Kathleen Massara, over at The New Republic, discusses a memoir from Phil Collins and it occasions a moment to discuss how Phil Collins was the apotheosis of unexamined white male privilege for his time.
Now ... it's possible the same case could be made about Bruce Springstein or Don Henley or Jackson Browne or ... even Bob Dylan, really. John Lennon could even be presented as an exhibit in casual sexism as manifest in his song lyrics, even if the easiest example from old white pop stars might be Mick Jagger.
But ... why Phil Collins?
Singer songwriters making songs about break ups seems as old as the hills and whether we're talking about Phil Collins or Taylor Swift wouldn't seem to make a huge difference except that, apparently, it makes all the difference in the world that today's pop stars writing confessional songs about break ups that don't necessarily tell us a lot of genuinely personal information so that we can transpose ourselves on to the implied narrative in a gnomic text are women rather then men and that the wealthy entertainers aren't identifiable as members of what some writers call the patriarchy. Even if Swift, as Scott Timberg has complained at his blog or at Salon ...
is functionally a fifth generation member of a family of plutocrat bankers she gets to be exempted from being considered part of the American ruling class on other grounds. For Timberg the problem with Swift isn't her songs it's that the marketing presented her as just another wide-eyed girl surveying the world around her when her whole career was, so far as Timberg was concerned, predicated on mind-bendingly large amounts of white upper-crust privilege.
If Taylor Swift can be regarded as a kind of empowered woman singer songwriter it might have to be because the politics of gender are permitted to trump the politics of money and class. Not everyone on the left thinks that it is worth it to lionize a Taylor Swift or a Beyoncé as emblems of girl power when they make so much more money than the average woman and embody the newest variations of unattainable and impractical ideals of traditional feminine beauty but that's perhaps another topic for another time.
In light of the Ferrante news cycle it's also possible that someone else with more devotion to the cause could explore how men and women writing about feeling trapped and betrayed by the social attachments we're told are what define us as most truly human get read. There have been times when it seems that straight white writers male and female sounding off on the dread conformity and soul-sucking power of the ordinary responsibilities of family life paint a portrait of marriage so stultifying a person could wonder why anyone on earth would want that. Is progress in cinema going to be measured by the gay cinematic equivalent of Kramer vs Kramer?
Sure, Phil Collins has been divorced a few times but so has Roger Waters. Then again Roger Waters may have had the sense to not write a memoir.
Collins can come in for a socio-economic assessment of the extra-musical meaning of the music by way of its fan base, though. Massara puts it this way:
Collins’s was the music of overwhelming success for the generation of the overwhelmingly successful, before the 1987 financial crash swept it all away. His music reflected the precarity and responsibilities of the everyman during this time, although his songs are rarely political.
Which "could" be said about Taylor Swift if we wanted to say it, since overwhelming success would seem to be accurate about her career up until at least recently.
It's possible that Phil Collins' public career was one in which he was, to use a ridiculous line, a character who was not necessarily playing a character. Some of the long-standing pop stars of the last half century had characters. When you listen to a Bob Dylan song or a Johnny Cash song these singers have characters and the songs fit into the character the men are playing. So it was in character for the persona of Johnny Cash to do a Trent Reznor cover, one that's more memorable than the original. It's in character for Bob Dylan songs to have a break-up number with a woman upon whom he pours more contempt than even Phil Collins might but that's within the parameters of the character.
Bob Dylan may get flak for not being considered a suitable recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature and there's a whole range of discussions that could be had about that. It isn't out of character for the character of Bob Dylan to simultaneously receive a plaudit and to be dismissive of its social value.
in other news ... Rolling Stone got sued for libel on the basis of their 2014 "A Rape on Campus" story.
The journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely was found responsible for libel with actual malice.
Having done this blog for ten years and having done a bit of what some call watchblogging it would be hard to overstate the importance of constantly checking and vetting sources.