On a 2007 broadcast of Ira Glass' "This American Life," one of the foremost authorities on love songs told a musician how to compose the perfect breakup ballad. It was Phil Collins, author of "Against All Odds," "In the Air Tonight," and "You'll Be in My Heart." Phil Collins, one-time guest star on "Miami Vice."
Love doctor Phil pitched advice — "sometimes it's the simplest lyric that actually reaches people" — and the conversation turned to his then-recent divorce from third wife Orianne Collins, which left him floundering as she moved their sons from their home in Switzerland to Miami Beach. The talk also prompted a reflection of his solo career and "Against All Odds," none of which would have happened without Collins' divorcing his first wife.
"I wrote 'Against All Odds' in '79, right after my first divorce," Collins recalls, reached this week by phone at his Miami Beach home. "I look at all this in a slight cynical, humorous, English way, so don't think I'm morose, but I went from a wife and two kids and two dogs to a bunch of spare time. So I learned to write pop songs. I did a solo career. Now, 'Against,' which I didn't even consider to be good enough to put on a record, is one of the classic love songs now."
Skip to present day: Seven years after retiring from music, Collins is plotting a comeback that will begin with a performance Friday, March 11, during the Little Dreams Foundation concert at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The foundation, created by Phil and Orianne Collins in 2000, donates musical instruments and athletic equipment to children, will also feature performances by Grammy-nominated Argentine singer Diego Torres, Foreigner co-founder Lou Gramm, singer-songwriter Alvaro Soler and the Miami Heat's DJ Irie.
In a candid conversation that touches on divorce, his solo career and depression, the English drummer is genial but self-deprecating, admitting that Friday's concert makes him "a little bit terrified."
"Will I remember the words? Will I be like who I was? All these insecurities flash in front of me," Collins says, not sounding glib for a musician who has sold 100 million records and won five Grammy Awards. "I've got a little studio here [in the house], and as soon as I learn how to turn it on, we'll get into the groove of it."
Collins has reason to feel insecure. In 2009, the singer retired from music after wrestling with depression over his divorce to Orianne, pancreatitis from alcoholism and nerve damage and dislocated vertebrae from a recent Genesis tour (which made it hard for him to play drums). He wanted to live closer to his sons, Matthew, now 11, and Nicholas, 14.
"I started to view music as the enemy," Collins says. "At some point, I just wanted to stop, because I'd done it all my life. I'd been in Genesis since I was 19. And now, I'm 65, and I'd never done anything apart from Genesis or working, and I felt like I deserved a break. It wasn't the best thing to have done, in retrospect, but it was a good thing, because suddenly I wasn't in everyone's faces like in the '80s and '90s. The medical problems didn't affect me too much. In a way, they were an excuse to not work. 'Can't play the drums again? Well, OK, that knocks that on the head.'"
But seriously: Why come out of retirement now? Rehearsing, he admits, has come sporadically, with Collins preferring instead to write his memoirs. "Writing words for a book is more fun than writing lyrics for a song," he says. And Collins, still the love doctor, has rekindled his relationship with Orianne.
"The kids have a lot to do with it," Collins says. "Matthew and Nicholas have been very sporting in urging me to be productive. I have a nice groove in my life again, finally. I'm living with Orianne and the boys. I don't really want to go on the road and miss all that. But I won't stop completely. I have to be reminded how proud I should be of my solo work. Or my work generally. I don't give myself enough credit. I tend not to sit back and rejoice at the things I've done."
He's also ready to embark on a world tour, even if some Internet detractors would wish Collins stay retired. After an interview with Rolling Stone last October in which Collins announced his comeback, a petition on Change.org, titled "Phil Collins must be stopped," drew 4,349 signatures from people who believed there was "far too much suffering in the world as it is."
Collins laughs when asked if he's aware of the petition. "I did hear about it, but I've lived through this for 50 years," he says. "I remember when I started doing work for 'Tarzan' the musical on Broadway, and went online to see what the press had said. Big mistake. They said, 'What the f--- does Phil Collins need to do Disney for?' On the other hand, I've met a lot of people these past six months who are excited for a tour."
Phil Collins will headline the second annual Little Dreams Foundation concert at 8 p.m. Friday, March 11, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave. Admission, which benefits the foundation, costs $150-$380 via Ticketmaster.com, and includes openers Diego Torres, Lou Gramm, Alvaro Soler and DJ Irie. Go to LDF.cc.