Monday, January 21, 2019

Listenin' With A Young Man's Ear

“Any career disappointment I had didn’t center around the cliché of being the ‘New Bob Dylan’” Steve Forbert writes in his new book, BIG CITY CAT. “…In my case, my illusions were shattered when I didn’t manage to follow the success of “Romeo’s Tune.” I had been under the impression that I could accomplish pretty much anything I wanted to do. For a while I could. And then, lo and behold, I couldn’t.”

To the extent there’s blame to go around, Forbert confesses his part. He badly wanted success but was uncomfortable having attained it, and the same hard-headedness that allowed him to cut a path as a folksinger in New York’s punk-driven downtown of the 1970s played out in some bad decisions in the studio and in his personal life that eventually had professional repercussions.

Just as ALIVE ON ARRIVAL captured the energy of a wide-eyed Mississippi kid’s happy ambition to make it, BIG CITY CAT provides honest and at times funny perspective on that magical ascent, and then on a career once its trajectory had changed for good. Along the way Forbert conveys an underlying appreciation for music itself that has kept him going 40 years later.

The popular story Forbert fans (like me) knew until now was that he blew into New York from Mississippi with a denim jacket and acoustic guitar, but Forbert reveals that came only after years of trying to make it as a rocker down South. And New York was actually the second city he’d tried to establish himself, recounting a brief but futile trek to Atlanta with a bandmate.

Forbert was always absorbing a scene, listening and learning. “I began to see that one member with a discerning approach to material and some sort of original overall vision is worth at least three hot-shot guitar players,” he notes. Widening tastes lead him away from British-Invasion influences to Americana, he starts writing and playing more acoustic guitar, and departs for New York alone when he realizes his bandmates aren’t feeling it quite the way he is.

Forbert would render his struggle to make it in the city musically in ALIVE ON ARRIVAL, while the book provides the details including excerpts from a diary he kept then that are every bit as charming. He played anywhere he could, for anything he could earn, while holding down a day job as a messenger. He cracked the punk scene at CBGB’s on his personal appeal to owner Hilly Kristal, who fancied himself a country singer. Forbert soon picked up the same managers as the Ramones, who never got over the young singer beating them to a hit. A rave review of one of his performances in the New York Times – “Mr. Forbert is the kind of performer who makes you realize his worth the minute he begins to sing,” John Rockwell wrote – starts a label bidding war.

Forbert’s idealism could be his enemy. As a rookie recording artist, he brazenly overrules top-notch session sax player David Sanborn by keeping what Sanborn considered a goofed solo, and nearly sentences ALIVE ON ARRIVAL to death on arrival on an insistence that it not include reverb—only the opinion of Bonnie Raitt can convince him otherwise. He followed it up with the rockier JACKRABBIT SLIM (1979), containing his signature hit, “Romeo’s Tune” recorded with the same musicians he’d been touring with.

Forbert flubbed on “Romeo’s” momentum. He stunned management by refusing an offer of a ROLLING STONE magazine cover feature, and instead of giving fans more of what they wanted—there was more than enough material leftover from ALIVE and JACKRABBIT for a third record—opted for an abrupt sonic reinvention on LITTLE STEVIE ORBIT (1980). That record, led by the hard-drinking English producer Pete Solley, was a critical and commercial flop. And by the time he returned to ALIVE producer Steve Burgh for 1982’s STEVE FORBERT, his moment seemed to have escaped but his issues with the big time were only beginning. As an aside I’m one of the few people in America to have acquired that one, and I never had a problem with it (especially side A) or really with any of Forbert’s efforts.

Forbert attempts to restart with Columbia and engages Neil Girardo as a producer but the label rejects submitted tracks, and subsequently refuses to release him from his contract. Steve speculates that the freeze-out was personal in nature—he’d slept with the secretary of CBS boss Walter Yentikoff—and he’s in recording limbo for years but still writing and touring with crack bands, the Flying Squirrels and the Rough Squirrels. An encounter with a Steve Forbert fan--Springsteen’s bassist Garry Tallent—finally leads to a new contract with Geffen and STREETS OF THIS TOWN comeback, positioning Forbert somewhere in the Springsteen/Mellencamp arena, and a 1992 followup THE AMERICAN IN ME (1992), which leaned more toward Americana.

