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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ode To Phoebe Snow



I hardly write anymore. So much of what moves me to write ultimately breaks my heart. I received sad news today. Sadder than even I'd care to admit. Phoebe Snow, the distinctively voiced singer-songwriter who penned the ’70s radio staple “Poetry Man” and toured with the likes of Jackson Browne, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, and Paul Simon (she appeared on his hit “Gone at Last”), has passed away following complications from a 2010 brain hemorrhage. She was 58. Some reports now give her age as 60.

Please feel free to talk and remember her uniqueness amongst yourselves.

There are certain things that come to mind whenever I hear her name:

For some reason, long ago and far away, as a teen, it always seemed as if this stranger had GOTTEN me... I mean gotten to the heart of me. She was singing directly to my internal self... long before I'd ever gotten to know the me no one else knew; the true and authentic me: Poetry Man. She was calling me out, my behaviors, my shynesses, my ways which were sometimes unexplainable to even me. Folk, jazz and blues were her calling card and she performed each with such soul-deep understanding. Unique is the only word that comes to mind.

A part of the fascination was that you could not so easily tell what she was or who she was. Her racial breakdown was an initial ambiguity, at least from the pictures being marketed around the time of her debut. Her album cover featured a curly-haired woman-child with a host of moles, but colorless skin tone. I get it now. Perhaps those who handled her career wanted her to be seen as anyone and everyone. I mistakingly thought she was bi-racial. When you heard her sing (SANG!)) you somehow KNEW that Black (and Blues) HAD to be involved. Turns out that in reality, she was a soulful Jewish chick with lots of gravitas.

I don't recall ever crying real tears when reading about someone I didn't know personally until I'd happened upon an old Esquire article reviewing the ins, outs and trapwires of Miss Snow's life, her difficulty in finding love, her feelings of being endlessly unworthy, unpretty, her first heartbreak, the death of her first and perhaps only real lover, the birth of her first and only child who would know a host of mental and physical hardships. It was as if Life had handed this one woman every imagined heartbreak, and had only given her this extraordinary voice as payment.

Snow’s self-titled 1974 debut was almost instantly successful, spawning the top-5 hit “Poetry Man” and earning her a 1975 Grammy nod for Best New Artist (she lost to Marvin Hamlisch... ummm WTF?). Many collaborations and several smaller successes followed, though Snow’s career was ultimately sidelined by the care required for her daughter, Valerie, born severely brain-injured in December 1975.

“Occasionally I put an album out, but I didn’t like to tour, and [the albums] didn’t get a lot of label support,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. “But you know what? It didn’t really matter because I got to stay home more with Valerie, and that time was precious.”

Younger audiences may know her bluesy croon best from commercial jingles—she sang the theme song for the Cosby spinoff A Different World, as well as “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life” for General Foods International Coffees, and was featured in ads for Michelob, AT&T, and Hallmark. She also appeared frequently on Howard Stern, and performed at Stern’s wedding in 2008. Damn! Even HOWARD liked and appreciated her... and she didn't have to strip down to a bikini, or have cold cuts thrown at her ass!

Another GREAT song of hers is the autobiographical HARPO'S BLUES. It's so far and beyond being simply poetic... like the mark of any true artist, it tells you something real and deep about life and living. It is here that she croons:

" I wish I was a willow
And I could sway to the music in the wind
And I wish I was a lover
I wouldn't need my costumes and pretend
I wish I was a mountain
I'd pass boldly thru the clouds and never end
I wish I was a soft refrain
When the lights were out I'd play
And be your friend
I strut and fret my hour upon the stage
The hour is up
I have to run and hide my rage
I'm lost again
I think I'm really scared
I won't be back at all this time
And have my deepest secrets shared
I'd like to be a willow
A lover, a mountain or a soft refrain
But I'd hate to be a grown-up
And have to try to bear my life in pain
I wish I was a soft refrain
When the lights were out I'd play
And be your friend
I strut and fret my hour upon the stage
The hour is up
I have to run and hide my rage
I_m lost again
I think I'm really scared
I won't be back at all this time
And have my deepest secrets shared
I_d like to be a willow
A lover, a mountain or a soft refrain
But I'd hate to be a grown-up
And have to try to bear my life in pain

