Friday, June 13, 2008

Sam Phillips at Borders in Tigard

Hey, I'm back.  :)

I've been busy lately writing some new songs, a few essays here and there, and I hope to start blogging more regularly soon.

I just had to share this, though - Gary and I saw Sam Phillips play live at Borders Books & Music in Tigard, OR as part of a tour she's doing for her new album, Don't Do Anything.  She hadn't been to Portland in 12 years, and I hadn't seen her live since 1992.

Sam's music has been a great source of spiritual companionship in the years since I first discovered her in 1985.  She shifted out of the evangelical Protestant paradigm at approximately the same time I did (late '80s-early '90s), and her poetry and songwriting have been a guiding light for me in terms of depth, honesty, and quality.  Often, her songs are aids to prayer for me, since she seems to give words to what I'm really feeling and help me show my real heart to God.

The show yesterday was just her and a fellow who played a Stroh (I think that's how you spell it) violin and an electric guitar that looked (and sounded) like it had been ordered out of a Sears catalog in about 1962.  Since the release of Fan Dance in 2001, she's adopted a really interesting acoustic/retro/vaudeville/early jazz sort of style of music for her songs, which are as deep, melancholy, and beautiful as ever.

Anyway, seeing her, listening to her, experiencing her was... ah.  What words to use?  Inspirational takes it the wrong direction.  Exciting doesn't capture it.  Profound gets closer.

I had a conversation a while back with a friend on a message board that I had up on my website for a while, but took it down recently.  I want to post it again here in her honor:

[Pal:] As far as the Sam Phillips thing, I had been listening to her music all the way back from her Leslie Phillips days.

[Me:] Sam, lovely Sam!  I have everything she ever recorded - even a couple of hard-to-get promotional things.  I first discovered her in her Leslie days, in about 1985, and I've followed her closely up to the present [about 2001].  How do you like "Fan Dance"?

[Pal:] After "Die Hard with a Vengeance", I remember sitting in Dennys talking to a more traditional Christian (for lack of a better term) friend about why on earth would she play the part she played in that film (psycho murdering sexpot).  I argued in her favor, and eventually won him over, although I can't for the life of me remember what I said to convince him.

[Me:] ! Good for you.  I thought Sam was fantastic in DHWAV - no one else could have done that look that she had.  Re: the security guard murder scene (hearkening back to our slasher/horror discussion), I remember hearing Sam in an interview around that time describing her feelings about the scene.  At first she had trouble getting into it, but then she met the actor that was playing the security guard.  To her, he resembled Rush Limbaugh... and after that, she had no trouble with the slashing and blood...    :^0

[Pal:] Similarly, T-Bone [Burnett]'s work with the Coen brothers hasn't exactly been mainstream Christian work either, but it's more wonderful than so much of CCM.

[Me:]  Amen to that.  Gary and I both love T-Bone.  So glad to see his work recognized at the Grammys this year.

When I lived in southern California in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to see Sam and T-Bone do a little set together at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.  It was one of the strangest but most wonderful shows I've ever seen - Sam singing, T-Bone playing guitar ("stomping his foot like a manic grandfather", one reviewer said), their buddy Van Dyke Parks doing some earnest but not-quite-there instrumental string stuff, and some weird comedy bits interspersed.

[Side note: The weird comedy bits included several appearances by the "Zen Nude Dancers".  The store staff passed out paper bags with eyeholes cut in them before they came on.  I was with a bunch of guys from Frontline, the Christian record company I worked with from 1991-1992, and they all were giggling nervously.  One of them, Michael Black, turned to me and said, "If you tell anyone about this back at the office, you're dead, do you understand?"  I joined in the nervous giggling.  The act, as it turned out, consisted of one (clothed) pole dancer who gyrated onstage for about 30 seconds and then left.  It wasn't prurient, really, just... weird.  I guess that was the Zen part.]

My fondest memory of that night:  After the concert, Sam and T-Bone were out in the foyer, autographing stuff and shaking hands.  The guys from the record company all mobbed Sam, peppering her with questions and dropping names.  I stood about two layers of people back, staring at Sam, but also at the plate of cheese and crackers in her hand that she'd brought out from the green room, since no one had eaten them.  I was really hungry, since we'd driven to the show in Santa Monica straight from work [in Newport Beach - about a 2-hour drive in traffic] without stopping for dinner.  Sam saw me eyeing the food and handed the plate back to me, across those two layers of record company dudes.  May God's blessings always rest richly upon her soul.
I was hungry, and you fed me...

A small kindness, but my heart was touched by it - and it seems symbolic of the sort of presence you are for me.  God bless you, Sam.  Thanks for coming to see us.

[H/T for photo -]