My close friends and family members know about my "Everly Brothers Thing," and, more specifically, about my "Phil Everly Thing," so they sent me heartfelt condolence emails after he died this past weekend. Even Facebook friends sent messages of sympathy. I'm well into my menopausal years, and my hair, nails, skin, teeth, GI tract, eyesight and ability to remember song lyrics at the drop of a hat aren't what they used to be, but Phil Everly still made me go weak-kneed.
First it was the music that got to me. I was a 7-year-old girl who had just lost my father to brain cancer and I was pretty lost myself. Ours had been the only house in our Scarsdale, NY neighborhood with a nurse living in it, the only house where the dad stayed in bed all the time before disappearing completely. I spent a lot of time in my pink wallpapered room, glued to the transistor radio on my night table, pretending I was somewhere else. One night, between Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" and Jerry Lee Louis' "Great Balls of Fire," the Everlys' "Bye Bye Love" lit up that radio and it was love at first listen. How did they make their voices go together like that? I wondered. Their harmony was clear and pure, like two streams running parallel. If this was rock 'n' roll, I was in.
Then I saw the Everlys on TV. They were both cute, of course, but Phil had the fair-haired good looks of the Troy Donahue-Tab Hunter era -- my type, if a 7-year-old can have a type. Plus, I identified with the higher register of his voice; I could sing along with him without trying to sound like a man.
A few months later, the Everlys released "Wake Up Little Susie" and I was even more love-struck, although I wished they'd changed the title of the song. My older sister's name is Susie. I wanted the title to be "Wake Up Little Janie" since they were obviously singing about me. Then came "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Bird Dog," and "Problems" -- one hit single after another. It's not an exaggeration to say that Phil and his rockabilly tunes saved my childhood. In second grade I contracted hepatitis and spent nearly a year missing school. Listening to the Everlys and dreaming of Phil were my coping mechanisms even before I knew what a "coping mechanism" was.
I joined the ranks of the screaming pre-teens I'd see in the audience on American Bandstand. I wrote the Everlys fan letters. I tacked their eight-by-ten glossies on my wall. I told everybody I would marry Phil someday. I begged my nice mother to buy me all the Everlys' 45s and she did. I can still picture those small vinyl records with their dark red-and-silver Cadence logo. When I stupidly stored them on top of the radiator and they melted, warped into odd little waffled rounds, my nice mother bought me new ones. Actually, here's how nice my mother was: When I heard that Don and Phil were going on "Ed Sullivan," she got us tickets for the show. What's more, she agreed to let me wait by the stage door afterwards in case they emerged to sign autographs. It almost didn't matter that they didn't.
My "Phil Everly Thing" continued unabated. The Beatles appeared on my radar and I resented them even as I adored them too. Their harmonies were a direct steal from my Everlys -- check out "Love Me Do" or "Please Please Me" if you don't believe me -- and they and the entire British invasion nudged the Everlys into the background, reducing them to a nostalgia act. The nerve.
When Don and Phil had their infamous on-stage breakup in 1973, I took Phil's side, naturally. And when they were inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 -- among the very first group of inductees -- I was as proud as if I really were Phil's wife.
Would I ever meet my idol(s)? Did I even want to? They say reality can never live up to fantasy, so part of me wasn't sure.
I was a book publicist in New York, an Everlys groupie masquerading as a grownup, when I had the idea that if I could track down their manager, I could pitch the idea for them to write a memoir. They had reunited by this point and had an even juicier story to tell, I thought. I connected with a woman in Nashville who oversaw their business affairs. She said Don had considered writing a book but that it would be a challenge to coax Phil into it. "Why?" I asked. "Because he's difficult," she said. "He's always been the difficult one."
Phil was difficult? My Phil?
Undaunted, I figured that if I met Don and talked him into doing the book, he'd convince Phil and I'd get to meet him too -- and work with him and become close, um, personal friends with him. Never mind that he was at least 10 years older than I was and, more relevantly, that I was married. My "Phil Everly Thing" trumped all.
The big meet-up was set for the King Center in Melbourne, FL. The Everlys were performing there and my contact in Nashville had arranged backstage passes for my husband Michael and me so I could discuss the book with Don. I was so nervous I hardly remember the concert itself. I was finally, at long last, about to meet Phil. I hoped I wouldn't have a heart attack on the spot.
After the last encore, Michael and I were escorted to the parking lot and then inside a giant, opulently decorated rock star bus. Don greeted us warmly and offered us drinks, and various band members joined us. We sat and talked about the book. He reiterated that he wanted to write it, warts and all, but that Phil would have qualms as long as their mother was still alive. I was about to say, "Why don't I just ask him and see if I can't change his mind?" but Don informed me that Phil had decamped to his own bus, the one parked just a few yards away, and that they didn't hang out once the shows were over. Ever. I wanted to scream, "So you mean I'm not meeting him after all?" I kept my mouth shut and reminded myself that I was making inroads, that it was merely a matter of time before my friendship with Don would lead to one with Phil.
That time never came. Don's interest in the book waned, and I began writing books of my own.
In recent years, the Everlys performed their songs with less vocal range (even our idols age), but they were never less than pitch-perfect, their harmonies as glorious as ever despite the smoking-related pulmonary disease that ultimately took Phil. I learned from others in the music business that he wasn't "difficult" but rather a sweet guy who simply liked his space while on tour -- a consummate professional. Perspective is everything.
As Michael and I listened to "Claudette" and "Till I Kissed You" and "When Will I Be Loved" this past weekend while Everly Brothers tributes poured in, I thought about the gift they gave me over the course of my life. And I wondered if they and other music legends are aware of the impact they can have on their fans. If not, I hope Phil is reading this wherever he is and feeling my gratitude.