Eulogy for P.F. Sloan
When my friend, the great songwriter P.F. Sloan died in December of last year, I was asked to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. Filled with grief for my absent friend and overwhelmed by both the greatness and sorrow of his remarkable life, I opened my heart, as he would, and let the words flow. In retrospect I am surprised that I wrote so much, but this man touched my life deeply, as he did the lives of so many who knew him and/or his songs, and I delivered this bounty of love and reverence for Phil. Since then, many there have encouraged me to publish this, but I needed months before I could approach it again.
Here it is, in its fullness, followed by my review of his last masterpiece of song, My Beethoven.
Some things in life are simply beyond words. It’s why God invented songs. I learned from Phil’s dear friend and co-author Steve Feinberg that at the end, Phil was reciting the psalms, the first songs of the first songwriter. The first published songwriter, anyway, and as Phil knew well, publishing matters.
Leaving home today, my son asked me why I was dressed as a rabbi. It wasn’t intentional, it’s in my blood. And tonight, just days from Christmas, it’s not lost on me that it’s the perfect time for this memorial for Phil, as this is the time of year we celebrate great Jewish genius songwriters. For example, Christ. Okay, not officially a songwriter, but he inspired so many.
Next would be Irving Berlin, who famously in “White Christmas,” took Christ out of Christmas and made it about snow.
And P.F. Sloan, another abundantly gifted Jewish songwriter, follows soundly in this tradition.
P.F. Sloan was crazy. There I said it. He was crazy. Famously crazy. Adorably crazy. Brilliantly crazy.
Even in his own autobiography, called beautifully, What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? rather than hide what some people might construe as the signs of a lunatic, he embraced them, boldly bragging, for example, that he met James Dean on the street in Hollywood, several years past Dean’s death.
Steve Feinberg, being a wise editor, suggested perhaps they should change that. Phil said, “No. It’s more important to be honest.”
Because he knew he was crazy. Crazy in love with life, in love with love, and music. In love with the spirit source, the Master Poet, as he called him, that unites every soul.
He was crazy the way other troubled geniuses were crazy, like Einstein – or Beethoven – or Bob Dylan.
For to be a feeling, thinking, aware human being in these modern times – these times in which we have been truly perched on an eve of destruction – and not be crazy? That would be crazier.
To recognize the divine in all things, to recognize the supreme, profound gift of music and language – and the magic power that happens when you bring those two together – to be intimately aware of the songwriter of all songs, the author of all books, the creator of all the art of life and life of art– yet also aware that in the midst of this garden are those who would pick up guns and slaughter their fellow humans, to shoot children even, right here in our America, can make one, yes, crazy.
Crazy is the correct response. Any sane acceptance of this madness would be more deeply dysfunctional.
But to be a peaceful person in a world of war, a calm and loving soul in world of chaos and hate, a musician of rich expression in a world of dissonance and noise and isolation, a gardener in a tangle of junk and weeds, a humorist in a room of sorrow, all adds up to what some call crazy.
Here headlong into this future, some 70 years since our own country dropped two nuclear bombs in the year of his birth, some 40 years past when Sgt. Pepper came out, and still our solution to so many problems is solved still by the Masters of War. All that wisdom of peace and love and transcendence – all that awareness of the age of Aquarius dawning on us – and yet here we are still seemingly incapable of not only creating a world beyond war – but as Phil’s friend and mentor John Lennon suggested – simply to IMAGINE one.
His was the first generation to grow up and awaken in the knowledge that we were born into madness, our nation perched on the precipice of perpetual Armageddon. How does a sensitive, hyper-aware child grow up sane in this country he’s told is the greatest in the world, our fathers from the greatest generation, who have brought us to this place where we are forever locked in such grim conflict that at any moment we can all be blown to kingdom come?
He was the guy, when he was just a kid, Phil was, who took this fear inside all of us – this recognition of madness so immense it was far beyond any one’s control – and gave it voice, and explained what it means for all of us to be united in this madness, this sad eve of destruction.
He was the guy to wed that understanding, and that profound fear, with a melody as sweet as the catchiest pop song – he always said it was a love song, a love song for humanity – and send home this message in under three minutes to all his fellow humans. It was a bold thing even to imagine – again – let alone actually create, and bring into the world. He was the guy who did it.