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.
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
3) Green Day
4) Third Eye Blind
6) The Wallflowers
7) Alanis Morissette
10) Gin Blossoms
11) Counting Crows
12) The Cranberries
13) Matchbox Twenty
15) Collective Soul
16) Red Hot Chili Peppers
17) Foo Fighters
19) Pearl Jam
20) Better Than Ezra
Do you want to share your list with me? Then do it!
Whether we will admit it or not, we like unexplained mysteries.
Do we really need an answer for everything? Isn’t omniscience (the ability to know everything infinitely) a trait we reserve for God? Could we handle the responsibility of having all the answers? We like to think we want all the answers, but if we did, that would be a life without surprise, suspense, and ultimately, much excitement.
Much of the mystique we deal with revolves around our origin, purpose, and ending. But even without all the big idea concepts like “why am I here?” and “what exactly happens the moment I die?,” both of which the element of ignorance is attached to, life is still full plenty of petty mysteries to think about. Which at best, simply reflect the fact that mystery is a part of life.
Like the song “Sussidio” by Phil Collins. It became a number one hit in July of 1985. And though I wasn’t quite in pre-school yet at that point, the song has definitely kept a solid spot in the Soundtrack of My Life. I can’t say that I like the saxophone-enhanced song just because of its feel-good vibes and groovy melody. A big part of why I like the song is because of its quirkiness. Because let’s face it, no one really knows what a “sussudio” is.
In recent years, thanks to Phil Collins’ interviews that have surfaced and have been referenced in Wikipedia, I have learned that Phil always did a lot of ad-lib and improvising in the studio. He often would record the music to the song before he wrote the words, just making up random words and phrases to hold the place; then coming back later to replace the gibberish with actual lyrics.
“Sussudio” was a place-holding made-up word that he never came up with a replacement for. And so it remained. The word still doesn’t mean anything. It’s not the name of a girl, as some have assumed. It’s just a mysterious word. You get to decide what it means. Weird concept, but after all, the song did make it to the number one spot.
Why? It’s a great catchy song. And it’s mysterious.
I will deliberately bypass the way-too-obvious fact that LOST’s popularity is associated with its strategic and clever uses of mystique (LOST- Answering Questions that Were Left Unanswered) and instead close with the fact that we can spend a lifetime just unveiling the mysteries of the people closest to us in our lives.
It’s not like we sit down with our parents or spouses or best friends and interview them with a #2 pencil and steno pad about their childhood and see what we can learn about them that we didn’t know before. Instead, we just wait for those random trigger words to show up in conversation, which prompt a story that we’ve never heard before about them before.
Sometimes when my wife and I are out at a restaurant, we (being “people watchers”) will notice an older couple sitting in silence, only really speaking to say predictable things like “How’s your steak?” We want to be cooler than that when we’re older; we want to have cool stuff to talk about, even now.
There are so many hidden stories in each of us. We can only try, in a lifetime, to extract them from each other. Not that they all can be told even in one lifetime, we ourselves can’t remember them all. Because unlike God, we mysteriously ended up without an omniscient memory.
Pornography has always been a strange concept to me. Beyond all its connections to immorality, there is one basic truth that while quite obvious, is evidently overlooked and somehow ignored by so many men across the world: It’s not real.
Those women are not actually happy to be exposing their bodies to countless men who, for a handful of reasons, choose to indulge in pornography- from buying magazines, to frequenting strip clubs, to visiting their favorite waitress at the nearest Hooter’s because they serve “really good wings there”.
And I get it. Pornographic partakers are looking for some form of an “easy” woman. They are selfish and lazy, unwilling to involve themselves in the natural and necessary steps to nurturing an actual human romantic relationship. These men will settle for a nude woman faking a smile while pretending to want sex from him.
While I usually do my best to refrain from coming across as judgmental, I’m willing to call it like it is on this one: Pornography of any kind is simply pathetic.
I can’t help but focus on the thought that “that’s somebody’s daughter you’re looking at”. It seems unnecessary to point out the familiar (and often true) stereotype that many strippers are single moms desperate to make a living. And that many women who pose for pornographic magazines were sexually abused when they were young. Not always, but often.
And despite the subconscious banner in bold Verdana font reading “SHE DOESN’T ACTUALLY WANT YOU- SHE’S JUST DOING IT FOR THE MONEY”, men continue to support the economy of prostitution in all levels- because ultimately any type of pornography is related to prostitution.
