Thursday, February 16, 2006

How come the world gets worse whenever Phil Collins is singing?

I was downtown today, taking care of some freelance editing business, when I stopped into a skyway fast food restaurant to get some lunch. This was around noon and the place was pretty busy, but I found a table by the window and began to take a nice leisurely meal. Whenever I get the chance, I like to eat downtown. I get a kick out of all the people in their nice suits scurrying everywhere. That sounds stupid, but it’s true. I could watch them for hours.

This was one of those crypto-fancy fast food places, so most of the people there seemed to have well-paying, if stressful, jobs. Their lunch hour, then, became their one daytime idyll when they didn’t have be in a frenzy about everything. A group of co-workers would come in and, as they stood in line, you could tell they were sort of frazzled and hungry. They didn’t talk to one another and they had impatient grimaces on their faces. It wasn’t until they were mostly finished with their food that they warmed up and started to chat with each other. Gradually, their conversations got more and more animated until the whole room was booming with a hundred overlapping business-person anecdotes. They smiled, they laughed, they flirted: it seemed to me as if they had forgotten all about their torturous mornings. What’s more, perhaps the fact that they’d soon have to return to their desks and cubicles for more of the same hadn’t sunk in yet. For the moment, though, they were feeling good. They were free, they were well-compensated, they were handsomely dressed, and they were eating starchy faux-ethnic foods. All was right with the world.

And then, from out of the background, came the unmistakable sound of Phil Collins. A pall fell over the room. Laughter quieted, conversation petered out, and all around me men and women were looking down into their empty trays with expressions that suggested nothing so much as children who’ve heard the whistle that ends recess. The end of their lunch hour was upon them. They had to return to the grind, they had to get back to the corporate battle they thought they had abandoned. Nothing could have underscored this more cruelly than Phil Collins, the man whose voice conveys better than anyone’s how miserable, dull, and empty life can be.

I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly which Phil Collins track had this effect. It certainly wasn’t one of his better known numbers. Perhaps it was even a late-period Genesis song, I don’t know. I’m proud to say that I’m no Phil Collins expert. Besides, are there really variations in Phil Collins? Or is it more accurate to think of Phil Collins as a single, constant, changeless oppressive force in the atmosphere? I think the latter. Sure, I can tell the difference between “Sussudio” and “In the Air Tonight”, but the effect is the same in both cases: misery and despair.

I grew up in the eighties. As a result, I heard a lot of Phil Collins. I think this has crippled my generation in ways that we haven’t yet entirely figured out. Nowadays, when I think back on my youth, I imagine myself riding in my parent’s station wagon, listening to the radio play a “solid rock block” of Phil Collins hits. And I think, Jesus Christ, why couldn’t I have grown up in the 1970s or the 1990s or the 1930s or the 1810s or any other time when dreck this wretched didn’t sum up the zeitgeist?

The whole world could be at peace, all people everywhere could live in love and harmony, and drinking fountains could issue forth the finest French wines, and Phil Collins would still have the power to blunder in and spoil it for everyone. That’s not just bad music. That’s sheer malevolence. I got up from my seat in a hurry, threw away my food, and got out of there before the song was over. It was just too sad to witness another room–one of millions by now–that Phil Collins had filled with his voice and strangled to death.