“Not Dead Yet” by Phil Collins (Crown, 2016)


Phil Collins has been kind of quiet for the last five or so years. He said it’s because he wanted to semi-retire and actually spend time raising a family for once, having never had this experience with his previous three families during his multiple decade-spanning superstar career. He also spent it working on this autobiography. And he also spent it as an alcoholic and addicted to intense pain medications, a deadly cocktail that almost killed him multiple times. The last five years have been pretty busy for Phil, much like the previous four decades. Not Dead Yet is his story in his very own words from birth to the present.

Unlike the four founding members of Genesis, Philip David Charles Collins didn’t go to a fancy private school but lived in a poor household and had to earn everything in life from the very beginning. With a mother who loved and supported him greatly, and a father who was distant and indifferent and never seemed to believe in him, Phil knew from a young age he wanted to be a drummer. It was either that or an actor. But when his voice dropped and he had trouble getting roles that paid anything, he dedicated himself to drumming. A lesson or two was all he ever bothered with, and self-taught everything else. During the late sixties he went to every gig he could and got the chance to see acts like Eric Clapton with Cream and Led Zeppelin before they were Led Zeppelin. From a young age he had his heroes and knew where he wanted his life to go, fostered with a foundation in the growingly-popular Motown scene.

A succession of bands led to occasional gigs but nothing really stable and longterm, until he saw an ad for a drummer and went to an audition in front of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. He got to cool off in the pool on the private estate while waiting his turn, and was able to hear the other drummers’ auditions and learn from their mistakes. It was 1971, and that was the start of his career with Genesis.

In 1975 Peter Gabriel left the band, but Genesis would keep going on. They recorded an album with Phil doing some vocals while auditioning over a hundred singers for the lead singing role. None of them fit and at the end with touring and commitments to be made, Phil said, “Well, why don’t I have a go?” and thus the new front man for Genesis was decided. In 1980 after his marriage fell apart, Phil spent some time alone recording and eventually the result was his first solo album, Face Value, with the iconic hit and opening track that will never leave him, “In the Air Tonight.”

From then on when he wasn’t recording a Genesis album, he was recording a solo album. If he wasn’t doing that he was producing albums for Eric Clapton or Robert Plant, or going on tour with them as their drummer, or performing at both Live Aids in London and Philadelphia with the aid of a Concord, or he was becoming very close with British royalty as an important member of the Prince’s Trust. And then there was his acting career. The man was everywhere, his music was on every radio station, and the awards started pouring in. But as Mr. Collins recounts in the book, he never asked to do all these once in lifetime opportunities, but when Eric Clapton or Robert Plant asks you to work with them, how can you say no?

Not Dead Yet is both a fascinating and sobering read. Phil Collins is a millionaire many times over, and readers see how with the insane workaholic he was for over thirty years, but at the same time there are those who have suffered, who have loss, mainly family, and Phil himself has had a lot of hardship and pain himself. But he makes no excuses, admitting to his faults and failings as a father and a husband, and goes into excruciating detail when he hit rock bottom as a drug addict in his late fifties and having to go into rehab.

Not Dead Yet is a very moving book, as readers enjoy the many highs of Phil’s life and career, as well as suffering through the many painful lows. If fans want to go that extra yard, they may want to listen to the audiobook as it is read by the great man himself, with his still very prevalent London accent.

Originally written on January 4 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature” by Daniel J. Levitin (Dutton, 2008)

The World in Six Songsstarstarstar

Bestselling author of This is Your Brain on Music (which continues to be popular) returns with The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, in which he posits that one of the first abilities that ancient human beings developed was music through sound and singing and the feeling this created within us, leading to developments in language and community and the forming of our ancient civilizations.

Through music and its growing complexity, humanity’s thought process was able to develop and progress.  Levitin breaks down music to its basic song elements, theorizing that there are six types of songs that are instrumental in our development, whether millennia ago, or for each of us alive right now.  These songs, each with their own chapter, are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.  Levitin goes into depth with each song, providing clear examples in recent history, as well as many of his own case studies and examples from his life.

What makes The World in Six Songs not just a book of Levitin teaching and telling like a textbook, is that he includes himself in every chapter, revealing his own experiences and actions throughout his life and how music and these six specific songs have played a role from his childhood to the writing of this book.  In this way the reader sees and feels the humanity of it, and is able to empathize and understand all the better for it.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 12th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.