Log in

Phil Collins honoured against all odds

Phil Collins, center, is applauded by Texas Land commissioner George P. Bush, left, and Speaker Joe Straus in the House after being named an honorary Texan, saluting his donation of Alamo artifacts Phil Collins, center, is applauded by Texas Land commissioner George P. Bush, left, and Speaker Joe Straus in the House after being named an honorary Texan, saluting his donation of Alamo artifacts Eric Gay, STF

State lawmakers named rock musician and singer Phil Collins an honorary Texan on Wednesday. Last year, Collins generously donated to the Alamo more than 200 artifacts related to the 1836 battle that he had spent decades collecting.

Plans are being developed to restore the Alamo site to as near its original footprint as possible, and Collins’ collection is expected to be displayed in a new visitor’s center. Context has been promised to ground the Alamo myth to its historical reality, and Collins’ collection will play a key role in providing that context.

In May 2012, I wrote about Collins’ collection on my former blog, Grapeshot. He had recently published "The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector’s Journey," a 400-page book documenting his collection that he wrote with the help of Donald Frazier and Stephen Hardin, history professors at McMurry University in Abilene. Austin’s Ben Powell was the book’s photographer.

Collins, 63, grew up in a London suburb in the 1950s and his interest in Texas history began when Walt Disney’s five-part "Davy Crockett" miniseries aired on British television. It was sealed a few years later with the release of John Wayne’s "The Alamo."

Until he donated his collection to the Alamo, Collins kept it in the basement of his chalet in Geneva, Switzerland. His own personal museum included a knife owned by Jim Bowie, letters from William Travis and numerous others on both sides of the Alamo siege, Texian and Mexican rifles and other weaponry, and battle orders dictated March 5, 1836, by Santa Anna, the day before the Alamo fell.

And of course there were items that had belonged to Crockett. Collins’ Crockett memorabilia included letters and other documents and publications, a shot pouch, a couple of powder horns and a rifle.

Crockett — it’s David, thank you, not Davy — is the Alamo’s iconic figure and it was Crockett who fired the young Collins’ interest in Texas history. But Collins sees Crockett clearly. "It’s possible that had Crockett survived the Alamo, or not even gone to Texas, this might have been his fate — becoming a larger than life attraction in his self-named show, ‘wowing’ audiences all over the world," he wrote in "The Alamo and Beyond."

Crockett had fled a stinging re-election loss in Tennessee, famously telling his former constituents they could go to hell, he was going to Texas. With his political career seemingly over and his public persona slipping into caricature, he was seeking a fresh start. He didn’t set out for San Antonio, but he found himself there largely because Sam Houston and the pro-Andrew Jackson faction he represented weren’t there. (Despite both being Tennesseans, Crockett fiercely opposed Jackson.) For Crockett, only circumstance and bad timing separate heroism from self-parody.

Anyone who loves history eventually realizes that the deeper you go, the richer history becomes — more complex, more nuanced, more human. "There is no doubt that the story we all grew up with has been romanticized and somewhat sanitized," Collins told the Houston Chronicle in 2012. "I resent the views that clearly show racism and also show blatant heroism. Like all battles, it was terrifying for the soldiers on both sides of the walls."

Three years ago, pondering this rock star’s love for Texas history, I pictured Collins in his Swiss chalet taking out his Crockett rifle every now and then and swinging it around like Crockett on an Alamo parapet, aiming to crack one last skull before the bayonets and musket shot found their mark. I imagined him living, for a moment, the myth that drew him in as a boy before putting Crockett’s rifle back in its case and returning to the history that held him captive as an adult.

No good Englishman is without his hobbyhorse and Collins rode his Alamo one well. We Texans thank him for it.

© Statesman, by Jody Seaborn

Last modified onFriday, 13 March 2015 16:11

Video

Phil Collins Visits the Texas State Library and Archives TSLAC

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. Basic HTML code is allowed.

Log in or Sign up