Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo

Post originally Published January 9, 2024 || Last Updated January 9, 2024

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Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - The Unlikely History Buff

Phil Collins seems an unlikely candidate for history buff. As the drummer and eventual frontman for the rock band Genesis, his career trajectory appeared set in stone: sell millions of records, play to stadiums full of adoring fans, and cement his legacy as a pop culture icon. Yet Collins found himself increasingly drawn to a peculiar fascination - the history of the Alamo.

This interest blossomed after Collins encountered the iconic Texas landmark while on tour in the 1970s. Struck by its aura of tragedy and defiance, he soon amassed a sizable collection of Alamo-related artifacts. For Collins, the Alamo represented an underdog tale of ragtag revolutionaries standing up to tyranny. It embodied a romantic ideal of freedom and independence that resonated strongly with the rock star.
Collins is hardly the first creative type to nurture an unexpected historical hobby. Oscar Wilde enthused about decorative arts while composing his scandalous plays. Winston Churchill relaxed by obsessively painting pastoral landscapes. For public figures burdened by the demands of fame, losing themselves in history's narratives can provide a sense of escape and meaning.

Pursuing these passions can also be deeply personal. Collins connected to the rebellious, anti-authoritarian spirit of the Alamo's defenders. Much like these unlikely heroes, he had defied convention by rising to stardom from humble beginnings. The Alamo's mythic status within Texan culture also intrigued this British outsider. Its symbolic potency stirred something within.
For workaholics like Collins, intense focus provides its own rewards. Learning everything about a subject, accumulating artifacts and memorizing obscure details satisfies an appetite for mastery and control. And niche interests can anchor celebrities against the disorienting effects of superstardom. Investigating the past creates stability amidst chaos.

What else is in this post?

  1. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - The Unlikely History Buff
  2. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - From Pop Star to Historian
  3. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Buying His Way into the Story
  4. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Building His Own Shrine
  5. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Righting the Wrongs of History
  6. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - The Cost of Obsession
  7. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Criticism from Historians
  8. Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - From Genesis to the Genesis of a New Passion

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - From Pop Star to Historian

Collins' emergence as an Alamo historian seems incongruous for a rock star famous for pop hits like "In the Air Tonight" and "Sussudio". Yet his journey from drummer to documentarian has precedents within the entertainment industry.

Actors like Leonard Nimoy, best known as Spock on Star Trek, harbored a lifelong fascination with photography. He compiled collections of images ranging from celebrity portraits to street scenes. The photography allowed Nimoy to exercise different creative muscles and capture intriguing slivers of humanity. Fusing an artistic sensibility with scholarly diligence, he published multiple books showcasing his work.
Gene Simmons of Kiss fame nurtured a similarly eclectic array of hobbies. He obtained a degree in education prior to rock stardom. An inveterate collector and entrepreneur, Simmons amassed over 10,000 comic books and patented hundreds of trademarks. His intellectual curiosity led him to program video games and launch a magazine devoted to wealth management.

Like Nimoy and Simmons, Collins found stimulation in learning new skills unrelated to his celebrity. Curiosity spurred him to piece together the Alamo’s expansive narrative from books, artifacts and deep research. He embraced the challenges of historical study, which requires evaluating sources, weighing conflicting accounts and bringing clarity to convoluted events.
Collins likely identified with the legend's underdog appeal as well. The Alamo's defenders, while vastly outnumbered, chose to fight valiantly for freedom rather than surrender. This underdog mindset drove Collins in pursuing music against his father's wishes as a rebellious teen. It later compelled him to keep performing despite critics maligning Genesis' artistic merits.

In Collins' estimation, the Alamo's real history had been obscured by mythmaking. So he sought to rectify the record, much as an academic scholar would, by collecting original source documents and establishing an extensive research library. He even flew in prominent historians to verify his artifacts’ legitimacy. This systematic approach reflects a keen scholarly intellect.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Buying His Way into the Story

Collins wasn’t content with just reading about the Alamo; he wanted a more hands-on connection to the historical event. This led him to begin buying up significant Alamo artifacts starting in the 1990s, eventually amassing one of the largest private collections in the world.

