On Phil Cook by M.C. Taylor

On Phil Cook by M.C. Taylor

Somehow it has all

added up to song—

earth, air, rain and light,

the labor and the heat,

the mortality of the young.

I will go free of other

singing, I will go

into the silence

of my songs, to hear

this song clearly.

—Wendell Berry

Phil and M.C. at Luck Reunion 2018, photo by Jentri Colello 

Phil and M.C. at Luck Reunion 2018, photo by Jentri Colello 


by M.C. Taylor

My friend Phil Cook's album People Are My Drugis out today, and I would like to take a moment to testify about him. I met Phil on Saturday, December 10th, 2011; I know this because it's the date that I played an album release show for Poor Moonat a club called The Nightlight in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had heard of Phil through his music in Megafaun, a band that he had with his brother Brad and their friend Joe Westerlund, but I had never met him until he and Brad came through the door of the club while we were soundchecking. They were there to say hello to our mutual friend William Tyler, who was playing in Hiss Golden Messenger that night. After this first encounter, our orbits came into sync and I began to hang out with both of the Cook brothers regularly. They became two of the most important people in my universe.

Sometimes we meet people that we feel like we've known our whole lives. Phil—and his brother Brad, who produced People Are My Drugas well as the Hiss albums Heart Like a Leveeand Hallelujah Anyhow—were like that for me. They understood what I was trying to do with Hiss Golden Messenger. We were kindred spirits and we spoke the same language.

When Hiss is on the road—which is quite often—Phil and I share a hotel room. We know each others' rhythms. On planes, Phil and I always sit together. I sit in the window seat—I have a phobia of flying and sitting next to the window gives me some illusion of control—and Phil sits in the aisle. Before we take off, he always—always—switches seats with the stranger in the middle so he can be next to me. Last summer, we were on a particularly turbulent flight from a gig we played with Bon Iver in Maryland to San Francisco, where we were due at a festival, and Phil held my hand and gave me murmurs of assurance until I calmed down. Over the years I've been all over the world with him—from the dusty gypsy alleys of Lisbon to a dim closet-sized green room on an anonymous, snowy night in Bellingham, Washington—and he always talks about how glad he is to be wherever we are. I've never heard him complain, not once.

Phil showed me the basic chord shapes for a guitar tuned to open D. With those chords, I wrote “Saturday's Song,” “Biloxi,” “Caledonia,” “Jenny of the Roses,” and many others. Together, we've pillaged damn near every used gospel bin in America and he's taught me everything important about that musical world. I remember listening to The Consolers and Brother Joe May with him for the first time—I was driving, he was in the passenger seat—on the way to a gig in York, Pennsylvania. Those moments are important.

Phil and I have tripped on mushrooms and drank cold Dixie beer on the porch of Vaughan's in the Bywater—one of the great bars in the world—and we've sung with the Blind Boys of Alabama together. We've sat in the backyard or around kitchen tables laughing, sometimes crying, while our kids—we both have two—wrestled and laughed and fussed. When I'm stuck in the shadows and wrestling with my demons, Phil Cook is one of my great sources of light. When I'm inscrutable and indecisive, Phil seems to know my intentions and is gentle with me. I'm so thankful for that. I've never had to ask him to keep up; he's always right there with me, wide-open, ready to step into the breach. When I'm tired, Phil will drive.

I hope that you'll listen to Phil's new record,People Are My Drug, because it's deep and joyful and contains everything I know about Phil, all the things he loves. But mostly, I hope that you all will have a friend like Phil has been to me.

Phil, I'm looking at you and saying: I love you so much, brother. I'm proud of you. Thank you for being so good.

—M.C. Taylor, Durham, NC

Clarence Fountain of the Legendary Blind Boys of Alabama dies at 88

Clarence Fountain of the Legendary Blind Boys of Alabama dies at 88

"Outlaws & Armadillos" at the Country Music Hall of Fame

"Outlaws & Armadillos" at the Country Music Hall of Fame