Despite the spot-on lyrics of songs like Hall and Oates’ “Maneater” and “Family Man” in 1983, as well as Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover” a year later, men continue to repeat history everyday by continuing to give in to maneaters and easy lovers. Not just at a minimal pornographic level, but all the way up to cheating on their spouse.
Because it all gets muddled up, somewhere between magazines underneath a teenage boy’s bed to a young single man going to a strip club during a bachelor party to a married man who feels trapped and unappreciated in his marriage and gives in to the first temptress to come along.
It’s all related. Just different degrees of it. There will always be maneaters and easy lovers, whether they’re in person or on paper.
If only these men had enough common sense to remind themselves: “There is a legitimate reason this strange woman is eager to jump my bones. Perhaps it’s not truly sex she wants, but is instead using sex to get something else I’m not yet aware of.”
But I guess there are a good number of men out there who don’t mind knowing that their sexual activity is forced, phony, empty, and most likely taking advantage of a woman in some way.
The only thing I really buy for myself that is not a basic need, is music. My CD collection now contains well over 700 albums, not including the several hundreds of songs I’ve “traded” with friends via laptop swap or the “borrowing and burning” of each other’s CD collections. The one material thing that I actually spend money on (though I often buy at a much discounted price at Unclaimed Baggage) is music.
My stereo speakers are never silent as long as I’m the only one in the car. There are times when I actually get tired of my own massive music library, but even then, I turn the radio to a classic rock station (“I want to know what love is, I need you to show me…”) or an alternative station where I get introduced to current bands like The Avett Brothers (“In January, we’re getting married…”).
Music is therapy. It’s invisible. But music has a way of ministering to the soul and to the emotions. It enhances the mood and the moment. Music makes sad times sadder and good times greater. And when I don’t know how I feel, I listen to the abstract vagueness of ‘90’s alternative bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Live, and Foo Fighters.
Music is euphoric. It’s not tangible. But music has a way of lifting a person’s spirits or helping them to connect and relate to the pain they are feeling at the moment.
Music is a drug. Teenagers use it to “express themselves” (or the idea of who they think they want to be) and to get in touch with their out of control emotions. Adults use it to relax, to escape, to take a trip to an easier time in their lives. And yes, music is an addictive drug.
I can not hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and not be affected. Or Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. Or my newest obsession, the Scottish one-hit wonder from 1983, “In a Big Country” by Big Country, with its piercing lead guitar riffs reminiscent of a bagpipe: “In a big country dreams stay with you like a lover’s voice…”
Music is engrained into our pop culture. It freezes a year, a moment, a memory forever. Listening to a song can be like time travel. It stays with us.
And it’s amazing to me how music can make nonsense words and phrases acceptable by the mainstream. Because seriously, everybody should wang chang tonight.
I can’t imagine a world where the words “I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller” meant nothing to me.
For the last 10 years, I believed the urban legend that “karaoke” is Japanese for “tone deaf”. I wanted that to be true. Because that would be funny. Instead the word just means “empty orchestra”. Thanks Wikipedia, for bursting my bubble.
I am hardly ever exposed to social events that include karaoke. But in the back of my mind, I am constantly juggling around songs that would be good ones in case I suddenly had to participate in a karaoke contest. There is an art to choosing a good karaoke song.
The point of singing karaoke is not to show off a person’s singing talent, but instead their ability to entertain. There should be a rule that no serious songs can be sung while participating in karaoke. No Celine Dion. Nothing by Whitney Houston. And definitely not “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel. Too sappy and too difficult to pull off for an amateur.
It’s okay for a person to sing horribly if they know they are not an awesome vocalist. But when a person thinks they’re pretty decent and actually tries to sing well, but then falls flat on several parts of a Josh Groban song, or hits the notes too sharply and loudly, “clipping the mic”, that kills the mood.
That can make things awkward, causing the audience to hope that the next performer will perform an obviously stupid song like “I Wish” by one-hit wonder Skee-Lo (“I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller…) or “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America (“Millions of peaches, peaches for me…”).
An ideal karaoke song also should be one in which the singer can incorporate stupid dance moves during the lead guitar solo and fade-out. I am set on “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Or “That’s All” by Genesis. Or maybe best of all, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZFqA8JJQj0
Surely I couldn’t go wrong with those songs. Because I couldn’t go right. And that’s what truly defines karaoke.