Back on the road as a solo performer Forbert has continued to release albums independently ever since, describing writing a new “manifesto” every couple of years. He describes raising a family—including twin sons who interestingly enough toured for a time in a death-metal outfit—in Nashville, a divorce, rehab for a drinking problem, a subsequent marriage to a Jersey girl, a budding photography hobby, and passing time between gigs listening to CDs in his car. “When you’re on top, the job—although stressful—is made as comfortable as possible for you, and it pays incredibly well,” he observes. “On less successful levels you do a lot of work all over the place but can soon wind up wondering if it’s all worth it.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

All About A Good Time On A Saturday Night

It was 30 years ago today -- 8-8-88 -- that Tommy Conwell's debut album was released by Columbia Records, which if you were around Newark, Delaware at the time was something of a big deal.

Conwell and his band, the Young Rumblers, played a brand of party blues pop that sort of bridged the gap between area icons: the more traditional R&B of George Thorogood, who'd been at it for 15+ years by that point and was a national star albeit with an older audience; and the bright, heartland dance-pop of The Hooters, who'd only recently raced up the charts on the strength of a radio-loving debut the kids ate up.

Conwell had the same management firm and record label as The Hooters, and similarly got a deal after demonstrating skill as a crowd-pleaser in live shows and locally released recordings that attracted airplay from Philadelphia's then-influential WMMR. Especially around the Delaware Valley, Conwell looked as close to a can't-miss rookie as comes along.

But top prospects don't always become all-stars, and sometimes the hype is all that shows.

By the time I wrote this article -- nine years after Conwell's debut and seven since he'd last released a record -- he had long since returned to the local bar scene that birthed him and obviously had had plenty of time to put the whole experience into perspective. I'd done a little bit of background work before we met, but it was a single, extraordinarily candid interview with the artist that really carries the story. I read where some interpreted Conwell's remarks in this story as bitter but let me assure you he was anything but. I've always thought this was one of my better attempts at writing about music, and about growing up.

Here's the album in all its overpackaged glory.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sharing This Night That Will Soon Be A Blur

Ignorance of contemporary music can have its rewards if you're not scared to arrive at a party a 20 years too late.

That's sort of how I felt watching Rhett Miller perform at City Winery this week. It was the first time I'd seen Miller, who is best known as the front man for the Texas-based alt-country rockers the Old 97s. That band's 90s and oughts heyday was largely overlooked by me: I'd vaguely known who they were, but until a few years ago hadn't done enough to distinguish them from others in their ballpark. For a while there I conflated the Old 97s and the Old Crow Medicine Show, in a manner not unlike my brain tangled the Hoodoo Gurus and Husker Du in the 1980s. I just didn't know better.

It wasn't until 2014 and MOST MESSED UP -- the band's 10th album! --  that I finally caught on. That album is so good -- funny, hardrocking, full of goofy energy, a classic of the life-on-the-road genre and only the slightest bit Western twangy -- to inspire a journey into the past where I discovered these guys had lots of terrific stuff I'd overlooked.

In the meantime, I'd had a second connection to make: the name Rhett Miller had bubbled up through my power-pop feeds over the years, and I was familiar with his album THE INSTIGATOR (2002). Eventually I pieced it all together and realized the singer and the band belonged to one another and had parallel careers. The whole load of it eventually worked its way into heavy rotation around the house and so for me, going to this show was as though I was seeing a hot band.

Little did I know there were still more surprises ahead.

Miller is something of the David Lee Roth of solo acoustic performers, bringing a huge physical energy, charm and a bag of tricks -- most notably a windmilling strum hand and shag-shakes -- to the act. He's got an expressive yelp conveying the sad-sack, whiskey-dicked losers at the heart of most of his songs. I can't imagine there were many at the show like us who hadn't seen Miller before, but that was our reward. We rocked and we laughed, totally entertained.

Recently, Miller authored this sobering takedown of the modern music industry, wondering whether domination by gigantic streamers, "Swedish hit factories" and YouTube leaves anything for young musicians to aspire to. I wish I knew a solution. I will note that the stream -- particularly the late lamented Rdio -- is what I have to thank for having discovered the Old 97's and Rhett Miller to begin with. The economic model is most messed up, if you will; and so it's not without internal conflict I am sharing the below sampler.

Friday, May 25, 2018

He Is The Entertainer

I've written before about my complicated relationship with Billy Joel, who meant a lot to me when I was very young, but whom I rejected along with most everything associated with Long Island as I got older and worked a little too hard to be cool.

The time to scratch that itch for real came about this week when I finally cashed in the birthright of millions of my neighbors and saw the man perform a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. There was something more satisfying to having "won" our tickets by bidding on them at a PTA auction for our son's school; it felt good to contribute but as it turned out, the seats were donated from the "band friends & family" pool and so we learned as we entered we had excellent seats in the lower bowl, very close to the stage.

