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Hating Phil Collins

October 30, 2015


There’s so much that’s cruel and wrong and destructive in the news these days that tidings of Phil Collins’ unretirement just seemed like a final Biblical confirmation that we are indeed living in the End Times.  It’s rumoured that the resumption of Phil Collins’ career is one of three or four confirmatory signs and wonders that presage the last great struggle between good and evil upon the plains of Armageddon.

I spent much of my misspent youth not so much hating Phil Collins as knowing that Phil Collins was to be hated.  In truth, it was a hatred I had to be prodded into because I might not have got there on my own.  Of course there was the fact that PC was a Tory – once that came out then the rest was easy (see Gary Barlow).  But like all music that is to be piously hated, Phil Collins was (and maybe still is) proficient in the art of making toes to tap. The “worst” music must, I feel, have a base level of melodic competence.   I once read an article which declared that the worst band on earth ever in the history of time was Insane Clown Posse.  Now maybe there are demonstrable ways of proving this to be the case – but it doesn’t work as a proposition because I never have to deal with Insane Clown Posse on a regular basis. ICP does not get played in Tesco, or on the radio, or in the background of Martin Scorsese movies.  They do not play in my head.  Of course, the worst, the very worst music ever made is probably being made right now by two teenagers in a garage in Cleveland – but we’re never going to have to hear them so it really doesn’t matter.  They’re not worth our hatred – and neither is Insane Clown Posse.

But I will find myself humming along to “Against All Odds” or “That’s All” and this is what I hate.  I hate my own complicity.  Phil Collins features in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis.  In addition to committing unspeakable acts of murder and mutilation, the eponymous Psycho treats us to appreciative meditation on the lamest soundtrack of the 1980s – its banality only underscoring his own vicious depravity.  Huey Lewis and The News, Whitney Houston and Genesis (now that the weirdo Peter Gabriel has been properly replaced by Phil Collins) are all referenced admiringly.  Phil Collins is, according to Ellis,  a kind of accessory to mass murder.

I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t supposed to hate Phil Collins.  And of course, knowing whom to hate is as important as knowing whom to love.  It also facilitates the writing of a great many jokes.

Take Nickelback.


Nickelback are now officially the worst band in the world.  They help you to score lots of favorites and retweets on twitter when the right sort of hashtag game comes up.  And knowing that creates a sort of snug moral consensus.  You may have lived a completely selfish, wasteful, exploitative and cruel existence, but if you at least hate Nickelback, you feel somehow redeemable.  The origins of this tendency go back to (at least) the eighteenth century and Kantian and pre-Kantian discussions of the concept of “Judgement”.  The ethical faculties cannot be separated from the aesthetics.  “Taste” is a character-forming qualification.  As critics long before Kant suggested – if you prefer the epic poems of Richard Blackmore to Milton’s Paradise Lost – how can you have the apparatus needed to prefer Right from Wrong?  Or, as I suggest in class – if you think Nickelback are a better band than Radiohead – does that make you a morally bad person?  (The resounding “Yes” usually blows me back against the wall of the lecture hall.)

Phil Collins and Nickelback had and have a role to play in a moral economy.  They are a compass point that enables us to feel that we know we’re we’re going.

It must be tiresome though – and hard work.  Indeed, it must be so exhausting being the act you not so much love to hate as have to hate, that if Phil Collins were to be asked in interview who it was who prodded him back into high profile activity, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he were to say – Nickelback.

Tag team hatred.


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