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.

January 2012By Comments

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 as we entered for having no coffee or tea to offer.

Then he moved to the window and, without a question being asked, started to talk. His voice, that light tenor with the soft outer-London lilt, was instantly familiar. It had the transportive effect of old perfume, taking me straight back to the eighties and high school, to last-chance slow dances to the theme from Against All Odds and long, lonely nights with nothing to keep me company but the train scene from Risky Business. Back then he was all but ubiquitous, the diminutive drummer who somehow pulled off top-of-the-chart success both as a front man for Genesis and as a solo artist. His signature songs—which ranged from earnest, lovelorn ballads (“One More Night”) to bouncy, blue-eyed soul (“Sussudio”) to, particularly with Genesis, synth-heavy pop (“Invisible Touch”)—may have had a vanilla quality, but it was a vanilla beloved the world over; the only other artists to have sold more than 100 million records both in a band and on their own are Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. And it fit perfectly with the image presented in his videos, which dominated the early days of MTV: a slightly cheeky, altogether normal guy who just happened to create music that resonated with millions of people.

And now that voice, still pervasive on grocery-store playlists, was detailing one of the ghastlier moments in Texas history. “The more Mexicans that got shot trying to get over the north wall, the more their corpses mounted up, and the easier it became for others to climb up the bodies and get over. Once they got through, they went into the long barracks, which you can still see”—he pointed to the center of our view—“though it was a two-story building then, with the hospital on top. This is where the bloody, hand-to-hand fighting took place. That was pretty grim.”

So the morning went. He sounded like a college professor, the kind who never lectures to empty seats, authoritatively examining various accounts, buying some and dismissing others, and giving frequent personal asides that showed how much the history meant to him and how long he’d been thinking about it. He described the museumlike display in the basement of his home in Switzerland, which is believed to contain the world’s largest private collection of artifacts and documents from the Texas Revolution. He talked about his book, The Alamo and Beyond, scheduled to be published in March. It’s a coffee-table edition with photos and essays he’s written about each of the two hundred items in the collection. And he traced his fascination back to being a little kid playing Alamo with toy soldiers in his garden in England. “I didn’t have an official set, didn’t even know if one existed. I just made these soldiers the Texans and these the Mexicans. I’d tried to buy Dimitri Tiomkin’s fantastic sound track to John Wayne’s The Alamo, but I couldn’t get that either. So I used the ‘William Tell Overture.’

“And this is kind of interesting,” he added, turning from the window. “After the battle, I’d set fire to the Texans, which is what they did here. Now, I did not know that is what happened. It wasn’t in any of the films I’d seen. The more I think of that, the stranger it is, and the more it ties in with the idea that I may have been here.”

On that point, he caught himself. It was as if he suddenly remembered he wasn’t addressing an eager student or fellow Alamo buff. When his collection first received widespread attention in March 2009, it had seemed odd but understandable. Of course a rock star would devote a portion of his wealth to the indulgence of a childhood fascination. But in recent months the press had sounded a different note. Rolling Stone started it in November 2010, with a brutal profile that suggested, along with a host of other mocking propositions, that he was interested in Texas history because he believes he is a reincarnated participant. The British tabloids, which have always delighted in applying their trademark snark to his personal life, pounced. Under a headline reading “I Remember the Alamo,” the Daily Mail indicated he was “one drumstick short of a pair.”

Collins realized he was treading perilously close to their favorite meme. “You know, the fact is,” he explained, as he looked back out over the San Antonio skyline, “I take all that with a pinch of salt.”

