Come and Take a Look at Me Now

When British pop star Phil Collins revealed that he owned one of the largest collections of Alamo artifacts in the world and that a psychic had suggested he just might have been at the mission in a previous life, the world reacted with predictable scorn. But as with his music, Collins is willing to suffer for his passions.

Phil Collins reading the San Antonio Express-News

On a Saturday morning last April, Phil Collins was looking out the window of his suite atop San Antonio’s Hyatt Regency on the River Walk. It’s not the biggest or the priciest room in the hotel, the one in which you’d expect to find a pop star who’s sold more than 250 million records, but it’s the one Collins always asks for when he comes to town. That’s because it provides the best view of the Alamo, and at that moment he was making good use of it, his left index finger pressed lightly to the glass. “Crockett defended the palisade, of course, which is the row of sharpened wooden poles that ran diagonally from that end of the Alamo,” he said, pointing at the chapel’s south corner. “Outside that was what is called an ‘abatis,’ trees that had been cut down and pointed outwards to slow down the enemy. That’s why there wasn’t much killing in this area, because of the Tennesseans and their rifles, the cannons, and the abatis. So the Mexicans decided to attack other areas.”

He moved his finger down the window as he outlined the rest of the garrison. On the streets, sightseers filled the plaza, but Collins scarcely noticed. Occasionally he pulled his hand to his face and stroked his stubbled chin as he summoned the details, but then he pointed again. The pauses were brief. “Those white tents are where the lunette was, the main entrance. And the building where Bowie died was on that grass patch. The Mexicans tried to get up the wall here and here,” he said, moving his finger along Alamo Street before letting his gaze settle on the federal building to the left of the cenotaph, “until eventually everybody ended up here, around the north wall. Beyond there, behind the federal building, there’s a car park where Santa Anna had his battlefield headquarters. That’s where he stood and watched the north wall, sending in more and more troops. That wall was the weakest point of the Alamo, and he knew it. The Texans knew it too.”

We’d been together all of five minutes, but he talked as if he’d forgotten I was there. When I’d arrived, with a photographer and her assistant, he’d been the picture of proper English manners, waiting in the hallway for us as we got off the elevator, then ushering us into the suite he’d been in all week. The living area looked freshly tidied, with some manila folders, bearing handwritten titles like “Bowie Knife,” stacked neatly on the bar by an unopened complimentary bottle of wine. Through a doorway I noticed a bed that he’d clearly tried to make himself. He wore a pair of denim painter’s pants and a cream-colored polo with its collar flipped and an image of the Alamo over his heart. His beard appeared to sport three or four days’ worth of growth, his shaven head maybe one or two. He apologized

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