Until now I'd only seen him riding his bike around Huntington and getting ice cream with Christie Brinkley at Baskin Robbins while they were still secretly dating 40 years ago.

Billy is front and center with a grand piano on a rotating platform. His seven-member band of course is top-notch; we'd seen Mark Rivera (sax, tambornie, vocals etc) lead the "Breakfast w/ the Beatles" band before. The guitar player, Mike DelGuidice, was an excellent singer who did some Zeppelin snippets (Kashmir, Rock n Roll).

We got a kick out of all the dressed-up Long Island Moms in attendance. 

Just like the outstanding SONGS IN THE ATTIC, recorded on the same stage 38 years before, he opened with a stirring "Miami 2017" and we were off. 

Billy was in good spirits and good voice, mentioning he'd just turned 69 ("I used to like that number."). My brother, who used to work at the Garden tells a story of watching Billy rehearse a show as part of his Elton John tour years back only to get so drunk during the course of the day he couldn't go on that night, but Billy is apparently clean and sober now and whatever he was drinking came out of a mug. He dedicated "Don't Ask Me Why" to a little girl in the audience I guess was a granddaughter seated near us. The first half of the show was what he called "fielder's choice," letting the crowd choose which of two songs off various albums they would perform. I won with "Vienna" (over "Just the Way You Are," thank the lord, and with "Zanzibar," (over "Stilletto"), but lost big time with "She's Got A Way" (over "Everybody Loves You Now"). I cheered for "Root Beer Rag" over "The Entertainer" but the latter was performed and turned out to be one of the better selections on the night.

It's Fleet Week here, and so as "Goodnight Saigon" starts a dozen uniformed sailors come out on stage and sing the chorus arm in arm. It was cheesy but the audience loved it and learned the True Meaning of Memorial Day. That's as political as Billy dares to be. I would have liked him to rip Trump a new one and challenge his fans in a new verse or two of "We Didn't Start the Fire" but Billy hasn't bothered. Twenty-five years without a new pop album!

I mentioned this to my friend Edward who in no time had penned a clever suggestion:

Mike Pence, Manafort, kneeling players ruin the sport
Sean Spicer, Kelly Ann, the truth about crowd size
Health care, got no plan, gotta do a Muslim ban!
Fox News, Hannity, parrot all my lies

Ronny Jackson says "Great shape!" Mueller, find the pee-pee tape
US Nazis, they're so fine, Putin is a friend of mine
Fuck our allies from the West, Mexico don't send the best!
Sheriff Joe gets a pardon! DAUGHTER GIVES ME SUCH A HARD-ON!

We didn't start the fire!
Obama lit it! O, Fake News, admit it!
We didn't start the fire!
There was no collusion! It was a spies intrusion!
Give it a shot, Billy. If I can change, you can change!

The hard bargain of the Billy Joel MSG phenomenon played out as he totally went "back wall" with "Stop in Nevada" off PIANO MAN and folks went flying to the men's room and hardly any remaining audience members even applauded. I thought, do you need to hear "New York State of Mind" again? Me, I got up and peed for "Italian Restaurant" -- another chestnut beaten into banality for me by way too many classic-rock radio spins.

I enjoyed the three-sax chorus in "Movin' Out" and the brass was activated again for "Half A Mile Away," which Joel described as a "fukuka" song the band had never before performed live. I could barely believe that was true; in my Southside Johnny-influenced youth that was one of my favorites. "I Go To Extremes" on the other hand came out after I'd already decided Billy Joel was the uncoolest guy ever and would never listen to him again on purpose, but everyone including me enjoyed that one quite a bit. 

After a while I feel into a spell thinking how much of Billy's Winning Streak material was just ripped off stylistically from others, performing the one he ripped off from the Cars ("Sometimes A Fantasy") and the one nicked from Graceland-era Paul Simon ("Middle of the Night"). Billy to his credit never considered being "derivative" a criticism. I guess we all have a idea of what Billy Joel ought to be (for me the post-singer-songwriter, pre-superstar TURNSTILES is the ideal) but he is what he is. There was just no way to stop him from playing Side A of his Greatest Hits at the encore.

He is The Entertainer. 