Collin's love for the Alamo was just a quiet hobby until the High Holy Days of 2009. That’s the name by which some hard-core Alamo enthusiasts refer to the annual gathering commemorating the siege in March. As the term suggests, their devotion is near religious. They come from all over the world, usually two hundred to three hundred strong, to dress in period costumes, listen to period music, and attend lectures on the latest in Alamo scholarship. One year the highlight might be a debate about the memoir of José Enrique de la Peña, the controversial narrative attributed to a Mexican officer that suggested that Crockett surrendered and was executed. The next year it might be a discussion of the authenticity of the Mexican uniforms worn in the John Wayne film. And the next it might be a question-and-answer session with historical interpreters portraying Crockett and Bowie. The attendees are obsessive, a little like Trekkies but with a major distinction: they focus on an important, historic event. Just as significantly, it’s an event with no definitive account from the defenders’ side. There’s an allure to that mystery, something the enthusiasts and academics will always reach for but never quite grasp. None of which seems all that weird in Texas. This is, after all, our history.

The enthusiasts welcomed Collins into their ranks without fanfare during the High Holy Days of 2008, but the following year he took a higher-profile role. The anniversary of the final day of the battle, March 6, fell on a Friday, and that morning, at the pre-sunrise “Dawn at the Alamo” observance, Collins read aloud the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. That afternoon he was made an honorary member of a chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. And the following evening, he was the guest speaker at the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association’s Remembrance Ceremony in the Alamo shrine.

The remembrance ceremony is a remarkably solemn event. Each year, a group that includes the descendants of those killed in battle and the noncombatants who survived are invited to a reading of the names of the heroes. Roughly 150 people show up, all of them able to recite Alamo history by chapter and verse, highlighting their family’s role. I went the year Collins spoke and noticed that the audience all seemed to know one another. While we stood in line to enter the shrine, a woman was ushered around us and through the door without waiting. The man behind me noted, “She’s a Crockett.”

Inside, the display cases at the front of the shrine had been replaced by neat rows of folding chairs spread over the worn stone floors, and the large, round, wrought-iron chandeliers overhead had been dimmed. My assigned seat was near the front, next to a blond woman who looked like a Sunday school teacher. Her name was Tammy Holsey, but she introduced herself as the great-great-great-granddaughter of Katy Jennings, whom Holsey referred to as “the Paul Revere of Texas.” Katy had been a ten-year-old girl living near present-day Manor when the Alamo fell, and her father, Gordon C. Jennings, was killed. Holsey explained that when word of the defeat reached the family homestead, the widow Jennings sent Katy on a bareback ride to alert the neighbors that Santa Anna was on the march. Holsey couldn’t have looked prouder if she’d made the ride herself. “This event is one of the few times the Alamo allows a private ceremony,” she explained. “But this is special. We are the ones who gave up an ancestor.”

Then she looked up. Collins was walking past our row, followed by a ripple effect of turned heads and murmurs. He was dressed innocuously enough, in a light blue button-down and navy trousers, and brought no entourage, no handlers or hangers-on. But as he took a seat near the podium, people around the room snapped cellphone photos of the back of his head. One man whispered that this was the biggest thing to happen at the Alamo since Fess Parker addressed the group in 2004.

The ceremony opened with a prayer, followed by a reading of the Travis letter, and then two little girls appeared, one Hispanic and one Anglo. Silently they lit thirteen candles, one for each day of the siege. Once they were gone, Collins got up to speak. He sounded genuinely humbled.

“I stand here before you not as a personality, nor as any kind of celebrity,” he said. “I am not a historian. I’m not from an academic background. Frankly, I’m not even that well educated. And if I may use an old musician’s joke, I’m not even a musician . . . I’m a drummer.” He paused to let the laugh line do its work, then went on to sincerely explain that he’d always been drawn to this history. “I think for me, it was the notion of the bravery of the men cooped up here. The idea of these men and women, your ancestors, having a choice and staying to fight for what they believed to be just and right.”

He noted his unique relationship with the Alamo myth, by referring not to some previous lifetime but to a contribution he’d made in the present. “On meeting Philip Goodrich this week, I was able to tell him of a letter I have, dated March 1836, from Benjamin Goodrich to his brother Edmund, telling him that their other brother, John, had been killed defending the Alamo. He was delighted to receive a copy.”

