Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Phil Collins - I Wish It Would Rain Down (1990)

**1/2 (of four)

My friend Bambi* is possibly my favorite person to watch music videos with. Not only does she have an encyclopediac knowledge of artists, songs and clips from the ubiquitous to the thoroughly obscure, she also has the innate sense of irony that renders awful videos from decades past completely watchable.

One summer night a few years ago, Bambi and I were lying head-to-head at the intersection of the L-shaped sofa in my mom's basement, scanning through a tape I put together during one of VH1's History of Music Video A-Z weekend specials. And, somewhere in between Peter Cetera and Crowded House, we happened upon the epic black-and-white video for Phil Collins' "I Wish It Would Rain Down." And we laughed our asses off.

The "Rain" video comes on the heel's of Phil's leading man debut in the British caper flick Buster, and clearly Phil's sting from the proverbial acting bug is still bright red and throbbing. The concept here is both transparent and ambitious, as Phil plays a drummer named Bill Collins who gets the chance to sing lead and become a huge star when his band's original singer (one Jeter Gabriel, I suspect) is out sick with appendicitis.

A cheeky Eric Clapton, who plays guitar on the record and in the video, looks on as Phil - excuse me, Bill - is handed the lyric sheet for the first time and belts out "I Wish It Would Rain Down" in an empty auditorium. The band's skeptical managers/agents/record execs are silenced when they realize Bill Collins is not just a pretty boy kewpie doll with a comma-shaped wisp of sandy-colored hair but a bonafide singer and adult-contemporary star in the making.

The whole thing is just a little too autobiographically ludicrous, especially considering it's a fantasy run-through of Phil's career set in the 1930s and '40s. Which means Phil gets digitally inserted over Bogart's shoulder in a Maltese Falcon clip, plays a Southern gentleman in a Broadway production called "The Way to Heaven" and is, for one brief, uncomical second, a Marx brother. He even fucks Marilyn Monroe doggystyle - hey, as long as you're dreaming, why not?

But what really got me and Bambi laughing in the basement that July night was the notion that the Phil/Bill Collins saga should have become a trend ripped off by the other huge stars of 1990. We would have loved to see fictional accounts of the rise and fall of Bichael Jackson. Or Bem-Cee Hammer. An entire line of phony videos, completely lost. It's enough to provoke tears.

* = Which is not her given name but an alias she uses. Not because she's a stripper or wannabe porn star but because her father was shot to death by a hunter in the woods several decades ago.