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Twenty hours before he died of an overdose, my oldest friend was interviewed on the radio. This is his story.
My first contact with Scott Phillips was at a college in Western Massachusetts where I briefly went to school, but got stuck in the comparative psychedelics department for a semester before leaving the institution.
My second night in the dorm room, a gang of dirty hippies played bongos outside my window until well past midnight. I was just 17 and accustomed to late nights, but even I thought this was outrageous. I had to get my school ID in the morning.
Scott was in that gang.
Later that month, I saw my first Dead Show at Madison Square Garden and was astounded that the floor of The Garden pulsated in rhythm with US Blues, the encore. And here I mean really moving, like 8-10 inches with every downbeat. Mind Blowing.
Upon returning to Amherst, I made friends with Scott’s bongo pal, Max, who introduced Scott and me in the cafeteria. Somehow, we determined that we’d both been at that Dead Show a week earlier. I asked him, by chance, if he noticed anything funny during “US Blues”?
Without missing a beat, he said, “Yeah, the floor was bouncing like crazy.” Simpatico.
Scott soon invited me to his “Mod,” the strange donut-shaped student housing construct where he lived on campus. Before we left to see a film or a band or a keg, he told me he was a poet and read one of his recent writings:
Bugs under my skin
Needles in my eyes,
Gotta take a shower cause I’m having a bad time
I was so proud because I knew of what he wrote.
We became fast friends. Smart and funny. Valedictorian of his high school. Very adventurous and brave. He wore ponchos. He had crusty sock sculptures thumbtacked to the ceiling of his “Mod’s” common room. He had cigarette tombstones all over the place.
I know the math on this: crazy, intoxicated, relapsed and homeless with a townhouse-worth of cash is not a formula for success.
We went to John Dwork’s acid test re-creations and he danced this trancey, twitchy, belly-rubbing dance and his embrace of physical expression and eccentric rhythmic movement was liberating for me. We started making movies and making audio and hanging photos on his wall—we called it a gallery.
We hitchhiked a lot, often to NYC and Vermont. Scott taught me to take acid when we hitchhiked. “It makes it a lot less boring.” Crazy tripped out drives in Camaros with models playing Squeeze, run-ins with black cats on overpasses, and tricky situation dodges with talk of knives to older men.
Again, Scott had liberated some fearful part of me.
Then we met with his dad for supper and a movie pitch. I was responsible for the Hollywood style. Scott needed money to make a documentary about Deadheads on tour. We chatted up the style and our skills and the need for this demographic to be documented.
We got the money and set about getting film stock.
He was personable and fearless in his approach to the skittish-dosed minions on the East Coast Spring ‘83 Grateful Dead tour. I learned a lot about how to do cold interacts with photographic subjects there, a skill which I’ve carried through my life.
More fear was extinguished.
Scott taught me about ARTANE tripping, we delivered acid to his alma matter in Vershire, and moved to Nantucket for the summer where we all “Astral Projected” black outs.
One night all the good suburban D.C. punk kids who hung out in his house were tripping, poking around as people do when dosed. Under his mattress they found his collection of Diapered And Dominated porno magazines. That blew their minds.
The house’s carpet squished under your feet as you walked. There was a wall of dead and half-dead TVs. Lots of hardcore house parties went down there. And we surreptitiously recorded his housemate’s overnight guests.
There, in that house, we first went to see The Chinaman. Wow. Life-changing night. I have photos.
He moved back up to NYC with the band. Lived in The Bronx, then Brooklyn.
He got totally strung out. Things went south interpersonally, as things seem to do when the white powders make a home in relationships. We fell out a bit.
He moved back to D.C. and I’d hear stories. He’d been stealing from the US Post Office, which is a federal crime against an agency with its own police force.
He got popped, rolled on his partner, and got off with probation, rehab, and a 12-step obligation.
I got myself together a couple years after that. We reconnected. Visited. Made some more movies. Became friends again.
He married a lady he met in rehab. Eventually, they started drinking once a month. Then once a week. Then smoking weed with the booze weekly. Then their marriage fell apart. They divorced. He was back in the saddle: hallucinogens, pills, booze and weed.
He became the creepy old guy hanging out with the stoned kids (performing as Gum Yummy) in the D.C. noise scene. During his clean time he’d accumulated some money doing high-end massage and bought a townhouse, which eventually dissembled into a state of massive disrepair that looked like an anarchist squat with spray painted walls and garbage sculptures.
He then thought it time to leave D.C.
It sounded like he was going crazy: his calls and texts became rather scattered. He was thought-broadcasting and assumed everyone could pick up on wherever his last thought had ended. And the thoughts were deeply inappropriate.
The house was sold and he was going to wander a bit.
I know the math on this: crazy, intoxicated, relapsed and homeless with a townhouse-worth of cash is not a formula for success. He went to Austin and to California to get a Medical Marijuana license. He may have gotten involved with dodgy legal situations as well.
He called me saying he was passing through NYC on his way to D.C. to re-up on some crooked scripts and tend to some legal issues.
We met for supper in the village. He was doing shots and beers, wearing a Mohawk and a fur. After supper, I asked if we could go somewhere that would have hot chocolate for me and booze for him. He popped into a liquor store, got a bottle of vodka, and said, “Don’t worry about me, but maybe you need to call your sponsor,” and off to cocoa we went.
I do a radio show and I collect a lot of field recordings for it. Scott gave me 6+ minutes of a nearly complete inventory of all the drugs he’d taken in his life to that point. (See above.)
We finished our drinks: my chocolate and his bottle in a bag, and we said goodbye, as his bus left for D.C. quite early. I told him I loved him, which he did not return in kind due to distraction I suppose, and off he went. That was Friday night.
Sunday, while I was on the air doing my radio show, our old bandmate and his childhood pal called to tell me Scott had OD’ed in his pal’s bathroom in D.C. on Saturday afternoon, about 20 hours after he’d recorded the drug index. It appears he’d scored in NYC and brought it to D.C.
This was the same day Phil Hoffman died, as well as two others I knew. It must have been a bad batch of dope.
I don’t intend this as a cautionary or instructive tale. I intend it as a testament to a brilliant and loving man who fell, just as many do every day. He did good work, made people happy, achieved a few things, but lost the war with addiction. R.I.P.
DSM III (g.a.e.t) AKA DJ Jack Acid is a pseudonym.