, Not Dead Yet. “It’s like a cartoon character that’s being pulled along with his feet dug in,” Collins said of his comeback, though he’s often doing both the dragging and the digging in. Over the phone from his home in Miami, he discussed his hesitancy, fuelled by both health issues and fatherhood, and how making himself scarce has improved his legacy. These are edited excerpts from the conversation...

How is un-retirement treating you?

Well, you know, whatever I am doing, I’m doing slowly. I’m just being a little tentative. It’s very dangerous, as my oldest daughter, Joely, told me, to stop doing what you’ve done all your life. I joined Genesis when I was 19. I was drumming from the age of 5. You’re taking away something that makes you tick. When she said that a few years ago, when I first retired, that stayed with me. Then you get out there (to perform), and people like what you do, and you think, “I can do more of this.”

What’s your daily routine like now?

I do very little. To be honest, even this week, I’ve still been working on this memoir. Otherwise, it’s just really family stuff. When I first moved (to Miami), I couldn’t wait to be back with my kids. I was taking them to school, getting up at 6.30, picking them up later. The day revolved around that. But I had back surgery last year, which was necessary because my back was (expletive) after all the years of playing drums. The surgery left me with a numb right foot — they call it drop foot. You have no motor down there. The nerves regenerate over a period of a year-and-a-half or two years. It’s been nine months. I can’t go out and play football with my youngest, and I can’t drive. So that’s kind of limiting.

How often are you playing music?

Very little, actually. (My son) Nick, who’s 15 now, I listen to him play, I watch his band. I’ve got a grand piano here, and sometimes Nick will say, “How do you play this, Dad?” But without going into the war wounds, my left hand had some neural thing happen to it, which stopped me from playing the drums. That kind of has restricted (piano) as well. I’ve got a little studio here, and at some point, I will turn it on and start fooling around. That day is getting closer. I think about it a lot, but I keep putting it off.

What do you make of the critical re-evaluation of your work in the last few years?

I think it’s fantastic. I think, with some critics, I became synonymous with an era of music that they didn’t like, and they were suspicious of all success, which is understandable. You end up painted into a corner that it’s impossible to get out of. I don’t lie awake and think about this, but I withdrew in 2005, and I think I was quite honest about why: I wanted to write myself out of the script. When the reissued albums came out — which I was reluctant to do at first, until I found some way I could be proud of it — I thought, “This is exactly what I’d hoped for.” Of course, records sell differently now than when I was making them, so it wasn’t a question of cashing in. It was giving people a chance to re-evaluate this person that had become a whipping boy for the 80s. I was so pleased that people were able to say, “I re-looked at this, and it’s better than I thought.”

You’ve said your memoir will be embarrassingly honest. What were some of the harder things to include?

With three marriages, you know, and what happened... I stress it’s not a get-even book. I’m not blaming anybody. I was just working so much, and stuff got in the way. There’s a chapter in it about the drinking, which escalated when my third marriage broke up, and I retired. I was left with this huge void. I didn’t want to work because I wanted to be with the kids, but the kids weren’t there anymore, because they moved to Miami, and I was still in Switzerland. You start drinking, and then you start drinking too much. Then it physically hurts you. I came very close to dying at that point. I’m being honest about that. The book is honest, it’s self-deprecating. I’m not shirking my responsibilities. I apologise when I need to.

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