Miami 2017
Don't Ask Me Why
She's Got a Way 
The Entertainer 
Goodnight Saigon
Movin' Out 
(Followed by 'Kashmir' (Led Zeppelin) snippet)
Stop in Nevada
New York State of Mind
Half a Mile Away
She's Always a Woman
I Go to Extremes 
My Life
Sometimes a Fantasy
The River of Dreams
Nessun dorma
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Piano Man

We Didn't Start the Fire
Uptown Girl
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
Big Shot
You May Be Right
(with "Rock and Roll" (Led Zeppelin) snippet)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Kihnetic Energy

Dear Sirs,
Lookihn back, my career went fuckihn nowhere.
Greg Kihn
Workihn in a Burger Kihng
As far as I can remember it, that was the parody "letter to the editor" published in a mid-80s copy of the National Lampoon we had in the dorm room. I miss this kind of savage comedy today even if it took an unfair shot at Greg Kihn, whose career didn't really go nowhere. You might call him a "two-hit wonder" but that's not really accurate either. He wrote two songs you'll never forget, several other near-hits, and you probably also know his album titles were all puns based on his name.

Or so I thought. It turns out there were more Greg Kihn albums (most credited to the Greg Kihn Band) than I ever knew and not all of them came with a punworthy title. As I went back in time to listen to them I was somewhat disappointed to learn that he'd flirted with the idea, then dropped it, only to resume it in time for his midcareer breakout then lose it again.

Greg Kihn was born in Baltimore, though came into his own after moving to the Bay Area. Having grown up amid the British Invasion, its not surprising to learn he would come of age in the first wave of Power Pop artists, though Greg was by no means a purist; he was a stylistic borrower who had no problem mixing in the odd 50s style ballad, folk-rock, reggae beats, soul covers, keyboard-driven dance pop, and Springsteen Lite to his pop-rock core. He was considerably more mainstream than Beserkley labelmates the Rubinoos or especially the Modern Lovers.

The Greg Kihn Band was established following a self-titled singer/songwriter debut, and spanned most of the era: bass player Steve Wright; drummer Larry Lynch; guitar player Dave Carpender; and keyboardist Gary Phillips. Wright co-wrote a number of songs with Kihn including "Jeopardy" and 'The Break-Up Song." Wright also took lead vocals on some album tracks, as did Lynch.

Kihn made a lot of records. Exactly one every year for 11 straight years, 1976 to 1986. The good stuff was generally pretty good, the less-good stuff wasn't awful, and most of it presumably sounded better on stage than on record, since until MTV came along and a string of "concept videos" made him a kind of star, touring was the only alternative to Burger King.

I was inspired to go back and listen to the Kihn Katalog due to my admiration for an odd non-single, "Madison Avenue Man" buried on Kihn's second album, GREG KIHN AGAIN. I like everything about this song: starts off as a bush-league "Day In The Life" cowbell-clanger, then suddenly springs to life with an irresistible chorus straight out of "Ricky Don't Lose That Number" and goofy lyric I guess pokes fun at the music biz "Let me touch your money with my Madison hands."

Kihn was also among a group of 70s artists who recognized Bruce Springsteen's burgeoning songwriting chops sooner than most. He covered "For You" (AGAIN, 1977) winning the Boss's own admiration and a BORN TO RUN outtake, "Rendezvous" (WITH THE NAKED EYE, 1979). The guy had taste.

"The Breakup Song" (ROCKIHNROLL, 1981) hit No. 15; and the danceable "Jeopardy" (KIHNSPIRACY, 1983) went all the way to No. 2, but couldn't beat "Beat It." Beserkley folded following 1984's KIHNTAGEOUS, but he Kihn-tinued under EMI with the the very 80s sounding and solo-credited CITIZEN KIHN (1985), then got the band together again for LOVE ROCK N ROLL (1986). The latter two appear to be whatever the streaming-era equivalent of "out of print" is although you can still find some videos online.

Kihn became a deejay and part-time horror novelist following his run on the pop charts, and a year ago put out a new record that may or may not prove they write 'em like that anymore, but to celebrate the harmless, punmaking, reliable rocker here's a playlist with one handpicked track from each of his 9 Beserkley platters in the 76-84 Kihn Dynasty.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Up There on the Platform

I was a freshman in college and must have been talking up, I dunno, Dire Straits or something when a much cooler guy in my class said "well, if you like guitar you should listen to Midnight Oil."

So I bought "10-9-8" and later RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET and was brought into the world. They mixed Twin-Lead-Guitar Action with power protest anthems, and were really creative in the studio -- big 80s productions and effects but also with a bar-band feel. RED SAILS in particular had an oom-pah band and didgeridoo and psychedelic surf guitar. It was out there.

