Having reached an age at which I definitely have to accept that I’m no longer hip (I suspect that my use of the word ‘hip’ gives a lot away), I have succumbed to Phil Collins Paranoia. Maybe you’ll recognise the symptoms: every time I hear a new record that I like, I am struck by a crippling fear that this, finally, will be my Phil Collins.
I don’t buy records any more. I basically lost interest when CDs came in, and I’ve never quite recovered.
That’s not absolutely true, but it sounds good if anyone asks. It lends me an air of rather mournful cool, I find. The reality is far more messy. My mum bought be a CD player when I was 16 in an effort to remove me and my Ride EPs from the living room. I should have been grateful; I was not. The problem was that I didn’t have any CDs to play on the damned thing. All my records were on vinyl. I felt like I’d been exiled (although I do concede, in retrospect, that my endless playing of Hole LPs may have got a bit much). I never quite recovered. Sure, I bought and loved a few records over the years, but I lost the sense that I was a music fan.
Nowadays, having reached an age at which I definitely have to accept that I’m no longer hip (I suspect that my use of the word ‘hip’ gives a lot away), I have succumbed to Phil Collins Paranoia. Maybe you’ll recognise the symptoms: every time I hear a new record that I like, I am struck by a crippling fear that this, finally, will be my Phil Collins.
My parents grew up in the golden age of pop music. It’s hard to imagine the sheer privilege of watching the creation of modern music unfold in real time, wave upon awesome wave. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Stones, Cream, Pink Floyd, David Bowie: these were the records that filled my mother’s collection when I was growing up. And, next to them, the looming orange face of Phil Collins.
How could it be that a generation raised in the white heat of the musical crucible embrace such a parade of naffness in the 1980s? Collins’ No Jacket Required sold 25 million copies worldwide. I am listening to it right now on Spotify. It’s horrible: tinny bass, weird levels of echo in the production, and the kind of keyboard sound that spreads over your ears like grease. The two things that Collins personally sees to, the drums and the vocals, are the least impressive parts of it.
It appears that most people who bought it agree with me. My husband, Herbert, whose obsessive record collecting often finds him flicking through dusty boxes records in charity shops, tells me that he is haunted by copies of No Jacket Required, which crop up more than any other record in his searches. Aha, you may say, that’s probably because people have exchanged their vinyl copies for CD or MP3. But you rarely see a Beatles record in a charity shop. When you ask people of that generation what they saw in Phil Collins, they tend to go quiet in the manner of a veteran asked about the war.
I shouldn’t pick on Phil Collins; it wasn’t just him. The eighties spawned a genre that I’ll call Fartcore: bands who combined cheesy production values with a ‘back to basics’ approach to rock’n’roll that would make John Major blush. Dire Straits, Status Quo, Level 42, The Travelling Wilberries: musicians united only in their boringness. This is less of a musical movement, and more of a sustained attack on youth and joy. The worst part of it is, these records were bought by people who should have known better.
Cut forward twenty years. It is the turn of the new millennium, and the children of that generation are embarking on adult life themselves. These are my people. They grew up listening not only to their parents’ great records, but also punk and hip hop, dance and grunge. They larged it at the Hacienda and made mud angels at Glastonbury; they spent lost summers in Ibiza. What had they learned? Nothing. They minute they got a sniff of a mortgage, they rushed out to buy Coldplay .
That was when I started to worry. From that moment on, every time I heard a new record and liked it, I could help but ask the question: is this actually good, or is it my Phil Collins? So many good people before me had stumbled. Which particular musical bullet would have my name on it?
Phil Collins Paranoia has its protective function, but it also has side-effects. Once you’ve started watching for the moment that Fartcore will claim you as its next victim, all the pleasure is sucked out of music forever. Bang goes your joyful, innocent response to each new tune on the radio; bang goes your simple faith in your ability to like something or not. Everything is ruined. You will find yourself grudgingly clinging to records that you know are alright, and eschewing any new recordings, just in case they catch you out.
Now I have a child of my own, it’s even worse. I would hate for him to be sitting in the back of the car, listening to the 900th iteration of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, and silently promising himself that he’ll jump off a cliff when he turns twenty-one.