I had the incredible good fortune of engineering on Phoebe's first two albums, including her hit "Poetry Man." Here is an excerpt from my book, NEVER SAY NO TO A ROCK STAR: IN THE STUDIO WITH DYLAN, JAGGER, SINATRA AND MORE
about Phoebe in honor of her birthday . . .
I began to wonder.
What was it in Phoebe that engendered such fierce loyalty among her adoring
fans? Of course she was a natural singer. She had a voice like no other, and
when she opened her mouth, a sound came out that was joy burnished with pain.
She was all contradiction: a jazzy, folky, bluesy, rockin’, funky Jewish chick
from Jersey. But it was more than that. Phoebe was an oddball.
I understand this
misfit thing. I’ve always been drawn to these types. I guess I’m one myself.
That’s why I was into music, and that’s why I’m now a psychotherapist.
about the ugly ones, the weirdoes, the freaks, the queers, the geeks, the
musicians, the addicts, the losers, the left-handers, the nuts, the lonely and
I think those
among us who are different have a little less of a psychic immune system than
everyone else. They are a little closer to the
source. They don’t quite make it in this world, and they feel the pain a little
more acutely than the rest. But they bring us a gift we all need to know and
I can imagine
chubby Phoebe Laub, with her kinky hair and moles, sitting in her bedroom in
Teaneck, playing her guitar and singing to the ceiling, while the cute girls
were flirting with the jocks. She was sitting alone in that car the last time I
saw her, because, I bet, she was alone much of the time.
this sensitive, longing, part of us. There are plenty of misfits in the world.
Maybe there is a misfit residing in each of our secret hearts. I can picture
all the lonely freaks out there, sitting alone in their bedrooms in 1974,
listening to “Poetry Man,” and feeling some solace because they knew that she
When we listen to
Phoebe sing now, we can hear through and beyond that obnoxious girl I met the
first time she came into the studio. We hear the contours of the essence. We
hear the cry in the darkness of the West Village, that late night sound of
vinyl, the echo of Zoot and Teddy Wilson, that distant reverberation receding
into the night, that voice, strong, loving, and speaking for us.
That’s what the
artist does— sees for us —suffers for us, because we’d rather not go there
ourselves. So, we live through them emotionally, yet
I call the Phoebes
of the world angels. They have been given wings – an incredible voice, or some
other gift — in exchange for some deep vulnerability. That’s why so many
artists die young. Phoebe was so powerful in her unique voice and profound
love. All this was, however in contrast to her body, which was all too often a
source of suffering for her.
As an 18-year-old,
I couldn’t see past her appearance. Today, with nothing left of Phoebe but her
music, I realize she was that radiant creature I imagined before I met her. Despite
how she looked or acted on the outside, inside she was made of the rarest
alloy. She was the essence of beauty.
Phoebe cared for
her daughter every day of her life, until Valerie Rose died at the age of 31 in
In honor of the
dearly departed Phoebe Snow, I invite you to look for the strange ones out
there, or the oddball in you, and be a little kinder and a little more
understanding, because you never know - you might be in the presence of an
angel. And the next time you are in a quiet room, turn on that digital recorder
in your smartphone, and wait. When you play it back, and listen real close, you
might hear Phoebe singing in her supernatural voice.
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 and bear my life in pain
— Harpo’s Blues