Remembering Phoebe Snow on Her Birthday July 17, 1950


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.

There’s something 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 unlucky ones.

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 feel.

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.

Phoebe touched 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 knew.

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 vicariously.

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 2007.

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


glennbergerphd
One of the best posts I've ever read here, BRAVO!!!
I enjoyed your remembrance immensely. Isn't it interesting that while navigating through various YouTube videos I happened across her live version of Poetry Man recently? The woman with the four octave voice is a pure treasure for audiophiles. What an amazing talent. Thank you for your post!
I love Phoebe Snow.  I have everything ever released on vinyl including most newly remastered/reissued LPs.

One of my favorite female vocalists.

Excellent post.  Thanks for sharing!

Nice .....and thank you. 

Excellent post. You offer insight into her personality that adds to the understanding of her music.  The misfit music aficionados on this site certainly appreciate your memories and the work of Phoebe Snow.
Always loved Phoebe Snow.  I listen to her recordings often. 
Wonderful post....thank you so much. Have always enjoyed her works.
Glenn- thank you for posting this. I've been playing her self-titled album since it was released, and it remains one of my favorites to this day, including "Harpo's Blues." I regret not seeing her perform- she was scheduled to appear at the Turning Point in Piermont, but cancelled, due to health reasons, I think. She passed shortly thereafter.
She remains enduring as a writer and performer. I tend to put her in a category with the late, great Laura Nyro and the still vibrant Janis Ian; each brought something special to the music. She was one of the greats. 
Thanks for the great story and the lyrics from Harpos Blues.  One of my wife's and mine favorites.  I was so very lucky to hear her play a couple years prior to her passing out here at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center in Lancaster, CA.   We were in absolute awe.
-John
Hey Glen,

I finally got a moment to queue Phoebe Snow up and give a good listen. Really transported me back to a time and place. 

Thanks for the time machine.
Glenn ...

Thanks so much for that insightful history lesson on Phoebe Snow. As one who loves to surround himself with "characters," I can relate. 

I bought Phoebe's first album when it first came out. I still have it. Its in mint condition sitting in my "demo" section. I'll play it tonight in remembrance of Phoebe and as a tribute to your wonderful post. Thanks ...

OP
"Nine of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds..."
She's my enduring memory with my very first high end system.
I'll never forget her.


Larry

Thank you for your beautifully written homage to Phoebe Snow. I'm a fan of many female singer/songwriters. I haven't heard very much of Phoebe Snow, but I'lll be sure to revisit her music.