Sometime in 1983 or so, I got really into the band Genesis, after the release of their self-titled album of that year. I still look back at that record and its two predecessors from the turn of the '80s, "Duke" and "Abacab," as their best, where they managed to mix art-rock and pop deftly, without turning silly.
Yes, I turned into a pretty big fanboy: I went back into the old catalogue and bought the Peter Gabriel-era prog-rock sets too, and I enjoyed them. The later stuff, like "Invisible Touch" and "We Can't Dance"? I think I picked those up more out of duty than pure enjoyment. But I never tired of Phil Collins's drumming, whether on "Selling England By the Pound" or Gabriel's epochal third album or his own solo work. He remains one of the reasons I'm a drummer today.
I saw Collins play live a couple of times, once on the final pre-reunion Genesis tour in the '90s, and once at an arena tour with his solo band. He always put on a good show, with great lighting. At his solo performance, his then-teenaged son sat in on drums, despite having recently broken an arm.
It's not a huge surprise that Collins announced his retirement (via Paul) from recording and performing this week (although whether it will be a Cher/Celine Dion–style retirement or a more real one is an open question). He's been in the entertainment business for something like 45 years—as a child actor he was an extra in A Hard Day's Night—and he certainly has little left to prove.
He's taken his share of slagging over the years, especially when you couldn't avoid him during the '80s, and as he slid into mellow late-period Elton, Rod, and Sting–style music a decade later. But put on a track like "Turn It On Again," "No Self Control," "Misunderstanding," or, of course, "In the Air Tonight"—you can't deny something brilliant there. And he was a pioneer with drum machines and electronic percussion too.
One interesting thing about his drumming: his drum kits have always been set up left-handed. That's unusual even for left-handers like Collins, since so much in drumming requires a kind of ambidexterity. (Ringo Starr, conversely, is also left-handed, but has always played a right-handed kit.) In my case, with a regular right-handed set, I hit the main beats with my left hand, on the snare drum, and my right foot on the bass drum. My right arm handles the hi-hat and most of the other cymbals, and both hands work the tom-toms.
I'm not sure how Collins's reversed setup has affected how he plays, but it certainly hasn't hurt his career. If he doesn't retire fully, I wonder if he might return to his early foray into jazz fusion with Brand X (not that I would actually enjoy that) or something equally strange?