This piece of folklore was told to me by a friend while we were talking about music he mentioned the story offhand and I got my recorder and asked him to tell me the whole story
“This is sort of like a music urban legend and it has to do with the song In the air by Phil Collins. Anyway the story goes that In The Air Tonight is actually based on a true story. So like the story goes that a while before Phil Collins wrote the song he was standing and he was on a bridge and he looked down and he saw that there was this guy drowning but Phil Collins was too far away to rescue him but he saw this other guy who was near enough to save the guy who was drowning and that man just let the guy drown. So the story goes that after that experience Phil Collins wrote In The Air Tonight about that incident and thats what all the lyrics like “If you were drowning I would not lend a hand” come from. And supposedly after Phil Collins wrote the song he saw the man again at one of his concerts and Phil Collins looked the guy dead in the eyes and played In The Air Tonight right at him. And thats sort of the legend that goes along with that song.”
Background information about the performance from the informant: “I heard this when I was in a record store and I was talking to someone there about music and Phil Collins came up and he was like “do you know what In The Air Tonight is actually about?” and I told him I didn’t and told me this whole crazy story and since then I’ve heard it a couple other times and its just one of those rock and roll legends that probably aren’t true but are fun to talk about.”
Conclusion: This piece is interesting because it is a very modern piece of folklore. In the Air Tonight was released in 1981 which means that the legend is only a couple decades old. It is also interesting because it appears to be a complete fabrication with no basis in reality. Phil Collins has stated multiple times that none of the events described above occurred. I think that this stories serves as a musical creation myth. A fun explanation for why a song came to be that people can share with each other.
Annotation: If you would like to learn more about the history of this urban legend read “FACT CHECK: In the Air Tonight.” Snopes.com. N.p., 21 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.