1995 Interview

Page 10: "Me And My Uncle"

JOHNSON: Can you tell us the history of the song "Me and My Uncle" that you wrote?

PHILLIPS: Yeah. I guess I could. It’s just related to my brother, my older brother. His name was Tom and when he was eighteen-years-old, it was 1941 in December and the bomb - I mean, the war started, Pearl Harbor and all that. He was a senior in high school and they had the buddy system and he and eighteen of his school mates joined the Marine Corps together and they said, "We’ll stick you in the same company, the same platoon." He was the only one who came back after that. Five or six year stint he did in the Marine Corps and he fought all the battles in Iwo Jima, Saipan, all that stuff. The whole time, he should have been having social experiences and meeting people and what was he doing? He was killing Japanese. So when he got back, he never could adjust to being a regular member of society again, or just working the rest of his life. I always felt terrible for him, for that. And somehow I related, I don’t know how this happened, but "Me and My Uncle" came to mean Tom and myself, somehow.

JOHNSON: You never recorded that. Who did?

PHILLIPS: I just recorded that for the first time ever. It’s coming out in September, or by Thanksgiving, anyway. Grateful Dead did it. Glen Campbell did it. Judy Collins did it. Everyone. But I never did it. I didn’t know I’d written it, as a matter of fact. There was a party after a concert in Phoenix, Arizona, and everyone was in Scottsdale, and McGuinn was there and Judy Collins. A lot of people had done this thing. There was a little tape recorder there. I was drinking tequila and I woke up in the morning and there was no one there except the worm and myself were still there. Everyone else had gone. I had a terrible hangover and so I left, finally got on my airplane and got out of there. About six months later I heard the song on a Judy Collins album. I said, "Nice song." And then it said J. Phillips underneath it and I got a check for it. So I called up Judy and I said, "It’s not my shtick. I never wrote that song." [Laughs] And she said, "Yeah. I have the tape of it, John, of you writing it that night at that party." And she sent it to me and sure enough. There it was. [Laughs] It was like a spontaneous song. It never was edited or revised. Did it all at once.

JOHNSON: What was it that Michelle said? He turns tragedy -

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

JOHNSON: Yeah. Michelle said that you turn tragedy into publishing.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, at a very young age.