Moginie, Garrett, Rotsey, Hillman: Still in shape.
Everybody caught on by the time the confident and tune-packed DIESEL & DUST came out in '87 and made them stars; Midnight Oil at that point to me had become an alternative U2: each had a charismatic, passionate singer and Big Rock guitar and were occasionally too much to take. I always preferred the Aussies, though I'd fall in and out of the mood for their stuff over the years. Often I forget their songs, and how many of them I know, until I hear them again, so it was a treat to be reminded of their terrific body of work in the live reunion tour that hit Webster Hall this week.

I was surprised how easily they got the crowd to bash right into it, cleverly opening with "Sometimes" which I remember as the last song on D&D. They are all in their 60s now and singer Peter Garrett looked the oldest of them, not quite the dervish he once was and to me occasionally looked to be sucking wind, not that he wasn't working hard. He eventually had the career in politics he almost had in the 80s that might have derailed the band: Their themes -- environment, race, nukes, globalism -- are remarkably prescient and vital today. Peter didn't shy away from pointing out the sad reality that the CEO of Exxon -- whose former 6th Ave. headquarters was the reluctant site of the Oils' most famous appearance in New York -- is today the Secretary of State. We need bands like this.

They more or less broke up a decade or more ago. It wasn't that they'd run down musically, but I think, the very idea of the protest song had become a quaint notion. I've pointed this out before. I'm happy to report nobody got fat, and the classic quintet are all still there (bassist Bones Hillman is the newest member but joined in 1987). Drummer Rob Hirst, who's also a great singer, is about as ripped as any 60-year-old guy I've ever seen. They brought him out front with a tiny kit to sing "Generals" and "My Country." They employed a multi-instrumentalist to fill-in on drums, brass and keys so they didn't cheat their productions, I appreciated that very much.

They played for about 2 hours including several "new" songs I didn't know well -- new meaning, post BLUE SKY. The highlight for me was "Warakurna" which I also think of as the blood-and-guts of D&D but I don't think was ever a hit, or I ever heard on the radio. Jangle, thump and a big sing-along: I seriously got emotional when they played it. They tried a cover of "Instant Karma" on the 1st encore but Peter forgot the second-verse lyrics.

My friend Kenny remarked the other day Midnight Oil might be the most underrated band of all-time and ought to be easy rock Hall of Famers, and it's hard to hard to argue either point. Here's hoping the tour, which accompanies a re-release of their catalog, reminds us. Who can remember? We've got to remember!

Who's gonna save me

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Oh Lord

How much Phil Collins is too much Phil Collins?

It's written in the book -- a new autobiography detailing his ascension from prog-rock drummer to mawkish 80s celebrity to a seemingly bitter industry dropout.

As NOT DEAD YET reveals, Phil Collins' enthusiasm for just about everything and everyone he encounters is endearing and genuine but leads him obliviously into one project after another his public image could have better survived without. In just about every case -- launching a Big Band with Tony Bennett, blurring and then erasing the distinctions between himself and his band, Disney soundtracks, a Broadway show, MIAMI VICE appearances, Royal Family charity hobnobbing, guesting on whatever, producing whomever-- his decisions invariably come down to asking himself "how could I say no to that?" That could be the title of the book, in fact.

Phil's not exactly apologizing for having overexposed himself -- to us at least. The years of sold-out stadiums and bazillion selling records in his wake would suggest he did us all a favor. Phil instead saves the regrets for his family -- three wives and a half-dozen neglected kids -- and for own health, ravaged by too many loud shows, too many steroid shots to save his voice and finally, to alcoholism that replaced his workoholism.

Phil Collins grew up in Hounslow, West London, and was a performer from the start. A toy drum he receives at Christmas when he's three years old "is the gift that keeps on giving," he writes. At 13, landed the role of the Artful Dodger in a West End production of OLIVER!, enrolled in a performing arts school, and was cast as an extra in A HARD DAYS NIGHT, but regretfully recounts how his appearance was left on the cutting room floor.

As a teenager in mid-sixties London, Collins absorbs the musical revolution around him. He gets a job sweeping up the Marquee club in Soho, where as a side benefit he's a witness to early performances by the Who, Yes, and the Yardbirds including the debut appearances of both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. His own musical apprenticeships include a variety of resort cover bands, R&B combos, original acts, unsuccessful auditions for Robert Palmer and Manfred Mann and finally, a doomed recording session at Abbey Road for George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS to which Collins devotes a funny chapter of youthful self-laceration.

