My song today is ‘In the Air Tonight’. This song was the debut solo by the English drummer and singer-songwriter, Phil Collins. It was released as the lead single from Collins's debut solo album, ‘Face Value’ over thirty years ago in January 1981.
Collins co-produced the single with Hugh Padgham, who became a frequent collaborator in the following years. The song climbed to Number. 2 on the ‘UK Singles Chart’ and was held off the top spot by the posthumous release of John Lennon’s ‘Woman’. It reached Number 1 in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, and the top 10 in Australia, New Zealand, and several other European territories. It peaked at Number 19 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart in the United States, and reached Number 2 on the ‘Rock Tracks Chart’, later being certified Gold by the RIAA, representing 500,000 copies sold. The song's music video, directed by Stuart Orme, received heavy play on MTV when the new cable music video channel launched in August 1981.
‘In the Air Tonight’ remains one of Collins' best-known hits, often cited as his signature song, and is especially famous for its drum break towards the end, which has been described as "the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history" and one of the ‘101 Greatest Drumming Moments’. The song was ranked at number 35 on VHI’S ‘100 Greatest Songs of the 80s’ in 2006. In 2007, the song became widely referred to as a ‘soft rock classic’. The inspiration for Collins to write the song came amid the grief he felt after divorcing his first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980.
Forgive my momentary lapse of memory in my video introduction to this song when I inaccurately described the television ad with a bear on the drums. That was misspoken and should have been a gorilla. As a large part of the television viewing nation, the Phil Collins Gorilla Drummer that advertised Cadbury’s milk chocolate was one of the few television advertisements that I did not switch off or turn away from whenever it appeared on the tv advertisements. It is one of the most haunting tunes and drum beats I have ever heard as there is an air of mystery surrounding it.
My mother often referred to our ‘seventh sense’ that she envisaged as a form of ‘second sight. I was brought up ‘half believing’ that some people are born with ‘second sight’, and being a ‘special child’ (something which my mother would daily remind me of throughout my childhood), I was led to expect such occasions in my life. When I review my 78 years of life so far, there have been forewarnings, and premonitions, which have come to be and for which there was no reason for me knowing in advance or requiring any explanation.
My life began with a prophesy (according to my mother) that when she was two months pregnant with me (her firstborn of seven children), that a peg-selling Romany traveller visited my grandparent’s home in Portlaw, Waterford where she lived and where I was subsequently born. Mum had only recently discovered that she was pregnant a few days earlier and had not told anyone about it yet. Believing that it was bad luck to leave a Romany traveller selling their wares to go away empty-handed, mum bought some of her goods and the gypsy bestowed a good luck blessing on her house instead of a curse. After selling her a few pegs, the fortune-telling gypsy said to my mother, “For another sixpence, missus, I will tell you about the child you are expecting. My mother’s Irish background of superstition, plus the fact that she was not yet showing any signs of carrying a child, immediately raised her curiosity level, and so she urged the traveller to tell her about me. The Romany said that I would be a boy and the oldest of seven children in total and that I would be born a ‘special child’. The Romany, having secured mum’s attention, added that for another sixpence she would tell my mother about the nature of my ‘specialness’. In for a shilling already, mum paid the extra sixpence.
The true story is the last published story I ever wrote. It is called ‘The Postman Always Knocks Twice’, and it can be accessed and read for free from my website under the ‘Tales from Portlaw’ section. If you prefer to read the full story in either e-mail format or hardback, the works can be purchased from Amazon or any reputable book retailer. All profits from its sale (along with the sale of any of my books) will be given to a charitable cause in perpetuity. Over £200,000 was given to charity from every penny book-sale profit between 1990-2003.
At the age of 11 years, following a serious traffic accident that almost killed me, I heard the hospital doctor tell my parents at the foot of my hospital bed that I would be dead by the morning. I knew as soon as he had spoken these words that they would not be true. I also knew I would walk again after a spinal injury prevented me walking for a period of three years.
