Every Breath You Take of the Air Tonight

What were Phil Collins and Sting really singing about?

It happened just a few weeks after I was born, then again exactly two years later in May of 1983. A man living out the final months of a dying marriage releases a song that goes on to become one of the biggest hits of the ‘80’s and most replayed songs on syndicated radio stations like Jack FM. Both of these men’s songs were destined to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Songs that were sad realizations from a man watching the love of his life slip away from him, though she shared his bed every night. I’m referring to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and Sting of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”.

Known for its memorable drum introduction over two minutes into the recording, its ghostly atmosphere, and its refrain of “oh Lord” that allows the song to exist not only has a premonition of his soon divorce and confrontation with his then-wife, but also as a desperate acknowledgement that God is overwatching the nightmare unfold, “In the Air Tonight” remains the perfect song for a drive on the interstate on an overcast day in October.

However, to many fans of the song (who wouldn’t be?), the meaning has always been vague and abstract.  Obviously some mysterious big event is about to happen and the accusing tone reveals anger, distrust, and sadness. So it only makes sense that a believable urban legend was born: A man watched Phil Collins’ brother drown and didn’t try to save him. Phil Collins years later invited the man to his concert and gave him a front row seat and sang the song to the man to drench him in guilt. The man later died of a heart attack. I believed this story for three years, until I did some research myself (on Wikipedia) to find out the truth. The Drowning Man Theory makes sense and it’s easy to want to believe it. But once I found out it’s a song about Phil Collins’ fading first marriage, the depth and weight of the song became so much clearer to me.

In a strange parallel, Sting woke up in the middle of the night and wrote “Every Breath You Take” as he watched his first marriage disintegrate. It went on to become the #1 single of 1983, surprisingly beating out all of Michael Jackson’s mega-hits that year (Thriller, Billy Jean, Beat It, P.Y.T., Human Nature, The Girl is Mine, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’). While the song comes across as a vow of undying love to many, with its promise to keep watch over his object of affection, it’s actually the opposite. It actually described Sting’s feeling of deep loss, knowing he would never fully get over losing his first wife. He didn’t want to let her go, but the marriage was ended regardless. Therefore, the “stalkerish” feel of the song is completely intentional.

Two British men who fronted successful pop rock bands in the 1980’s both wrote a song at the end of their marriage that went on to be a classic and unforgettable hit. And many people will never know the truth about the background of the writing other than what is written here. That’s often the case though: Some of the biggest legendary things in life are surrounded by mystery, only adding to the intrigue.

Hey Jealousy (A Retrospective Look Back at Grunge and Alternative Rock Music)

I’m gonna say it.  Despite the cliché, because it’s true: Music today just ain’t what it used to be.

I was born in 1981.  Junior high for me was 1993 to 1995.  High school was from 1995 to 1999.  And I say in all confidence that compared to the current generic decency of Nickelback and the outright douchebaggery of bands like Godsmack and Buckcherry, my generation of rock music was far superior.

Not that I have anything against the stuff they play on Jack FM (Phil Collins, Eddie Money, The Police, etc.) or my parents’ music (The Beatles, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc.) because I’m a huge classic music fan.  Just as I’m a Movie Guy, I’m absolutely a Music Guy as well.

I get it.  Every music lover out there seems to hold a warm place in their heart for the music that was popular when they were a teenager.  Here I am doing the same thing; I’m no different.  Those bands and songs are all attached to places, people, and stories from a time where I was “discovering who I was”.  Grunge and alternative rock makes up the soundtrack of my teenage years.

I clearly remember in 8th grade, after school getting off the bus several blocks too soon to visit the local music store (that coincidently was only open that year and the following year, when alternative music ruled the music scene) to purchase the groundbreaking Green Day album, Dookie (at the time, I was still buying cassettes, not CD’s).  From Janis Joplin to Santana to Dinosaur Jr. to Blind Melon, they had it all in stock.  Along with several racks of appropriate signs-of-the-times jewelry including, but not limited to, clay “shroom” necklaces.

What I remember most about that music store isn’t the name, being that I have no clue what it was called, but the smell.  Incense.  A sweeter smell than patchouli.  I can’t help but assume that the constantly burning incense had something to do with the store owners covering up a different smoke smell of their own.

When I hear “Ironic” or “Hand in My Pocket” or “You Learn” by Alanis Morissette, or “Today” by The Smashing Pumpkins (which I would have to declare as the official song of my teenage years), an emotional spark ignites in my brain, causing me to simultaneously travel back to 1995 and feel a rush of euphoria.

So maybe what exactly constitutes as grunge or alternative is a bit blurry.  Typically, the lyrics are abstract, weird, and sometimes bit creepy.  The guitars are layered with both “staticky” and “crystallized” effects.  Whatever it was and is, it makes me happy.  Long live grunge and alternative!

Since I released my top 25 favorite movies this week (Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites), I might as well attempt to release my top twenty favorite bands of the grunge and alternative rock era.  Yes, it is controversial, but on my list, Nirvana is not present.  Like Soundgarden, they were too depressing for me.  I’m judging these by their relevance of grunge and alternative music in my personal life.  This is not a list of my favorite bands of all time- that’s a different list altogether.

My Top Twenty Favorite Bands of the Grunge and Alternative Rock Era

1)     Smashing Pumpkins

2)     Oasis

3)     Green Day

4)     Third Eye Blind

5)     Live

6)     The Wallflowers

7)     Alanis Morissette

8)     R.E.M.

9)     Bush

10) Gin Blossoms

11) Counting Crows

12) The Cranberries

13) Matchbox Twenty

14) Weezer

15) Collective Soul

16) Red Hot Chili Peppers

17) Foo Fighters

18) Everclear

19) Pearl Jam

20) Better Than Ezra

Do you want to share your list with me?  Then do it!

Me in 1995, AKA "The Grunge Days"