Sunday, June 11, 2006
My Favorite Urban Legend.
"In the Air Tonight" is the subject of variations of an urban legend arising from the lyrics' reference to drowning.
The most common version claims that Phil Collins saw a man drowning but was too far away to do anything, but a man nearby who could have saved him did nothing. Other versions of the rumor claim that the drowning was not accidental, but murder.
Another version of the legend goes that Phil Collins was at a lake with his best friend, who went for a swim. His friend began to struggle in the water, but Collins had never learned to swim so couldn't help. Collins stopped a passing jogger and asked him to help his friend, but the man refused and Collins' friend died.
Another version of the legend is that while at camp as a young child, Phil Collins awoke to find his counselor missing and looked out to see that the counselor was by the lake, watching a boy drown, but doing nothing.
According to the legend, Collins bought the man a front row ticket to one of his shows, put a spotlight on the man, and sang the song to him before the audience. Again, depending on the version, either Collins had the man arrested, or the man was filled with guilt and committed suicide.
Years later, Collins commented on the legends about the song in a BBC World Service interview:
In the Air Tonight
I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'. And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate. It's so frustrating, 'cos this is one song out of all the songs probably that I've ever written that I really don't know what it's about, you know.
One of the most famous references to this urban legend is the song Stan by rapper Eminem, who referred to it using the following lyrics:
You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air Tonight"
about that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowning
but didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?