When I was living in Canada, I worked in a Toronto hotel on the night shift. My accommodation was 15 miles away from my job. One day, I arrived at work to discover that my wallet and flat keys were missing. I had either left them at home and had left my flat unlocked or I had lost them on the way in. Because we bought bus fare in advance of use, I knew I had not paid for a bus ticket that morning. I knew that there would be nobody awake when I returned around 5:00 am, and I had a fear of having to hang around in the cold outside until one of the other flat mates rose for the day. After my shift, I walked 15 miles back to my flat and for some strange reason knowing that I had no keys to get back in, I prayed all my way home that the door would have been left unlocked by me when I had gone out to work earlier. I turned the doorknob, but the door did not open. Then, for some strange reason, I said three ‘Hail Marys’ and I blessed myself with the sign of the cross. I then felt this strong premonition to try the door again. To my relief, it opened.
When I was in my 40s, I entered Leeds Hospital with all the signs of having possible kidney cancer. I had been brought in for extensive tests and an operation if required. All weekend in the hospital after my Monday morning tests, I felt I would be okay. I don’t know why, but I believed that the hospital tests would reveal that the cancer signs that I had shown earlier to my GP would no longer be present instead of being medically confirmed. Thankfully, I was clear, and all signs of kidney cancer did not return.
In my mid-twenties, I attended the baptism of a cousin and during the service, I had this premonition that the child would die. I said nothing but six weeks later, the child died. It had not been known to be ill at its Christening service.
In my early sixties, I had two massive heart attacks within the same week and the hospital medics told my family that I would die. During the three days, I was in a coma, my son told one of his siblings that he dare not go home to rest just in case I died after he had left the ward. From my semi-conscious state, I heard the conversation at the end of my bed. I knew that I was not going to die from my heart attacks and said to my son, “Go back home and get some sleep, son!” I also seemingly dismissed a nurse who I thought was pestering me.
Since I developed several terminal body cancers from 2013onward, I have been back and forth to hospitals. I have had twelve life-saving cancer operations in the past seven years, most of them under full aesthetic lasting hours at a time (seven hours being my longest operation to press). I have never once had the feeling as I went to sleep under the aesthetic that I would not survive the operation.
It is only during this past few months since I have been told that there is not anything medical that can be further done for me to prevent my inevitable death. I have been accepted on to a drug trial (not as a cure but as a palliative treatment that might extend my life). All my feelings of any previous certainty have realistically altered to cope with the probability of me now being in my final year of life. I do not foresee my death, nor do I want to. I just hope that any future premonitions, if any, will concern my remaining days of life on this side of the green sod.
What I was told from childhood by my mother, and what I strongly believed as I grew into manhood is that my birth was foreseen by a peg-selling Romany traveller of the road, who for the price of one or two sixpences conferred upon me the honour of being ‘special’. Every day thereafter, whenever I managed to do something ordinary in a more extraordinary way, my mother simply believed that it was the gypsy’s palm-reading prophesy coming true. The Romany had conferred my specialness, along with the sale of a few wooden pegs, and every time I achieved anything unusual or of significance, my mother confirmed my specialness by telling me that my achievement was simply down to me being special.
The first thirty years of my life were spent by me believing that I am ‘special’. I then found out that I was indeed ‘special’ but so was every other individual on the planet. I have devoted the last fifty years of my life telling all people at every opportunity ‘how special they are’, and that their lives can only begin in earnest the day they accept that fact and award themselves the self-love they deserve.
Now, don’t forget, this is an Irishman telling you this. I am the first of seven children, and I was born to a mother who was herself the first of seven children. I am telling you this truth today about your own ‘specialness’. All you need to do is to accept it and own it, and to consider it to be the best prophesy of your life. And not one of you needed to buy one of my wooden pegs to receive this prophecy from this Irish traveller.
Love and peace,