2016 is looking to be a good year for one of my all-time favorite artists, Phil Collins. After his announcement of coming out of retirement a few months ago, he’s since begun the release of the remastered editions of all eight of his albums, as well his return to the studio to create new music. This is significant in my life, as I’m preparing to release my second novel that, coincidently, has been heavily influenced by his music.
I’ve never imagined getting to that point; where my writing would be influenced by a musician. It took a journey to get to where I’m at, not only in terms of being influenced by Phil Collins, but also to becoming a dedicated fan of his; and, perhaps similarly for other fans of my generation, it’s a journey that dates back about 17 years ago.
In 1999, the Disney Renaissance came to an end with the release of the film “Tarzan;” an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. I had been hearing about it for months leading up to its summer release and when I first saw a preview of it, apart from the visuals, it was the music that caught my attention. I heard a snippet of the (eventually) Academy Award-winning song by Phil Collins, “You’ll Be in My Heart.” This was my first exposure to the artist; not only through that song but through the movie as a whole. He was brought on to write songs that would serve as narration during significant parts of the film, breaking tradition from previous Renaissance films that were animated musicals.
I was only seven years old at the time of the film’s release, and so naturally, I had never heard of Phil Collins. I didn’t know that he was big as a solo artist in the eighties, nor did I know he was originally the drummer-turned-lead singer for Genesis. While I was later able to appreciate the lyrics to the songs, which were all very well written and heartfelt without being too literal, when describing the scenes in the movie; all I was able to conclude then was that his unique voice was worth hearing on a radio. The music videos for “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “Strangers Like Me” were also the first music videos I had ever seen, for they were shown regularly on the Disney Channel when “Tarzan” was being promoted. Like his music, I found them to be just as unique.
He made an impression on me then, though it wasn’t substantial enough that I was suddenly out buying his albums, at a time when the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Britney Spears were invading the music scene. But the impression was strong enough for me to at least be able to recognize his voice.
When I was eleven, Disney released their film, “Brother Bear.” When I first saw a trailer for it, I was immediately able to recognize Phil Collins’ vocals, as I heard him sing a little bit of the song, “Great Spirits.” When I later watched the film, I realized how he wasn’t heard as much as he was in “Tarzan.” While he did write all the songs, a number of them were sung by other people. The version of “Great Spirits” that played at the beginning of the film wound up being sung by Tina Turner, the song “Welcome” was sung by Phil Collins in collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the song “Transformation” was translated from English to Inuit and performed by the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. On top of that, I found out from watching the behind-the-scenes features on the “Brother Bear” DVD that he also co-wrote the score.
I liked him even more when I learned about his involvement with the making of the music for this film. Because he wound up not singing as many songs for the film, I was able to appreciate him as a songwriter and an instrumentalist, and not just for his vocal abilities. I was amazed by how he was able to write one song and then take it to another place; especially with the song “Transformation,” for that one was beautifully done. There are versions of these songs featuring his vocals that can be found on the soundtrack, and despite not making it into the film, they’re just as good.
By junior high, I had already had him established as a wonderful Disney singer/songwriter in my mind, and this admiration definitely became an intriguing conversation topic when an old flame from back then told me how much he loves the song, “You’ll Be in My Heart.” In eighth grade, I along with my fellow choir classmates wound up singing the song at our spring concert; a song choice I never expected to have happened. I can only imagine the song having particular significance for the soloist, for she had lost her two beloved dogs in a fire only a few weeks prior. He resonated as such a distinctive musician to me that around that time, when I appeared in a local musical, I was completely awestruck when I discovered that a fellow cast member’s singing voice was eerily similar to Phil Collins’s.
My journey of discovering his music didn’t stop there. I must have heard “In the Air Tonight” who knows many times by then, but during the fall of my freshman year of high school, I heard my first non-Disney song by Phil Collins that I was consciously aware of; his ode to the homeless, “Another Day in Paradise.” The song played at the beginning of the fall production my high school’s drama department put on called “Runaways;” a musical by Elizabeth Swados that explored the lives of runaway kids who are living out on the streets. Given the subject matter of the production, it made sense why the director decided to open it with this particular song.