In the summer of 1970, Collins responds to a classified ad and finds himself at the country estate of the Gabriel family, whose son Peter fronts a band of "immaculately bred" wealthy boarding-school mates called Genesis. He's the fifth drummer in the short history of the band, which already has two albums to its credit, and his outgoing personality -- and ability to sing background -- proves a valuable fit for the otherwise buttoned-up, ambitious and cerebral quintet.

Genesis make a series of well-regarded prog albums and Gabriel's surreal performance art becomes a focus of their live show but the leader departs for a solo career in 1975. Collins makes it clear he was not anxious to replace Peter himself, saying he'd prefer to perform as an instrumental quartet than sing -- but after hundreds of inquiries and more than 30 auditions, rehearsals with Collins as the interim lead vocalist, and the strength of the material making up the embryonic A TRICK OF THE TAIL record are convincing. Collins will disappoint those who were hoping to see mud slung between the past and future Genesis vocalists; he professes they share a mutual professional and personal admiration from the beginning. Phil likes Peter; he seems to like people in general.

The departure of Gabriel affects the Genesis sound in other ways, freeing up Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks to pursue pop songwriting only hinted at in Genesis recordings until then. "They've always wanted to write like the Kinks and The Beatles," Collins insists. This becomes evident when "Follow You Follow Me" off ...AND THEN THERE WERE THREE... becomes an international hit in 1978 and starting with DUKE in 1980, the trio-era Genesis peppers the pop-rock charts for years to come.

Collins owes his big-bang as a solo artist indirectly to his first wife Andrea, a one-time high school sweetheart and mother of his oldest son and adopted daughter. While Phil was out touring with Genesis, "Andy" took up with a decorator at their home, and Phil poured the ensuing heartbreak into home-studio experiments that became the basis of the FACE VALUE LP, including the explosive "In the Air Tonight." That song's enormous drum sound was arrived at so as to preserve the intimacy of the home-studio recordings through producer High Padgham's "gated reverb" technique, ironically first used on a Gabriel solo recording with Collins drumming a year before.

Phil summons an eclectic set of his musical heroes to back him on FACE VALUE revealing his enthusiasm for American soul music that seeps increasingly into additional solo records -- the smaltzy HELLO I MUST BE GOING (1982) and the dance-focused NO JACKET REQUIRED (1985). Padgham is meanwhile on board as a producer for future Genesis records and they too include blasts of brass, artificial beats and pop/dance arrangements first showcased on the funky FACE VALUE. "We wanted Phil to do well," Tony Banks remarks, as a means of a backhanded compliment. "Just not that well."

The recordings make Collins and Genesis stadium-filling superstars and accelerate Phil's transformation into a kind of Elton John of the 1980s.  Suddenly, he's everywhere, getting back into acting, indulging a big-band project in which he manages to have artistic differences with Tony Bennett, and Disney's TARZAN movie and stage show. He plays Live Aid in London and in Philly, managing to piss off Led Zeppelin along the way. He quits Genesis, and scuttles a second marriage by trysting with another former high-school sweetheart, then takes up with a half-his-age third wife. This draws an enduring backlash that blunted any and all appreciation for his considerable versatility, innovation or work ethic. "I will hold my hands up and admit that, with all the success, it's quite possible that I've been giving off an unintentional smugness," Phil writes of the initial critical backlash. And when a note faxed to his second wife regarding their marital troubles gets into the hands of the press, they have a field day. How 80s.

Decidedly no longer in style or in much demand, Collins vanishes to Switzerland -- home of his on-again, off-again third wife -- only to reveal in surprising final chapters that he'd filled the creative void by becoming a falling-down drunk and embarrassment to himself and his family, and that injuries endured over a lifetime of performing left him partially deaf, walking with a cane and unable to operate a drumstick.

I was out running in the neighborhood a few years back when I came across these hipster yuks engaged in a ironic "tribute" to Collins that illustrated how dated and uncool he'd become in the eyes of young people. The embodiment of earnest Dad Rock from 30 years back seemingly had no place in modern popular culture except as a joke.

But there's always time for re-examination -- not surprisingly, the book accompanies a re-release of his solo albums and cites their importance by mentioning their embrace by contemporary hip-hop and R&B artists like Kanye West, Bone Thugs n' Harmony and Lil' Kim. Phil himself is forthright with criticisms of his work, but as the book ends, he's unwilling to necessarily pack it in for good. How could he say no?