Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Memo To Phil: Be careful what you wish for

Well, Phil Collins is back in the news lately.  Remember when he was the guy every rock drummer wanted to be? Then he became a front-man, then a break-out star, then a pop icon, then the stalwart of the housewives’ hit parade. Even though Phil and I are nearly the same age, he was my idol. We all followed his progress from promising young prog-rock drummer with the shy manner and even shyer voice, to the most respected and most wanted rock/pop drummer ever. I've just finished Phil's autobiography and I heartily recommend it. 

Phil’s bio seems to be primarily a form of catharsis. Actually, this is one of Phil’s specialties. When it comes to writing, Phil seems to have two modes: cutesy pop tunes and maudlin, introspective, heart-on-the-sleeve chargers. You may hate everything about “Susudio,” but I bet you join in on the chorus. And then there are tunes like “Against All Odds.”

Phil’s was a career path that anyone would envy, at least until you read his autobiography, Not Dead Yet. Yes, Phil paid his dues, and in the process he fell into a few of the traps that abound in this business. The music business can heap obscene rewards on talented workaholics. It’s usually only toward the end of the journey that anyone weighs the actual costs.

OK, enough about Phil’s fall from grace. I want to talk about Phil’s fill. You know the one:  du-Da du-Da du-Da du-Da DA DA. It’s now regarded as the most famous drum fill ever, and when I first heard it, I thought, “That's brilliant!!!” 

Here’s the deal. That fill was already one of the most overworked and tired of drum clichés. It’s a drum lick that I purposely avoid … it’s just too corny. And yet when Phil does it, it works. Why?

Burning up on Entry
First of all, the fill is totally in your face. The tune thus far had been so low key that the listener has settled into a quiet reverie. And then BLA-A-A-A-A ... a major wake-up call, by which Phil means “I’m changing the game”. That works on a number of levels.

Familiar Face
One bit of advice writers offer other writers is to avoid clichés. Good advice, but I happen to like clichés or, rather, familiar expressions. I call them comfort phrases. They work because the reader recognizes them, is comfortable with them, and can relate to them. (There’s a limit, of course; a horrible cliché is a horrible cliché.) So when Phil chose to use a familiar drum break, he was actually trying to make us more comfortable and to help us relate, and then he added his own spin.

This is the genius part. If you’re going to play a cliché, play it with face-melting conviction.

Not Dead Yet - The Memoir, Phil Collins
Hardcover: 384 pages
ISBN-10: 1101907479
ISBN-13: 978-1-101-90747-4 ISBN

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