Once again, I was drawn to the simple yet poignant instrumental, the lyrics, and the emotion-ridden vocals Phil Collins brought to the song. It didn’t even cross my mind that this was an older song of his. Despite “Another Day in Paradise” not being a song written for “Runaways,” it brought a new level of depth to the overall story.
It was at this point in time that I was finally consciously aware of his much larger body of work. However, it took another several years before I could really appreciate it. While I made a few attempts to explore his other works, looking back on those several years, I don’t think I was quite ready. Not only was I too firm on sticking to his Disney works, but I was still discovering what music I honestly, genuinely liked long term, and not just for the moment.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, at 21, that I at last felt ready. I added a Phil Collins station on Pandora one day in the middle of summer and started listening to his music. By summer’s end, I could finally say that I was a full-fledged fan. I listened to a wide assortment of his songs from a number of his albums. Songs from his time with Genesis would even make a couple appearances during these listening sessions as well. While yes, a track or two from the “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear” soundtracks would occasionally play, for the most part, it was his non-Disney work that I was being primarily exposed to, and I really loved it. There’s a blunt anger yet soulfulness brought to his music that I hadn’t known of before, and despite a number of the songs being about break-ups, I was able to take and apply them to conflicts of different matters in my life. You don’t often hear music like his, and that was something that I realized was missing from my general musical palate.
Between then and now, my admiration and appreciation for Phil Collins has grown even more. I have a favorite album by him: “No Jacket Required.” My favorite song: “Take Me Home.” I was sad when I found out that he retired from music in 2011 and I was happy when I heard he might be collaborating with Adele for her newly released album, “25” (only to see those dreams quickly dashed). I got excited when it was announced that he’ll be releasing a memoir next fall and even more so when I learned that he’s coming out of retirement (and I shook my head at those who actually started a petition against him). As mentioned in the beginning, he’s even served as an influence for me as I go forward with my career as an author, for I not only made one of my characters in my second novel a fan of his, but I also incorporated the central tones and themes of his songs of eloquently sung lyrics of anger, loneliness and moderate desperation into the plot as well.
My timing was perfect when I decided to explore his music. Since then, it feels like everyone is either opening up on how much they like Phil Collins or are just realizing how important he really is as a musician. I’ve read the comments online and documented in articles about the plentiful naysayers who saw him more as the darkness in light at the height of eighties rock music, and it made absolutely no sense to me why people would say that about him. That’s why shortly after I started following Lorde on Twitter, I knew she would be an artist I would truly like and respect when she tweeted out, “my love for phil collins is a beautiful thing.” I’ve read a personal essay in The Guardian once about how a man almost committed suicide as a teen, but then opted not to after listening to ten minutes of the “No Jacket Required” album. I recall an instance where someone I know posted on Facebook on how he drove around his block a few times before pulling into the driveway of his home, because “In the Air Tonight” was on the radio. In light of Phil Collins coming out of retirement, I read an article where the author found it funny on how young adults know of him not from his heyday in the eighties, but rather as the man behind the soundtrack to “Tarzan.” To that I say: Everyone has their ways, no matter how obscure-sounding it may be, of finding out about seasoned artists. It’s because of his involvement that a new generation got exposed to his music and, likely, led them on a similar journey of exploring his work.
I don’t know if Phil Collins’ involvement with “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear” was meant to double as a way to introduce him to the younger generation, but if so, then it definitely worked for me, as well as others. Now that he’s come out of retirement and is releasing remastered editions of his albums this year, I’m even more excited to be releasing my second novel at the same time. He and his music are a hallmark of my childhood, and hopefully the same can go for my adulthood as well, as he goes forward with creating new music.
And just to think that all this – my admiration and appreciation for the drummer-turned-soloist from Genesis – began with a song being sung by a gorilla to a human baby boy in a Disney film.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Lauren Lola is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated from California State University, East Bay where she earned her B.A. in Communication and a minor in Theatre. She has had poetry featured on VerseWrights and in zines published by the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. She has been featured on the Paperblanks blog Endpaper, Hapa Voice, and Asians Doing Everything. Lauren also regularly blogs for the entertainment non-profit organization, Kollaboration, and for The Wind-Up Books Chronicle. She released her debut novel, “A Moment’s Worth,” in 2014, and will release her second novel in 2016.