I wish I was a willow
And I could sway to the music in the wind
And I wish I was a lover
I wouldn't need my costumes and pretend
I wish I was a mountain
I'd pass boldly thru the clouds and never end
I wish I was a soft refrain
When the lights were out I'd play
and be your friend
I strut and fret my hour upon the stage
The hour is up
I have to run and hide my rage
I'm lost again
I think I'm really scared
I won't be back at all this time
And have my deepest secrets shared
I'd like to be a willow
A lover, a mountain or a soft refrain
But I'd hate to be a grown-up
And have to try to bear my life in pain
I wish I was a soft refrain
When the lights were out I'd play
and be your friend
I strut and fret my hour upon the stage
The hour is up
I have to run and hide my rage
I'm lost again
I think I'm really scared
I won't be back at all this time
And have my deepest secrets shared
I'd like to be a willow
A lover, a mountain or a soft refrain
But I'd hate to be a grown-up
And have to try to bear my life in pain
."

Damn, that song made me wanna cry, long after I was waaaay too old to be crying, like a baby, in the fetal position. She could DO that shit to you! I loved Phobe Snow. I loved the things her voice could do, the place it could take me, the way it could lift you up from darknesss and I think that was the gift she brought to her own life.



I will miss her in all her sublime and soulful and sadness.


One Love.

13 comments:

WynnSong said...

You remember her with Grace and carry on her Spirit and Soul with your life.....Mr. Poetry Man. Thoughts and Prayers My Friend....

Sunny said...

I know how we can be so attached to strangers...and I'm sorry for your loss. It's truely obvious in your post how much you love her. (( Hugs ))

CareyCarey said...

Whatsup Moan,

I too do not write as often at my blog. Nor do I comment very often.

I only do so when something relates to me, or an ongoing problem that I feel should be addressed, that again, relates to one of my missions in life.

I saw you post pop-up on my blogroll, and thanks for sharing the information on Phoebe Snow. I knew very little about her life or her music. But now I have to ask... how are you progessing with your intentions to quit that "thang" that was a big part of your life?

I changed my email. It's now careydarnell@yahoo.com

Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz said...

There is something about music, a voice...it can take us back through the years. I so remember her voice, but never knew the hardships she faced. Fly free now...

Lovebabz said...

I knew I could count on you to put words to my feelings and mood about Ms. Snow. Thank you.

I loved her. I thought she was AMAZING!

Chet said...

This is so sad, another talented and loving sistah gone to soon. I recall listening to her music while sitting out on the steps of the apartment building in the neighborhood where we would all gather and listen to music and often dancing in the streets. This was back in the day fo sho.

Anna Renee said...

Oh, now I can really appreciate her willow song...its tucked in my mind and ill keep it there to caress for a time. Iloved her beautiful voice...

MsKnowitAll said...

This is a beautiful heartfelt tribute to the Legendary Phoebe Snow.

I love Poetry Man and definitely Harpo's Blues. Her voice is one I can never get tired of listening to.

Reggie said...

Beautiful commentary

Jason said...

What's poppin Brotha Pen!

I saw a great piece on the sublime Ms. Snow on Sunday Morning Magazine a few weeks ago. The piece covered her artistry but it focused more on who she was as a person and her dedication to raising her daughter who was born with down syndrome.

Because of personal struggles during the last few months, I haven't felt the inspiration to write either, I miss my blog fam so I do troll every once and while.

This was beautifully written my dude, captivating prose as usual. I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

Love

J

nachalooman said...

Moaner, you've kept your fans waiting long enough....come out on the stage! The show MUST go on!

Anna Renee said...

Moaner, you've kept your fans waiting long enough....come out on the stage! The show MUST go on!

Dorrie said...

I just now read this (shame on me!)... what a beautiful woman and what a lovely eulogy (sp)!