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Vel’s View: What’s A Fax? (Throwback: Phil Collins)

As the calendar flips to May, I realize its been nearly a full year since I’ve written any “throwbacks”. That’s just very weak on my part. I’m sorry.

I guess I needed a little time and inspiration. I found it, at home, during COVID-19 self-isolation in the form of a 29-year-old fax.

What’s a fax, you ask?

That’s a question I was asking when I first started in the music industry back in 1989, when this game-changing technology first appeared in the office. I guess it’s also a question anybody who started working in the music industry following the introduction of e-mail and the internet would ask too!

Well, can you imagine a time where you had to type out inter-company correspondence? Can you also imagine doing the same for external communications, with the added challenge of walking it over to the departmental fax machine; inserting the document; dialing the number; and making sure the “fax went through”?

Let me tell you, it could get stressful. Especially under deadline; in an emergency; when the line was busy; when the machine was out of paper; when there was a line-up; and when the person in front of you was faxing a lengthy document — to multiple people. I remember making a point of coming in early to do my “faxing”.

Back in March of 1991, PolyGram Records moved our head office from Montreal to Toronto. It was precipitated by our merger with A&M/Island Records. It was another year or so before both companies eventually ended up in the same building at the southeast corner of Birchmount & Denison (Markham).

By this time, I was no longer spending my days just writing artist bios and company newsletters, which is how I started in this business. I had advanced and was now responsible for National Publicity at PolyGram. My job was to work with our regional offices to set-up advance interviews and in-town media schedules when artists came to Canada to support their new releases. I would filter all Canadian requests and work with our international affiliates, usually in New York or London, to pitch, negotiate, coordinate, confirm and communicate all activities. We’d often find ourselves working directly with managers around the world too, but very rarely with the international artists themselves.

We normally wouldn’t get to interact with the artist until they arrived in Canada. I remember we used to take turns greeting every artist personally when they landed in Toronto for a “promo trip”.

So, imagine my surprise when I get direct fax from Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins.

If you’re a fan of Phil Collins or Genesis you’ll know neither was signed to PolyGram. However, PolyGram Video, and I’m talking the days of the VHS format, had the rights to Genesis: A History. The explosion of DVDs was still several years away. The current video packaging is below but that’s not what it looked like back in 1991.

If you were around for 1980s, you’ll remember quite clearly that Phil Collins was ubiquitous. He was rotating back and forth between Genesis, solo albums and he even tossed in a couple of soundtrack hits (“Against All Odds” and “Separate Lives”) just in case you had the crazy notion that he was going to give your ears a break.

Personally, I’ve always been a much bigger Peter Gabriel (original Genesis lead singer) fan myself. I don’t recall buying more than one Phil Collins and Genesis album. Honestly, you didn’t have to. Every time you turned on the radio or MuchMusic, a Phil Collins/Genesis song or video was imminent.

I just checked and counted 16 Canadian top-10 singles from 1981-1991 in Canada for Phil Collins, with 10 #1s. Now, that’s ridiculous. And that’s just the solo material. Add another nine top-10 singles and three more #1s with Genesis. Let’s just say, if you had to chisel out the Mount Rushmore of artists from the 1980s, Phil Collins would have to be included.

At the time, we had been granted the opportunity to provide Canadian media with five “phoners” (phone interviews) with Phil Collins to pre-promote the Genesis video. As you can see on the fax, Phil was kind enough to fax me directly and let me know that he had completed the first few interviews and would complete the rest the next day.

However, what really struck me was his request to see the articles as they were published. I mean, are you kidding me? It’s rare for most artists to ask to see their “press clippings”, never mind PHIL COLLINS, one of the biggest artists on the planet at that time. Respect!

Back then, I had only been in the music business for two years. Remember, I’m just the kid of an immigrant steelworker from the east end of Hamilton. I didn’t even know working in the music industry was possible. Now, I’m in direct communication with Phil Collins. Who was going to believe me?

For some reason, I’ve held onto this thing for nearly 30 years. It’s easily one of my favorite keepsakes from that time in my career. I preserve it in a clear sheet protector. And the best part, you’ll notice, is the fact Phil Collins spelled my last name incorrectly. There’s an “o” instead of a “c” at the end (Omazio). How GREAT is that? He instantly altered my heritage from Croatian to Italian. This made it even cooler.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a fuckin’ FAX!

Footnote: A few years ago, I read Phil Collins Not Dead Yet The Memoir. I loved it. It was great to get a firsthand perspective on all of those solo hits and the Genesis backstory. You have to give Phil Collins his due. He worked his ass off. I definitely regret not seeing him (or Genesis) live when I had the chance.