For Collins, owning these artifacts provided a tangible link to the past. Items like Jim Bowie’s legendary knife, William Travis’ sword, and Davy Crockett’s bullet pouch allowed Collins to literally hold history in his hands. Despite their value, he pursued these artifacts not for investment purposes but to preserve vital pieces of the Alamo story.
Yet some critics contend Collins overstepped by purchasing these artifacts for his personal collection. They belong in museums, the argument goes, where the public can access and appreciate them. In response, Collins has stressed his commitment to responsible stewardship and research. The provenance of each item has been thoroughly verified by experts to prevent forgeries from polluting the historical record.

Collins also spent lavishly to restore many artifacts damaged by time and neglect. For instance, he paid to conserve Travis’ sword, which had become severely corroded. By preserving these artifacts’ integrity, Collins gave future generations a chance to see the past as it truly was. Far from plundering history for his own gain, he sees himself as securing the legacy of the Alamo’s defenders.
Other wealthy benefactors like Ross Perot Jr. have also amassed huge troves of Alamo-related artifacts. Yet the depth of Collins’ collection remains unrivaled. He even famously outbid fellow rock star Ozzy Osbourne in obtaining a historic knife once owned by Bowie. For dedicated aficionados like Collins, cost is no barrier to owning a piece of history’s most storied events.
Still, Collins has dealt with criticism over the ethics of private individuals buying up the past. Some suggest artifacts belong to the public’s shared heritage. But the astronomical prices Collins has paid at auction allowed small museums to benefit. His 2001 purchase of Travis’ sword for $1.24 million, then a record price for Texas history artifacts, generated funds for the tiny San Jacinto Museum of History.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Building His Own Shrine

Collins’ Alamo zeal culminated in building his own shrine to the historic site in his Swiss mansion. This private replica allowed him to share his expansive collection in an immersive setting. For Collins, it represented the ultimate way to indulge his Alamo obsession.

Other mega-collectors have constructed their own museums too. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen converted a hangar into the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum to showcase his collection of vintage planes and tanks. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris built Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield, Missouri to house his huge animal exhibits and dioramas.
But these public museums differ from Collins’ personal Alamo reproduction. He did not aim to draw crowds, but rather create an atmospheric recreation where he could reflect on the past. The shrine evokes a religious devotion — it exists solely for Collins’ solitary contemplation.

Still, Collins spared no effort or expense in realizing his vision. He recruited expert craftsmen and spent over $10 million, striving for utmost authenticity. The shrine mirrors the Alamo chapel down to the finest details thanks to Collins’ extensive research library. Visitors enter through a scale model facade into a hauntingly precise reproduction of the original 184 x 74 foot church.

Inside, Collins displayed his vast collection alongside the painstaking recreation. Travis’ sword rests beside a near-perfect likeness of the commander laid out on his deathbed. alongside Bowie's knife and Crockett’s bullet pouch. These artifacts breathe life into the space, transporting Collins back in time. The juxtaposition heightens the intestine solemnity.
For history buffs like Collins, imagination matters as much as accuracy. By curating his collection within a realistic recreation of the Alamo interior, Collins could almost feel present at the legendary battle. The evocative diorama allowed him to vividly connect with the past on an emotional level.

Owning these artifacts gave Collins a palpable a sense of control over history’s narrative. Yet recreating the shrine provided deeper immersion by showcasing the artifacts in context. Collins could both possess and experience the past within his replica Alamo. This hands-on approach to history reflects Collins’ need to grasp the elusive Alamo story as tangibly as possible.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Righting the Wrongs of History

Collins viewed his Alamo obsession as a way to right the wrongs of history. In his eyes, the full story of the Alamo defenders had been whitewashed over time. Their legacy had become more legend than fact. By amassing original documents and artifacts, Collins aimed to set the record straight with an authentic retelling.
This impulse has driven other celebrity history buffs as well. Brad Pitt expressed a similar motivation for his extensive involvement in a documentary about General James Longstreet, who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Pitt explained that “there’s a real danger in history getting oversimplified” into heroes and villains. He hoped the film could reveal Longstreet’s complexity and contradictions in service of a more nuanced understanding of U.S. history.
Gene Simmons of Kiss became captivated by the story ofmusician George Masa, who died in obscurity after photographing the early years of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Simmons poured years of research into reconstructing this forgotten figure. “I wanted to right a wrong,” Simmons said, by ensuring Masa received recognition for his artistic contributions.

