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Small worlds / Phil Collins, The World Won't Listen

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I met Phil Collins (the British artist, not the British pop star1) at a bar in Brook­lyn in the mid 90's. At the time, I didn't know him as "the British artist," I knew him only as my friend Tom's leg­endary boyfriend. I remem­ber lit­tle of the night, but I do remem­ber a hub­bub accom­pa­ny­ing Phil Collins's wan­der­ings around the bar; he seemed to cre­ate some kind of event wher­ev­er he went. At some point, he approached the table with two tall drinks, placed them in front of me, and said some­thing like "These are from an admir­er of yours." As it turned out, they were from an admir­er of his, and this admir­er per­ceived, shall we say, a lack of grat­i­tude when his drinks were giv­en away. There was a con­fronta­tion, as I recall, and Phil said some­thing like, "Well, I'm sor­ry, I nev­er turn down a drink, but you can't hon­est­ly expect me to drink [dis­be­liev­ing voice] rum & coke?" (Or what­ev­er the drinks were). All of which serves as back­ground to my reac­tion to Phil Collins's piece, The World Won't Lis­ten, at SFMOMA, which was pret­ty excel­lent. The premise is pret­ty sim­ple: He filmed young Turk­ish folks singing along to The Smiths best-of com­pi­la­tion "The World Won't Lis­ten." The effect, on the oth­er hand, is deep and res­o­nant. The Smiths' odes to teenager­dom — all vac­il­lat­ing emo­tions, frus­trat­ed inar­tic­u­la­tions, pierc­ing moments of under­stand­ing, sex­u­al ambi­gu­i­ty — take on a deep­er social dimen­sion through the voic­es of (in many of the cas­es) non-Eng­lish speak­ers. Add to this the fact that the singers are Mid­dle East­ern, and it becomes dif­fi­cult to avoid a polit­i­cal read­ing. Songs like "There Is A Light That Nev­er Goes Out" sounds less the over-dra­mat­ic nihilism of a West­ern teenag­er and more like a very real plea from a teenag­er caught in an increas­ing­ly fun­da­men­tal­ist world:

Take me out tonight­Be­cause I want to see peo­ple and IWant to see lifeDriv­ing in your carOh, please don't drop me home­Be­cause it's not my home, it's theirHome, and I'm wel­come no more

Real­ly impressive.Cool: a web post­ing for the event that he filmed.1 Speak­ing of the British pop star, here's a clas­sic: The video for "Sus­su­dio" [YouTube]

2 replies on “Small worlds / Phil Collins, The World Won't Listen”

I have to say — I find it a bit hard to con­sid­er shaky video of some young Turks doing bad karaoke to be deep and res­o­nant art with sociopo­lit­i­cal over­tones. The fact that teenagers have the same feel­ings of angst and alien­ation in Istan­bul and Islam­abad and Isling­ton and Indi­anapo­lis shouldn't be a star­tling rev­e­la­tion. It should be com­mon sense.