Phoebe Snow died this week. She was a singer, a unique, unpretentious, pure vocalist. Nobody sounded like her. Nobody could sound like her. Her voice could not be mistaken for anyone else, and the first note was recognizable as hers, every time.
Phoebe Snow got big on the radio when I was in that place in life between childhood and adulthood, a good kid who wanted to be bad, a bad kid who couldn't figure out how to be good. Finding and fighting the wild girl inside, sometimes letting her win. All these years later, I can't hear her voice without remembering the poignancy of those years, without feeling a little bit of that thrill and that sting again.
I had lost track of her. I knew, vaguely, that she was still around, still making music in small ways. Her life was all about her daughter Valerie, born severely brain damaged. Phoebe chose to care for her child at home and not put her in an institution. This made her career as a musician much less than it would have been, had she chosen another way. I doubt she regretted it. Valerie died in 2007.
From time to time I'd hear her voice in a commercial or in the background of a movie or television show and I'd get that chill and that memory of the potential of my life rolling out in front of me, the future bright and exciting and scary. A flash of the mistakes I made and regretted, and the mistakes I made but was never sorry for making.
There is no voice so evocative, so capable of bringing it all back like hers. Not for me. Her voice was like her, not beautiful, not flashy, not glamorous, but complicated and important and one of a kind and so, so, so much more than met the ear. Ever try to imitate her? It's nearly impossible.
Phoebe had a stroke last year, and had been in a coma since. It's nice to think that she's with her daughter again. And that she has, of course, no regrets.