Collins then closed. “The bottom line is that these men, your ancestors, died fighting for what they believed to be right. So I stand here in awe of you.”

The crowd beamed silently as Collins returned to his seat, and the ceremony moved on to the Roll Call. For the next hour, the name of each person identified as having been at the Alamo was read. First came the couriers and scouts who left before the final morning, along with the other noncombatants. Then the fallen, grouped by their state or country of origin. A state would be announced, and an interpreter in period dress would appear at the back of the shrine to carry that state’s flag to the front. With each name called, that hero’s descendants would rise and be recognized. Holsey stood when “Gordon C. Jennings” was read, turning to face the state colors of Connecticut, which were presented by a large man in a flat-brimmed straw hat, a nutmeg-colored shirt with a wide frock collar, and khaki pants tucked into riding boots. Collins stood in honor of the dead from England. And then, after the Roll Call had ended, the two little girls reappeared to snuff out the candles.

"As with all men my age who are into the Alamo, it started with Walt Disney and Fess Parker and Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.” So began Collins in a phone call the week after the descendants’ ceremony. He’d not given any long interviews on the topic before and sounded thrilled at the chance to discuss it. “I was born in ’51, and by the time that show hit English TV screens, I guess I was four or five. I remember it distinctly, like a camera shutter went off in my folks’ living room. The way it finished at the Alamo seemed incredibly romantic, with Crockett doing the right thing, despite the sacrifice. I didn’t really know it was a worldwide phenomenon. I thought this was my secret.”

Collins dressed up in Crockett outfits and played Alamo alone in his garden at a time when most British kids were content with generic cowboys and Indians. His passion grew when John Wayne’s movie came out in 1960. “That was long before video, so I had to wait until it came into a cinema and go at every possible opportunity.”

By then he had discovered his other great love, the drums. At seventeen, he dropped out of school and started playing in bands. He was good. Two years later, in 1970, he landed the job that would make him a star, playing the drums with Genesis. But he never got past his fascination with the Alamo.

“It was in ’73 or ’74, Peter [Gabriel] was still in the band, and we were playing in America. It was a car tour with me, Peter, and the road manager in one car. We only got three days off, so each got to choose one stop. The road manager wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, and Peter wanted Hot Springs. I wanted to go to the Alamo.”

The band wasn’t playing in San Antonio, so they had to drive in from Houston. “I remember turning onto Alamo Plaza and seeing that iconic facade for the first time. I’d always drawn that shape. It took my breath away. Literally. I never thought I’d ever see it, and yet here I was. I went to the cinema and saw the animated film. I must have gone to the long barracks, because I remember the curved palisades against the windows, everything much darker than it is now. But the hours passed quickly. I remember little else.”

But the collection was still years away. In 1987 he was traveling again with Genesis, then as the front man on the Invisible Touch tour. One afternoon before a show in Washington, D.C., he stopped in a shop specializing in historical autographs and ephemera, looking to add to his small collection of animation cels from Walt Disney films. But instead he found a letter signed by Davy Crockett. “I’d never thought that such documents might remain,” he said.

“So did you buy it?” I asked.

“Actually, no,” he replied, and the story that followed was the only moment in the conversation that really seemed strange—though if I’d been thinking of the way that Collins the songwriter wore his heart on his sleeve, that he wrote a whole album about the end of his first marriage, maybe I would have realized that he can’t help but open up. “I remember this because my second wife was with me on that trip to D.C., and the collection didn’t begin until 1994, with a gift from my third wife.” He paused, and when he resumed there was a weight to his voice. “No one would want a life like mine. I’ve been married three times, and each time I meant it seriously.” Another pause. “It’s not the story I would have written, but it’s the one that’s been writ.”

For the next ten years the collection steadily grew as that third wife, Orianne Cevey, presented him with Alamo-related documents at every giftworthy holiday. Then, in 2004, he made his second-ever trip to San Antonio and happened into the History Shop, a storefront across from the Alamo on Houston Street. He left his email address with the shop’s owner, Jim Guimarin, a rare-documents dealer plugged into the Texana market. Soon Guimarin was supplying Collins with even greater finds, and the two became best friends.

