Phil was the bass player in the house band for the jam. He was a tall, charismatic guy who made me laugh, and he was also instantly encouraging me to play the guitar like I meant it. I played a set, and had a blast. It was the first time that I had played in public in several years. Since there were a handful of bass players there that night, Phil didn't have to play much, so we hung out, had beers and talked. We became fast friends. It's impossible not to love a guy who hands down had the best Harry Caray impression.
One of the things we found in common was that we both enjoyed a variety of interests. At the time he was in school finishing a degree in history and education. We talked about the classes he was taking, and the different periods of history that we were curious about. We talked about religion, and relationships, politics, social issues, new technology, and more often than not, music.
Phil is the most naturally gifted musician I've ever known. He could play bass like a giant, but he was equally proficient on the piano, and sax among many other instruments. He could play any style of music, and shift from classsical to jazz to soul to funk without as much as a blink. He could arrange music for bands that brought out their best possible sound, and he wrote amazing songs. I suspect that Phil's talent was on the level of some of the greatest composers you've heard of.
While he was comfortable being a member of the band, and making other people look and sound good, his musical abilities were in some ways terrifying to him. There were several times over the course of our friendship when he'd call late at night after he'd had a nightmare. The pattern of the nightmares was the same. As he'd be falling asleep there would be a sound - maybe the air conditioner, or furnace, or a fan - and as he fell asleep the sound would morph in his mind into a symphony. The arrangements would be intricate and groundbreaking, but they would ultimately transform into monstrous scenes in his dreams that he would awake from in a cold sweat. He was capable of composing on the level of Mozart, and he would never let himself have that. It was too big.
In the few years that we lived close enough to hang out with each other he both taught and encouraged me. He showed me how to run live sound, he taught me about recording, he encouraged me to write songs, and when I decided to move to Nashville, he was my loudest cheerleader. I went to a lot of gigs with him and ran sound on a few of them. On the way to the gig he would always listen to A Prairie Home Companion. He loved how that show reconnected him to his beloved upper Midwest.
As in all friendships there were glitches. One time I asked him to produce an album of my songs. He said he would on the condition that I let other people sing them. That one stung. And I don't know if he did it for this purpose, and I never told him to go fuck himself for it, but it made me take my own voice more seriously, and it made me sing just to spite him. My voice has become one of my strongest musical gifts. And I honestly believe that if I hadn't met Phil that I would have never had the music career that I've had.
We didn't stay in touch as much as I would have liked after I moved away. I suppose that happens often. Even so, every conversation we had after that was as if we'd never been apart. He was exceptionally proud of his kids, even though there were years when they were estranged. He was in awe of all of them, and constantly referred to them as the best things he ever did. He was particularly amazed at the musical talents of his daughter, Courtney.
There are many things I wish I could have done for him. Most acutely right now I wish I could have helped him find a healthy way to cope with the pain that he carried secretly. While he was loved by everyone who met him, there was a mysterious tendency to seal himself off from that love. I also know that he was lonely a lot of the time. I also wish that I would have called him last week when he crossed my mind. Phil passed away Saturday. He was 55. I am sad on so many levels. The most obvious is the grief that I'll never enjoy his company again. The next is that he had to live with so much pain, needlessly at that. And most of all I'm sad that he left before the world had a chance to know him by name.
Whenever we were getting ready to say goodbye, he would say "I love you like the sister I never wanted". Hey Phil. I love you like the brother I never had. Screw resting in peace. Rest in Joy. Really loud Joy.
|Phil Jacoby 1961-2017|