Like Pitt and Simmons, Collins aimed to flesh out one-dimensional portrayals of historical figures with his Alamo project. Too often we reduce complex people to caricatures, their nuances airbrushed away. But Collins knew the Alamo defenders were neither spotless heroes nor sinister villains.

By exploring their full humanity - including their flaws and contradictions - Collins sought to immortalize the authentic story rather than the myth. In his view, restoring the unvarnished truth allows us to appreciate the past without idealizing or demonizing its participants. It connects us to our shared fallibility.
Collins also hoped his exhaustive research could resolve lingering questions about the Alamo. For instance, historians still debate specifics like where Colonel Travis drew his famous line in the sand. Or exactly how Bowie died in his sickbed. By scouring primary sources, Collins aimed to settle disputes over the evidence. Pinning down elusive facts helps advance our collective understanding of the past.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - The Cost of Obsession

Collins' all-consuming passion for the Alamo did not come without costs. His single-minded pursuit of artifacts and exhaustive research exacted a toll on his personal life and career. While obsessive interests offer escape, they can potentially take over if left unchecked.

Marriages have ended over less. Collins’ obsession contributed to his 2008 divorce after 12 years of marriage. His former wife Jill Tavelman remarked that during their relationship, “I would be sitting here with the kids and he would be upstairs, all locked away in his Alamo.” Being perpetually shut away cataloging artifacts strained their family life.

Other celebrities have seen their relationships suffer due to obsessive hobbies. Nicolas Cage’s compulsive purchases of castles and shrunken heads reportedly played a role in his divorce as well. When passions turn into isolation, partners can feel neglected. The same determinism that drives successful people to excel in their careers can sabotage balance at home.
Beyond his marriage, Collins’ obsession also impacted his career. His musical output slowed to a trickle in the 2000s as he poured energy into his Alamo collection. Even the long-gestating Genesis reunion ended up delayed multiple years due to his inflexible schedule. Touring or recording meant taking time away from his historical passion.

While Collins clearly loved music, his obsession pulled focus. Straying outside one’s core competency can divert time and resources from the craft that made them famous in the first place. NBA star Shaquille O’Neal ran into similar issues when his business ventures in entertainment and restaurants spread him too thin, compromising his play.
Ironically, escaping into obsessive hobbies to relieve stress can ultimately generate more anxiety. Compulsive collecting fueled itself as Collins tried obtaining every existing Alamo artifact. Anxious to complete his shrine replica precisely, he continued tweaking the exhibit. For rigid perfectionists, projects can never be quite finished. The pleasure of the process itself becomes fleeting.
Perhaps above all, Collins’ preoccupation with the past prevented him from fully enjoying the present. While understandable as a reaction to the pressures of fame, obsessions can lead to tunnel vision. Life becomes solely about the collection or project, rather than spending time with loved ones or appreciating each day. Choosing to live in the moment matters most.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - Criticism from Historians

Collins has not been immune to criticism over his Alamo obsession. Skepticism has come loudest from within the history community itself. To many scholars and academics, Collins committing lavish resources to his personal shrine seems excessive. They contend he has crossed from enthusiast to egocentric.
This backlash partly stems from resentment of Collins' outsider status. He lacks formal credentials as a historian, though clearly possesses extensive self-taught expertise. Academics deride his approach as dilettantish rather than rigorous. They dismiss him as a wealthy celebrity indulging an eccentric whim. In their view, true scholarship requires institutional training and peer review, not just passion.