“We’d sit in Jim’s shop, and he’d say, ‘You know, nobody’s ever dug here. They put electricity in and some sewer lines, but there was never a proper dig.’ And it’s just across from the north wall, the site of the bloodiest fighting. Well, Jim only rented the space, so I made arrangements to get him the building—”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I interrupted. “You ‘made some arrangements’?”

“Well, I gave him the money to buy it. And then we dug—”

“Wait, wait, wait. You ‘dug’? You mean you just put up a Closed sign and dug through the floor?”

“Exactly. We boarded up the place, moved his shop next door, and started digging. And we found loads of stuff! Flattened cannonballs that had bounced off the wall, cannon handles, personal effects like buttons and buckles, knives, hundreds of horseshoes.

“It’s our theory that this is where General Andrade camped when the fighting was finished and Santa Anna went off to San Jacinto. He wouldn’t have been able to stay in the compound. It would have been disgusting. Decaying bodies, blood up to your ankles. But this would have been an ideal spot, with the cattle pens right across from us and water from the acequias. So he would have stayed here and reshod the horses or put them to death. It’s quite an interesting little area.”

“That’s amazing,” I said.

Collins agreed. “You know, I’ve never been to Gettysburg. But we know what happened there, and you go to pay respects. The Alamo is constant discovery and reappraisal. That upsets some. I think it’s exciting.”

Collins's first acquisition, the gift from Cevey, was singular but obscure: a receipt for a saddle sold by John W. Smith, a courier who left the Alamo before the battle and later became the first mayor of San Antonio. “Initially it just hung very lonely in the hall with a certificate of authenticity,” Collins said. “I thought, ‘All I want is stuff from the Alamo. I don’t want to collect the whole Texas Revolution.’ But then the dialogue opens up. You start to realize the events that led to and from the Alamo were just as important.” The collection grew to tell a much larger story, one that would be familiar to Texans with only the slightest recollection of their seventh-grade Texas history class. A letter Stephen F. Austin wrote while he was in prison in Mexico in January 1834. A land grant to Sam Houston from May 1835. A Mexican propaganda broadside from December 1835, downplaying the stories that the Texian rebels had run their army out of San Antonio. The receipt Travis signed for the thirty beeves that he brought inside the Alamo on February 23, 1836, the day the siege began. A condolence letter sent by Houston to the parents of one of the men executed at Goliad. Another letter that Houston sent with Santa Anna to Washington, D.C., after San Jacinto, when the Mexican president met with Andrew Jackson to guarantee Texas’s independence.

But the greater thrill for Collins came as he started buying personal items, things like Houston’s snuffbox and an autographed copy of Crockett’s autobiography. He gathered up Brown Bess muskets used by Mexican soldiers, as well as Mexican cavalry uniforms. As his interest became better known in the collecting world, relic hunters started seeking him out with holy grail pieces. He bought the sword belt believed to have been worn by Travis when he died. A shot pouch that Crockett supposedly handed to a Mexican officer just before he was executed. A bowie knife that may have been the one carried at the Alamo by Jim Bowie himself.

And he did more than merely collect. With Guimarin and Sam Nesmith, the former Alamo curator who vets all of Collins’s purchases, he took a private tour of the San Jacinto battlefield and spent a night at Presidio La Bahía, in Goliad. And as he got further immersed in the Alamo community, he started giving back. When he learned of an immaculately detailed fifteen-by-thirteen-foot model of the garrison that had been built by an Atlanta history buff and artist named Mark Lemon, he bought it for a six-figure sum and had it shipped to San Antonio and installed in the History Shop. Then he recorded a narration for visitors who came in to see it. He paid for two new pressings of The Alamo: An Illustrated History, an out-of-print book by artist George Nelson that Collins found particularly insightful. He wrote a foreword to another book on music about the Alamo.

