About Nuçi Phillips
At twenty-two years of age, Nuçi Phillips was a gifted musician, a good student at the University of Georgia in Athens and a kind and gentle person. But on Thanksgiving Day, 1996, after five debilitating years of suffering and struggling with depression, Nuçi shot and killed himself. Though his life was short, he touched many with his music and his humanity. This loss of yet another young musical talent inspired the creation of the Nuçi Phillips Memorial Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization.
The Nuçi I Know ( June 2001)
by Linda Phillips
He came on a Sunday
All rosy and pink
With all his fingers and two perfect feet…
Nuçi was born on July 21, 1974 at Northside hospital in Atlanta, Ga. As births go, his was on time and trouble free. Like K.P., our first born, he was special because he was our last child. Our family was complete. In August we moved to California for two years while my husband served two obligatory years in the Air Force. It was a most wonderful “free” time in our lives. We lived in officers’ housing on George Air Force Base and Pierre worked as the hospital’s radiologist just across the street from our home.
My days passed quickly
With bottles to make and diapers to wash
But mostly fun with my little ones…
We made friends quickly with the other doctors’ families who were also serving their two years. We were all about the same age with same age children. I’ll always remember that time as being carefree. Pierre came home for lunch everyday and spent time with us.
Many days another friend and I would pack up our four kids and take them to the tennis court. Nuçi and Christopher loved watching three year olds K.P. and Allison play while their two moms played tennis. Nuçi was so easy and agreeable. One of our favorite memories was one evening during K.P.’s playtime in the bath tub. Pierre and I were in the living room talking and Nuçi was scooting all over the house in his walker.
He dashed into the bathroom to check out his brother who began to chant his “I am a big bear, you are a little bear” ritual. For some reason this night Nuçi found it hysterically funny. His laughter could be heard all over the house. It was the first time he giggled out loud in shear delight. I have a fixed picture in my memory bank of me, Pierre, K.P. and Nuçi – all in the bathroom saying “I am a big bear…”. Of course K.P. relished the fact that he was the first to make Nuçi laugh out loud. Thanks to that little walker on wheels, Nuçi followed his big brother every where.
He grew into a tall blond child
With eyes the color of a California sky…
Soon he graduated to a Big Wheel. The sidewalk in front of the house became his race track. One of his favorite things was cycling with his father. Pierre would put Nuçi in a back pack and K.P. in a child’s seat on his bicycle. Off they’d go – to the golf course, to the hospital, to the runway to see the airplanes. They became a familiar sight to the armed guards protecting the base. Both boys loved music. Whenever I think of those years, I can hear Dylan, Buffy Saint Marie and Simon and Garfunkel. Bedtime was their favorite ritual. Pierre would gather Nuçi with blankie, K.P. with Snoopy and Bijou and off they’d go to listen to Pierre’s cleverly made up stories. The stories were usually sequential continuing from night to night. One of their favorite characters was Nuçi Balducci, the bald headed acrobat. Pierre also turned operas like the Magic Flute into stories that both boys learned to love.
Nuçi was two when we moved back to Atlanta. It was quite a change for all of us. K.P. started kindergarten, Pierre started a “real” job at the VA Hospital and Nuçi and I stayed at home. I became active at the preschool and Nuçi loved visiting the school with me.
Often, he’d stay in K.P.’s class while I volunteered. It wasn’t long before he insisted on going to school just like his brother. When he was three I enrolled him two mornings a week into a multi age class. Always verbal, he had no problem voicing his desires. At five, he insisted on taking piano lessons just like his brother. Not long after he started piano, he read in the newspaper that the Atlanta Boys Choir was auditioning new members. The following Saturday, I found myself waiting for Nuçi to impress the Atlanta Boys Choir with his voice, which I didn’t even know he had. Well, he did and they were. He went on to win their Mozart Award for his talent. Always looking for new things to do, he started the Suzuki method for learning the violin. Fortunately for me, that didn’t last long. He refused to bow and to follow the prescribed behaviors. That was it for the violin.
But Pierre and I felt that he needed his own instrument – one that would be his alone. We settled on the guitar and soon discovered that it was a perfect match. Every teacher he ever had encouraged him to continue playing – he had something special.
Meanwhile, it was becoming increasingly evident that Nuçi was unusually perceptive and sensitive. He was always for the under dog and he was never cruel. One of his teachers referred to him as a “principled man.” He loved sports and was active in horseback riding,basketball, soccer and tennis. He was always a team player and never put his needs or wants first. The summer he turned sixteen, he stayed in Paris with family friends who taught him to play golf. He was a natural and excelled at it. I think he loved golf because there was no sense of competition with somebody else. That summer, he also worked on his French – he loved everything French. He loved to laugh but most of all he loved to make us laugh.