But this critique smacks of elitism. Collins has curated his collection and researched the Alamo as meticulously as any career academic. He partnered with top experts to verify his artifacts and source materials. Collins clearly takes the subject seriously and abhors anything that might pollute the historical record. While unconventional, his thoroughly systematic methods demonstrate intellectual aptitude.
Critics also contend the Alamo narrative has been excessively romanticized. They argue we should challenge comforting patriotic myths, not uncritically exalt flawed heroes. Collins' reverence for the Alamo defenders seemingly perpetuates idealization of the past. He even nicknamed his Swiss chateau “The Alamo.” To some scholars, this feels uncomfortably close to propaganda that airbrushes away complex realities.
Yet Collins has stressed his interest in the unvarnished truth, warts and all. He recognizes the defenders’ contradictions and seeks to memorialize their humanity. Collins decries the simplistic ways we turn historical figures into superheroes or villains. His extensive primary source research aims to capture nuanced truth rather than tall tales. If anything, he sees puncturing myth as essential to honoring the past.
Other historians suggest Collins’ vast expenditures could be better directed to museums and preservation. They argue scarce resources should go toward conserving artifacts and sites for public access, not furthering one man’s private collection. Though Collins has loaned items to institutions like the Alamo itself, ownership remains in his hands alone. To critics, this seems selfish rather than truly serving history’s legacy.

Still, the exorbitant prices Collins paid at auction generated proceeds benefiting underfunded museums and nonprofits. His record-setting purchases raised the profile of Texas history and brought smaller institutions much-needed funds. And Collins has been diligent in restoring damaged artifacts that otherwise may have remained in disrepair. He sees himself as securing artifacts for posterity, not just personal gratification.
Obsessive interests can illuminate truths. By delving deeper than most into the Alamo’s history, Collins has brought rare artifacts to light and enriched public knowledge. Who better to take custody of forgotten relics than someone with limitless passion? Collins’ peculiar fixation has advanced preservation and scholarship around an iconic historical event, despite the unconventional nature.

Against All Odds: How Phil Collins Became Obsessed with the Alamo - From Genesis to the Genesis of a New Passion

Phil Collins’ musical origins could not seem further removed from the world of the Alamo. As drummer and eventual frontman of the rock band Genesis, Collins ascended to stardom in the 1970s and 1980s playing progressive and art rock. Hits like “Invisible Touch” and “Land of Confusion” established Genesis as icons of cerebral British pop.

Yet Collins became increasingly drawn to history, eventually developing an all-consuming fixation on the Alamo in particular. This incongruous new passion mystified many fans. Weren’t rock stars supposed to indulge in partying and excess, not bookish study?

In truth, Collins has always possessed an restless, inquisitive mind beneath the pop star veneer. He taught himself to play drums as a child and later picked up keyboards and guitar. Even within Genesis, Collins pushed the avant-garde band toward more concise pop songcraft. He nurtured his creative spirit by staying open to exploring new directions.
Collins found escape in the Alamo’s mythic narrative of brave underdogs fighting for freedom. The story resonated with his own defiant journey rising to fame against his father's wishes as a rebellious teen. He saw parallels to the Alamo defenders in how Genesis persevered artistically despite enduring scorn from music critics who derided the band as pretentious.

Studying history also satisfied Collins’ analytical intellect. He dove into research with scholarly discipline, amassing an extensive library of primary sources. Learning everything about a subject brings great satisfaction to curious minds like Collins'. Pouring his boundless energy into Alamo research provided intellectual stimulation beyond just writing songs.
Other musicians have been drawn to history’s narratives as well. Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson is a lifelong World War II buff and even flew a Spitfire in a mock dogfight. Songwriter Jon Anderson of Yes researched the life of French Impressionist Paul Gauguin for a concept album. By exploring the past, creative spirits uncover new wells of inspiration.
Some celebrities take this further by essentially reinventing themselves as historians. Country singer Ken Burns has built a second career creating epic documentaries about subjects like the Civil War and baseball. Comedian Steve Martin became an expert on Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Han van Meegeren, giving lectures on his oeuvre.
Like Burns and Martin, Collins found meaning by wholeheartedly embracing a new passion unrelated to fame. His tireless Alamo research reflects deep intellectual engagement, not just dabbling. Indeed, Collins has arguably done more to raise awareness of the Alamo than any academic historian simply by leveraging his celebrity platform.
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