For one of the biggest-selling recording artists ever, it was a perfectly reasonable way to spend a small fraction of his money. It tied him to his childhood and to history. But it also gave him something to focus on during an increasingly difficult period in his life. Cevey divorced him in January 2007, suddenly leaving him a part-time dad to their two young sons, then ages two and six. Soon thereafter, a problem with the vertebrae in his neck greatly restricted his use of his left hand. He could no longer do simple things like slice an apple for his boys. He could also no longer hold drumsticks. He’d been playing the drums since he was five years old, just about the time he’d discovered Fess Parker. The Alamo was the one constant in his life that remained. For a while it stayed the private passion it had always been.

But then came the news coverage. The San Antonio Express-News wrote about him matter-of-factly in March 2009, the city seemingly flattered at the emergence of such a famous secret admirer. But the rest of the press was less kind. The eighties are an easy thing to make fun of, a fact Collins, of all people, should have kept in mind when Rolling Stone sent a reporter to Switzerland in the fall of 2010. The assignment was for a profile that would coincide with the release of his final album, Going Back, a collection of Motown covers. But Collins talked about much more. He showed off the Alamo collection and discussed a San Antonio clairvoyant who’d told him he was John W. Smith reincarnated. He didn’t say he believed her, but he didn’t rule it out either. “I don’t want to sound like a weirdo,” he told the reporter. “I’m not Shirley MacLaine. But I’m prepared to believe.” He also alluded to missing his kids and having dark days and thoughts since the end of his marriage. When the article came out, it juxtaposed a photo of him contemplating one of his muskets with a depiction of him as weird, washed-up, and suicidal.

By then Collins was concentrating on his coffee-table book, but this presented its own set of headaches. The publisher, State House Press, a nonprofit based out of Buffalo Gap that publishes works on Texas and the Civil War, had jumped at the prospect of a higher-profile—and higher-priced—volume than it had ever printed before. The two historians overseeing the project, McMurry University professors Donald S. Frazier and Stephen L. Hardin, had actually sold Collins on the notion of a stand-alone book after he approached them with an idea to collaborate with another noted Alamo enthusiast, illustrator Gary Zaboly. But when the professors went over specific items in the collection with Collins, they quickly hit a sticking point: academics have a stricter standard for verifying an item’s authenticity than deep-pocketed private collectors do.

For Frazier and Hardin, that didn’t diminish the value of the project. “You can’t get hung up on whether it’s a relic, something associated with a specific person, or a historical artifact, something from that time period,” Hardin said in a phone call last summer. He stressed that while some of Collins’s big-ticket items lacked the strict provenance, or authentication, to be absolutely traced to individual figures, they all had tremendous value as period pieces. “Take the belt that supposedly held Travis’ sword,” he told me. “That’s really hard to prove. But it’s an 1830’s sword belt from the Texas Revolution, and that’s significant. And what can we learn from examining it? We won’t learn any more from looking at Davy Crockett’s pouch than anyone else’s.

“We had some very frank conversations with Phil. Sometimes he convinced us, and sometimes he didn’t. So there will be a lot of qualifiers in this book.”

Collins addressed that issue in an email last November, just as the book was going to press. His tone was dramatically different from earlier conversations. He was particularly rankled when I asked about rumors in the Alamo community that he’d been hoodwinked on the belt, for which he’d supposedly paid $175,000. “This is all bullshit,” he wrote. “Whoever described that to you has no idea of what went on and should mind their own business! I have as much provenance as you could hope for. In my book I have a question mark in the title of the essay relating to the belt because its origin, like most Alamo artifacts, is hard to prove. Then if you do try to prove it, there are people lining up to shoot you down in flames.”

