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The cruise felt to me like living in New York City: too much stuff going on that I mostly didn’t find interesting or appealing but felt guilty if I didn’t participate in. How could I not show up for the Love and Marriage Game Show? They were doing this for my benefit! Everyone else would be there!

6:15 in the morning on the Lido Deck (the upper deck with the pool and buffet; I’d only heard the term before in Cole Porter songs) was different. No crush of humanity: just a few crew members, cleaning up, putting out breakfast. A scattering of passengers, some sitting and reading (victims of divergent sleep schedules with their bunkmates?), some in sweat pants making coffee runs, and of course the joggers/walkers, they seem to come with the 6:15 AM territory. Hazy light, sun just coming up, ocean in all directions. It was one of the only times I actually felt like I was on a boat.

And 80’s pop hits, which they played on the huge speakers also used for movie night and disco night (I didn’t go to either, I’m a bad sport). This song came on, as I stood there staring out on the water, and I swear to God for that three minutes it sounded like the greatest song in the world. The jittery drum machine, the synthesizer fills, the echo-y slow burn vocal: at that volume, at that time of the morning, it just connected.

I even listened to the words, which Phil is on record as having made up in front of the microphone and written down later. I’d never realized how angry they were. Phil was going through a painful divorce at the time, and the second verse certainly seems to describe that, though the first verse seems more like the sort of diatribe against a Record Company Person that any working musician could spontaneously produce.

And the chorus? What exactly is “coming in the air tonight”? Who knows. Violence, sexual violence, physical violence, a sock in the jaw, a mob hit. Or maybe something psychological, positive, a sudden Zen-like detachment from the anger that’s tormenting the singer. Phil himself probably doesn’t know specifically, though he delivers the line convincingly enough that it doesn’t matter.

The thing is, I don’t even like this song. I didn’t like it back in 1981 when it was released, and I liked it even less the last time I heard it in Fenway Park with hundreds of people playing air drums to the bridge. I’d be okay if I never heard it again. But as I say, in that moment on the ship’s deck…

philcollins

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