May 3, 2011
Remembering my friend, Phoebe Snow
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Between us, we managed to arrange a private meeting with Clinton before an event in Manhattan. It went perfectly, with the president spending a good 15 minutes chatting with the three of us; it was clear he was a fan of Phoebe’s.
As I drove her home, she said, “You know, one of those fundraisers where I sang was in a private home, and when I was chatting with Clinton after singing, I could swear he was hitting on me. I also have a feeling he may think I’m African-American.”
“Uh, Phoebe”, I commented, “do you not remember that he sort of has a well-documented thing for somewhat zaftig Jewish girls?” She laughed all the way across the George Washington Bridge.
Throughout it all, there was Valerie. She was 12 years old in 1987, when Phoebe brought me to see how her daughter was doing in school. We arrived one afternoon, and the principal fetched Valerie from her class. When the girl who was predicted to live her life in a vegetative state… and certainly never walk… saw her mom from down the hall, she virtually flew to greet her. I took a picture of Phoebe encircling Valerie with a hug that epitomized what Phoebe once called their “exquisite and divine love”.
Six years later, I threw a summer party at my home, and hired a clown/magician to entertain my friends’ children. Valerie, 18 at the time, was as enthralled as the 5-year-olds. At one point, her home health care aide brought her to the bathroom, then came to Phoebe and whispered there had been a mishap. Phoebe quietly asked me for some materials, disappeared for 20 minutes, then returned to the backyard with Valerie to enjoy the rest of the party. This was her life, and she never complained.
After Valerie’s sudden death in 2007, one morning while eating breakfast, Phoebe was inconsolable and began to slide into depression. But friends like Linda Ronstadt insisted she resume her long-stalled career, and by 2009, she had. She began touring, there was a new CD, and she even sang at Howard Stern’s wedding. I attended one concert and brought my cousin, a lifelong fan, to Phoebe’s dressing room to meet her. She was as funny and gracious as always, although she complained of a kind of exhaustion that I think was as much emotional as physical.
It was the last time I saw her. In January, 2010, she suffered a stroke and never recovered. There were to be no more messages, urgent or otherwise, on my answering machine to return. But since I still use that device, I realized I could create my own little memorial to her. Many years ago, she recorded an outgoing message for me, making up a cute little song on the spur of the moment. It says: “Hi. This is Phoebe Snow, as Steve’s answering machine.
Ahem. (sings) Stevie isn’t home right now, so leave your name and number.
And if he doesn’t call you, he’ll turn into a cucumber!”
It’s quintessential Phoebe, and although I hadn’t used it in decades, it’s back on the machine now, and will stay there for a while. As for my magical friendship with Phoebe Snow, that pleasant melody will linger in my mind forever.
Steve North is a longtime broadcast journalist, currently with CBS News
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