Here's how much Collins's relationship with the Alamo has changed: When we were getting off the phone in March 2009, he asked if he could email me an old family photo showing him as a five-year-old dressed in his Davy Crockett suit. Two years later, sitting in his suite at the Hyatt, he noticed the photographer’s assistant posing for some test shots while we talked. She was wearing a coonskin cap. “She’s got that cap on!” he barked. “Don’t get used to that cap! I’m trying to get rid of this thing—this ‘Phil thinks he was Davy at the Alamo’ thing.”

One month earlier he’d posted a statement on his website officially announcing his retirement from music. The British tabloids had just run a rash of stories on the subject, but according to Collins, their reasoning missed the mark. He was not disappointed by the response to his Motown record, which actually charted at number one in the UK and the Netherlands. Nor was he devoting himself full-time to the Alamo. His explanation was far simpler, though coming from a rock star, somehow harder to buy: Constant touring in the eighties and nineties had kept him from watching his three children from his first two marriages grow up. He wanted to be around for his two boys by Cevey, Mathew and Nicholas, now ages seven and ten.

The press, of course, took his announcement as an opportunity to retread the reincarnated-nutball stories. Collins, who does talk about the paranormal less skeptically than most—he offered, out of the blue, that Nesmith, the historian who does his documentation, is also a clairvoyant who “can hold a rifle and say, ‘Yes, this was here’ ”—accepts responsibility for that perception. “This is how that happened,” he explained. “My older kids used to joke, ‘You’re so into the Alamo, you were probably there.’ I never took that seriously. Then at an Alamo party a couple of years ago, a woman came up and said, ‘You are John W. Smith. You were here.’ Well, I think it’s interesting that she picked a person related to the first thing I collected, the receipt for his saddle, though we had talked about that earlier.

“So I mentioned all that to this journalist, and that became the exciting headline. But I’ve never had supernatural fever. I’ve never had paranormal anything. It scares the life out of me, frankly. But the tabloids, with me having a love of something like the Alamo, which they know nothing about, and having this collection, they just thought I was crazy. I had to say, ‘Listen. I’m not mad. I don’t believe I was there. I’m not some nutcase who sees ghosts. And I don’t want to top myself. I’m retiring to be with my little boys.’ Why don’t they just leave me alone?”

The answer is that while he can retire from recording and performing, he can’t retire from being famous. “He really is tired of being Phil Collins, Rock Star,” Hardin would say later. “He’s always very gracious when people recognize him and want a picture with him. But you can tell he’s thinking, ‘Will there ever be a day when I’m not famous?’ ”

That’s something he’s trying to deal with. “I couldn’t come in March, because people have started looking for me. They know I’m around. That’s why I’m here in April.” The publication of the book, which is his attempt to share his collection with others, will likely make it even harder for him to go unnoticed. “That’s the downside of it. I liked to wander around incognito. I really don’t want to regret writing this book, and what will decide that are people’s reactions to it. Don Frazier told me that history doesn’t sell, so I’m not expecting a big seller. It’s not an album, it’s a labor of love.”

One might wonder why he doesn’t just take his Alamo and go home; the fact that he keeps his treasures in his Swiss basement could suggest he already has. But that’s not the case. Though he got cagey when asked about his ultimate intentions for the collection, he did say he feels it should be kept intact. He stressed that he’s not one of those collectors who sells items too. And he talked about the need for a decent museum on the Alamo grounds, indicating that the long barracks would be a sensible spot.

In the meantime he means to enjoy the collection. “I bought Mathew some plastic soldiers like I used to have. But he’d go downstairs and look, amongst all the memorabilia, at these good-looking lead toy soldiers I have. He’d say, ‘When will I be old enough to have soldiers like these?’ One day I thought, ‘What am I saving these for? I’m never going to play with them.’ So I gave them to him.

“He couldn’t believe it. He keeps them up in his room and treats them as if they’re gold dust. He lays them out on the floor in the battle situations. He knows the whole story. He can tell you pretty much what happened at Goliad and San Jacinto too. It’s history, and he’s interested in it. And he’s seven.”

For now, that’s good enough for Phil Collins. Maybe it can be good enough for the rest of the world too.

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