His sensitivity and his kindness made him so endearing. I remember one afternoon when he was about ten. He came down stairs with his blankie wrapped around his head and just stood in front of me. I knew immediately that he’d just finished reading the YEARLING and felt sad. He felt everything deeply.
When did his happy fade into sad
How did I miss it – I must be mad…
I always saw Nuçi as happy, intelligent, talented and well- rounded with a disposition that always made me feel good. But there was much I didn’t see.
This gloom grew in his early teens
Clawing and snarling – ever so mean
It sneaked and it sneered at my Golden Boy
Robbing him of his joy…
Nuçi was always loving and affectionate with us. He and I talked a lot about a lot of things. Once when he was about fourteen, someone asked him what he did when he had a problem. His answer: I talk to my parents. He was never a “problem” kid. His school reports were always exemplary. He was well liked. When he was sixteen, he started withdrawing from us. Because it was so out of character, his behavior seemed dramatic. He became quiet and sullen staying in his room and playing his guitar. We tried to get him to see a psychologist but he refused. Although my husband is a doctor and I am a nurse with a particular interest in psychology, neither of us ever thought depression. Neither of us thought illness. We thought “teenage stuff.”
We had no idea of the pain and the loneliness Nuçi was experiencing until December 1991 when he made a suicide attempt. In talking to him later, we discovered that he had been having periods of feeling“bad” for several years. Finally, we knew and got help for Nuçi. He was hospitalized and treated for clinical depression. Coming from a household where the strongest thing in the medicine cabinet is an aspirin, Nuçi refused antidepressants. He also felt that he should be “strong” enough to take care of his problems without the artificial aid of a drug. A wonderful psychiatrist cared for Nuçi and convinced him to try medication. Nuçi approached this part of his life just as he had the previous part. He worked hard to feel better. He did everything he was told to do. Sometimes the results were good sometimes not so good. Nuçi had told his doctor that he did not want to live his life in and out of hospitals.
The day arrived when he could take no more
Pain and loneliness ruled
He closed his eyes and raised the flag…
For the next five years, Nuçi struggled with clinical depression. Enrolling at the University of Georgia gave him a chance to be independent – which was very important to him – and to start a new life. Since most of his friends worked to help put themselves through school, he felt that it was his duty to do the same. His jobs ranged from working at Sears to cleaning graveyards to sewing logos on clothing. He loved the “struggling working man” image for himself. One time he brought a large bag of used clothing home for me to donate to the Salvation Army. His employer at the logo shop had collected some of his son’s hand me downs and given them to Nuçi to wear. But making music was what he loved best and living in Athens gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the diverse music community.
Before he died, Nuçi was working on his Koncak album with David Barbe, a local producer and fellow musician. David finished “Only When the Right Side Glows” and released it after Nuçi’s death.The songs reflect an inner torment which was so much a part of his life. But they also reflect his immense talent and his warmth which is heard in his laugh. In the liner notes, David describes Nuçi as “a combination of brilliance and fragility; a mix of exuberance and deep depression that was obviously hard to express to others. To watch him play guitar was to watch someone lost in an impermeable zone of release.” Knowing that his music is listened to would give Nuçi much pleasure. It is his gift to us. He was determined not to be a burden on his family and friends. He always felt guilty for the pain his illness caused us. Nuçi’s depression was relentless. He did his best to hide it. But finally, he ran out of energy. The years of battling had worn him out. He knew that he’d be struggling for the rest of his life. He also knew that the feel good times were short lived and were always followed by darkness and despair. On Thanksgiving Day 1996, Nuçi shot and killed himself – not because he didn’t want to live – but because he couldn’t bear the intractable pain that was so much a part of his life. It was his decision. It was his life.
And on that day, a chill wind blew
That froze my very soul
For how could life go on
Without my Golden Boy…
That day in November 1996 changed me and my family forever. We will never be the same but we do go on. All of us who love Nuçi keep him in a very special corner of our hearts called Nuçi’s Space.
|Nuçi Phillips was the guitarist/songwriter for the Athens, GA band Koncak. In the months leading up to his death Koncak was working on recording an album that would eventually be titled Only When The Right Side Glows. Nuçi’s last communication with friend and band mate David Barbe dealt with how the yet to be released record would be mastered. After Nuçi’s death, with the blessing of Nuçi’ parents, Linda and Pierre Phillips, Barbe and some of Nuçi’s other friends completed the record in 1998.
The album has received praise from the local music community. Patterson Hood, guitarist and singer for the Athens band the Drive-By Truckers, called the album “one of the best to come out of Athens.”