Shawn Phillips


I heard from Shawnito today. He and Juliet are going to have a baby boy tomorrow. Who would have guesed that Shawn Phillips would be living in South Africa, would make it to 60, and would be a new dad.

I had all his albums. I would say that Shawn, along with mysterious avatars of lyrics like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jim Morrison, was one of my writing teachers. I certainly had never heard records with such vocabularies before--musically or writerly. I actually used his records to make vocab lists for my English classes!

It was my rule that my pals all had to be Shawn fiends too. I used to haul my record player into the kitchen--we had a wall phone there. And late at night, after my parents had gone to sleep, and her parents, too, I'd call Prudence and play her Shawn songs over the phone. She would cry. I couldn't get over it--she was in bed, in her jammies, crying to me on the phone! I could hear her breathe in her room! So Shanwe taught me a lot about romance, too.

I first discovered him in Mark Gipe's sister's room. She was a scary revolutionary. Our neighborhood's Grace Slick. She had a plank of wood some guy had mailed her--it was covered in stamps. And the guy had painted on it: RIGHT ON, SISTER, TO THE REVOLT! You have to love the sixties!

She was never home, so Mark and I would freak out in her room--light her incense, play with her awesome ocean-in-a-bottle, and listen to her sophisticated record collection. That's where I found Leonard Cohen. We listened to Buffalo Springfield and Tim Buckley records. Mark fell asleep in a strange peace to the painful screaming of Blue Cheer. I found Shawn's first album, CONTRIBUTION, there. I was fascinated by the cover, because it looked like the guy's head was covered in cement. And he had hair down to his butt. Mark said, "That guy--all he does is moan."

I of course loved the record and made it my duty to study everything the guy had done. Later on, I had recruited the stoners and juvenile delinquents in my high school who were in the off-set printing class to help me make a book of poems and drawings. The less said about this the better, though I still like the first poem I ever wrote, which started the book:

and the child
paused beneath the oak
with the stranger
and said
I have never seen the sea
and the stranger
spreading his blue cape on the ground
I am the sea.

If you know Stephen Crane's poems and Cohen's "Stranger Song," you know where that came from. Maybe a little of "El Topo," too.

Anyway, The Moody Blues were on world tour, and Shawn was opening for them. he happened to be touring, I realized later, with the terrifying prog-rock band, Quatermass. They had an album cover with flying dinosaurs swooping between skyscrapers! I bought that one on sight.

We were all there at the concert, of course. Prudence was there. I was with Rockie Lee and Lyn. And I took one of these booklets to the roadies onstage and asked them to give it to Shawn. It vanished, and I took my seat on the floor with my honeys and forgot about it. But when Shawn came out, with a white double-neck guitar, he dedicated a song to me! My first day as a rock star.

Later again, we became friends, and I stayed at his house many times, traveled with him, wandered with him, laughed with him. His dad was a poet. James Atlee Phillips. He wrote spy novels under the name of Philip Atlee. And he became my first real writing teacher, corresponding faithfully as I sent him letters and stories. He schooled me but good.

I felt I owed a lot to the Phillips family. And years down the road, when Shawn was a fireman, he'd come sleep at our Louisiana house on tour. The maniac would take his EMT rescue vehicle as a tour bus, and he'd show up in his fireman's uniform. He put on his life-saving mask and scared the kids. "Skywalker, I am your father!"

I was happy to write liner notes for his last cd, NO CATEGORY. So one of the great circles of life made its rounds. I was even able to take Rockie Lee to his hotel room one night, and to sit him down with Lyn and watch her go pink as he flirted with her. Shawn even introduced me to DEVO! Another story for another day.

There's a small section about him in WANDERING TIME, by the way.

So I greet the new child with joy. It's a happy day.


terasita (not verified)

i was happy to read your recollections and i scanned down a bit to read the other stuff, i am curious about teresita as this is my name in spanish, it seems to be very intriguing. i learned of shawn phillips in texas and i pretty much thought that he was only known in those texas places, but i have come to find that it is a very different story. wonderful news about the baby boy, i hope his daddy teaches him all that is wonderful. from the other terasita.

Anonymous (not verified)


Another poignant entry, bro. You and I share a freindship with Shawn, and amiration for the unique beauty of his work. He inspired you; his life makes a difference.

Sounds like another inspired and meaningful artist I know.

You, Wees.

Keep on keepin' on, Sleepwalker.

WhiteEagle of the North

Anonymous (not verified)

God bless the new baby.

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