The Big Blue — the strange case of Phil collins and the urban legend

Scary Stories Session 15 is all about our oceans and the fear we have of drowning. The final story is a retelling of the urban legend behind Phil Collins’ apparent inspiration for writing In the Air Tonight.

The story goes, that Collins once witnessed a man drowning. While he was too far away to help, he noticed a man that was close enough simply watching the person drown. This haunted Collins to such an extent that he wrote a verse about it for the song In the Air Tonight.

Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies
— In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins

The legend culminates in a dramatic scene in which Collins sees the man one night at his concert, singles him out and sings the verse to him.

The problem with this is that Collins never witnessed anyone drowning nor did he ever single anyone out at a concert to sing the verse to them. Collins has long denied the whole thing and said it is one of the few songs for which he has no meaning. He has always said of In the Air Tonight, that he was going through a painful and acrimonious divorce at the time so his best guess is that the song embodies his anger.

Verity ClaytonComment