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HELLO, I MUST BE GOING

Phil Collins has had his fill of the road.

The megasuccessful singer is stepping off the rock carousel after three decades of nearly nonstop touring. Although he'll keep making records, Collins has tired of trotting the globe while his family waits at home.

Along the way, Collins' career has been among pop's most impressive, with stints as a drummer, singer, composer, producer and actor, beginning in the heyday of 1960s British art-rock with Genesis and later the fusion outfit Brand X before moving on to huge worldwide stardom encompassing big band, soundtracks, Motown and radio-friendly ballads.

Collins still has a firm grip on the airwaves, no small feat at a time when artists his age (53) find it tough to get airplay. Dave Burns, program director at adult-contemporary KMLT-FM in Thousand Oaks, Calif., explains why: "People genuinely like him. He's an Everyman. He looks like someone who could work in a factory, yet when he sings, it's magic. Plus, you don't hear any bad press about him."

To mark the decision to put his suitcases in storage, Collins is heading out on his First Final Farewell Tour, a quick cross country trek that started in August in California and comes to Tampa on Wednesday. The tour ends Thursday in South Florida.

With some 100-million solo albums sold (250-million if you count his work with Genesis) and seven Grammy Awards, Collins appeals to the same audience that adores Elton John, Celine Dion and Rod Stewart.

Tuesday sees the release of Collins' 25-song double-disc Love Songs album, gathering such signature hits as One More Night, Against All Odds, Groovy Kind of Love and Two Hearts, alongside personal favorites, rarities and previously unissued live performances. The track list includes You'll Be in My Heart, from the animated film Tarzan, which earned Collins the triple crown of Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy.

We reached the British-born Collins last month at home in Switzerland, where he has lived for 10 years.

So, you've had enough.

If I didn't stop now, I'd be touring until I die, and I have a 3{-year-old who's starting school in '06 and another baby due in November. I need to be here for that. So, the time has come to readjust. But I'm not retiring. I'm still going to make albums and write and make videos and even do the occasional concert. But the touring aspect, where you pack a bag and say goodbye for what amounts to two years _ that's finished for me.

Except for leaving home, the touring life itself probably isn't so bad.

Not at all. I'm at the stage where we fly on our own plane and stay at the best hotels. There's no hardship. I love it. I'm not quitting because I hate it. This is me as a human being with a personal agenda. I realized I want be here for my kids. (Collins has three other children, ages 15 to 32, from previous marriages).

You've had such a long, fruitful relationship with radio. Are you disappointed how the medium has changed so drastically?

I went to a radio station in New York in '96 when Dance Into the Light came out to do an interview, and all they were playing was my old stuff. I said, "Here, I'll give you the new CD. Can you play something?" And the DJ said, "No, we can't play CDs anymore because it's all computerized and automated." So even almost 10 years ago, radio had stopped being a spontaneous thing. I used to go on the road with records (by other artists) that I'd brought from home, so when I'd do radio interviews I could play some of my favorite music. I don't want to make it sound like we've lost all hope. I know change has to come, but maybe the price is a little high.

I saw someone wearing a T-shirt the other day that said, "Music, yes _ Grammys, no."

That was somebody who's never won a Grammy. Winning a Grammy or an Oscar or any of those prestigious high-end awards _ there's nothing like it. It's a wonderful thing. I mean, I sometimes question how they get their nominations together. And I don't think the world needs another awards show by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm proud of those trophies.

As a 13-year-old, you were in the classic Beatles film A Hard Day's Night.

I was in the concert sequence, in the audience. A bunch of us from school were bused to this West End theater, but we weren't told why. When the Beatles came out on stage, we naturally just did what we did. I was listening, but my friends were all screaming. We knew it was important, and we later saw it 20 times in cinemas when it came out in 1964. Years later (in 1994), I got to narrate The Making of A Hard Day's Night (now on DVD), and I freeze-framed the shots of me in the audience. In fact, I circled my head just to prove I was really there.

You came up at a time when there were about a dozen weekly music papers in the U.K. Now, they're gone, including the long-running Melody Maker.

Melody Maker was the Sunday Times of the music press. But when punk happened in the late '70s, the attitude became very negative and vindictive, and a lot of the writers moved over and the young kids took over. At some point, the circulation dropped, and the paper petered out due to lack of interest. I subscribe to Mojo. Any magazine that can have Miles Davis, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin in the same issue is a true music magazine. I even write to them now and again congratulating them on the diversity. That's what radio used to be _ Zappa, Miles, the Zombies, Hendrix _ a complete cross section.

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