Do you know the Phil Collins story about ‘in the air tonight’. Supposedly, it is about a camping trip gone horribly bad. Phil Collins apparently watched one guy let another guy die. Troubled about this, years later Collins writes a song about it. Even better, the first time he performs it live he has invited the guy to the show and points him out to everyone. It’s all right there in the lyrics:
Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand - I've seen your face before my friend - But I don't know if you know who I am. - Well, I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes. So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been It's all been a pack of lies
There is your story in black and white, right? Well, no. The story is a myth. It’s a great myth, and one of my favorite rock stories… but just a myth. It’s all metaphors about his divorce. Snopes tore this apart years ago, but I wanted to go a bit deeper.
Point one – songwriters are rarely if ever that on the nose about anything. Describing a scene verbatim isn’t art, it is reporting. Musicians want to be arty. Plus, if you are super on the nose, you risk major relationship problems and possible lawsuits. Phil can’t write “my wife is frigid, I hate what my life has become”, nor can he write “my wife is a whore. She bangs everyone but me”.
Point two – the story goes he was camping and watched a guy let a guy drown. He then kinda spent his life getting revenge on that guy. ‘That guy’ in the myth is a total dick for letting that other guy drown and just watching it happen. Yet… where is our protagonist in this story? Well, he is busy watching the other guy watch the other guy drown. Well, if “you where there and I saw what you did, saw it with my own two eyes…” then why didn’t Phil save the guy? Huh? How about ‘dem apples? The song isn’t about letting a guy die, or even watching a guy die. No. The song is about watching a guy who is watching a guy die. To me, this makes our protagonist ‘Phil’ just as guilty.
He isn’t, though. It’s just a song, man. Let it go.
In closing, Phil doesn't exactly come out unscathed in the real version. Legend has it he divorced his wife by fax.