Remembering the Alamo With Phil Collins

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Photos by Patrick Michels
Phil Collins waxes historical in Fair Park's Hall of State after his talk Monday night.
If you ask Phil Collins, Mexican colonel and Battle of the Alamo memoirist José Enrique de la Peña​ has been getting a raw deal in the press. There's plenty of good history in the officer's records, Collins told his audience at the Hall of State in Fair Park last night, and naturally "people focused on two or three pages." That'd be the part of the book where Davy Crockett surrenders and begs Santa Anna for his life.

"If it did turn out that he didn't go down swinging," Collins said, "I don't think anything less of him for that."

The point's not purely academic for the Genesis drummer and lifelong Alamophile. As Collins said in his audience with the Dallas Historical Society, his collection includes "what is purported to be Crockett's pouch," which Collins says still has a pair of musket balls tucked inside. "The story was that [de la Peña] was given them by Crockett when he pleaded for his life," he said.

About 150 lovers of history and that drum solo from "In the Air Tonight" turned up to hear Collins shoot the breeze with Angus Wynne and former historical society president Lindalyn Adams, before joining the man behind the music of Tarzan for a VIP reception upstairs. Collins has been in town wrapping up work on a book, due out next year, about the Texas Revolution, and though he said he's been fascinated by the Alamo from the age of 5, his collection of Alamo ephemera began later. "That's what I spend my money on. No Ferraris," he said. "And the more you show an interest, the more stuff comes your way."

The San Antonio Opera Society once approached him about writing an Alamo-themed piece of music, but Collins says, hard as he tried he couldn't write for "people singing at the walls, Crockett bursting into song." His album of Motown covers is due out in September.

Egged on by Adams, Collins did recount some of his rock glory days, including the fact that Dallas was his rehearsal home along U.S. tours, with two or three weeks at Governor's Row or Las Colinas. Adams wondered what it was like working with Disney on Tarzan, sending Collins down a meandering path past Sting -- "not a team player," he said -- to the time he and his family lived with Kenny Baker, the man who played R2-D2.

The Alamo got Collins's best stories, though, from the time a psychic told him he was the reincarnation of Alamo messenger John W. Smith, to the one about the land he bought in downtown San Antonio so that a few local enthusiasts could excavate it.

Collins said he hadn't planned on telling the story of Crockett's pouch, though, until one sharp guy in the audience pointed out that John Lee Hancock directed both The Blind Side, starring Collins' daughter Lily, and 2004's version of The Alamo.

"I loved the film," Collins said, clearly straining to stay tactful. "I could watch pretty much anything about the Alamo and get something out of it."

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