Buddha Phil Dies

Downtown philosopher savant Phil Gair — reverently known as “Buddha Phil” to his many admirers — died of a heart attack a week ago Friday, the Daily Progress reports. Phil spent many years sitting on the Downtown Mall, dispensing equal parts inanity and wisdom; the line between the two was often unclear. What few knew about Phil was that he was a world-class blues guitarist and singer — modesty kept him from performing, though I got to witness his playing several times. Though mental illness is a great burden in life, Phil turned it into something more like an art. A memorial service is being planned.

8 thoughts on “Buddha Phil Dies”

  1. I often told Phil that he should quit smoking and take better care of himself. (The "Buddha" moniker came from both the koans he produced without apparent effort and his pear shape.) Every time, Phil pointed out that smoking made him happy, and that, besides, if he was the captain of the Downtown Mall, then I must be the skipper, so he knew it would be OK when he died. I tried to dismiss such talk (Phil was prone to depression). I guess I’m the captain now.

    It’s funny — just a week ago (probably about the time he died, unbeknownst to me) I was thinking that when Phil died, he would have a great big memorial service. The thought had never crossed my mind before then. I can’t imagine why it did at the time.

  2. When I was back in Chville for a day in February, got a chance to see Phil… Sitting out on the Mall in his usual fashion. He asked me if I was moving back anytime soon, and I replied that I trusted him with control of Downtown until my eventual return.

    I’ll his little bits of zen wisdom… And damn, could that boy play guitar. A secret bluesman of the highest order.

  3. Wow – Phil was a true character, and quite the fixture. And such a sweet guy.

    Many years ago, I was walking down the mall, and heard somebody yelling "HEIL!" on the other side. Ignoring it for obvious reasons, I heard it again: "HEIL!" Still ignored it, and then one more "HEIL!" I finally turned, and it was Phil, waving to me, yelling "HI AL!"

    I never knew about his blues talents. I sure wish I had. If anybody has any decent recordings, please let me know – I will play him on WTJU at the earliest opportunity (and will note that occurence in advance at cvillenews.com).

  4. If anybody has any decent recordings, please let me know – I will play him on WTJU at the earliest opportunity (and will note that occurence in advance at cvillenews.com).

    I’m afraid that I don’t know of any recordings of Phil. He was really, really shy about performing. To my knowledge, he’s only played 3-4 times in the past decade, and I got to see 2-3 of those performances. (My memory is a bit fuzzy on that.) I once went to his apartment on Altamont on Christmas Eve (he got a little depressed around Christmas each year), and he played for me and Tony LaBua, at our request. He told us that he’d once played, decades previously, for a crowd of 10,000 people at a show up in Minnesota or Wisconsin or something. We tried to pry more information out of him, but he was too uncomfortable to say any more.

    Perhaps his family will have some recordings of him? Maybe we can ask at the memorial service.

  5. What he said, that Christmas Eve many years ago, was that he’d played for about 20,000 people with his band. Opening for the MC5. In Michigan, I believe.

    (Tony: "So, what’s the most people you ever played for?" Phil: "Oh, MAN… About… Twenty… Thousand?" Tony: "Aw, c’mon Phil." Phil: "Opening for the MC5." Tony: "REALLY?")

    I’d love to find out what the name of his band was. If you speak to his family at the service (which I won’t be able to make it down to attend, sadly), please ask, and let me know. Odds are I can track down any recordings they’d have…

  6. The man had friends. He knew shopowners, artists, millionaires, street musicians, dogs, writers, police officers, punks, professors, drunks and everyone else under the sun.

    In retrospect, I note that while Phil was a constant philosopher, he rarely talked about any particular course of action to take in response to a philosophical issue. Things were what they were. Phil was truly a leaf on the wind.

    I knew him for 12 years.

    He used to send his hats home to his mother in Maryland so that she could clean them for him.

    About 10 years ago Phil was walking by the side of the road and saw some unidentified wild mushrooms that he decided to eat. A week or 2 later, after getting out of the hospital he regretted the decision saying to me slowly; "they looked sooo good." He had some kind of nasty fall associated with the poison taking effect, resulting in a terrible scar on the bridge of his nose and the loss of a few teeth.

    I last spoke with Phil about 2 weeks ago. I was telling him about my daughter growing up and starting to talk, and about how my brother had just gotten engaged and was moving back to town. There was a strong sense of sadness and bewilderment in him. I think it was the passage of time coming into sharp relief. Probably he had still thought of me as the scruffy 14 year-old kid in combat boots of 12 years ago. Then again, there was always at least a little bit of sadness and bewilderment in him at pretty much all times.

    I had been thinking about Phil a lot in the last couple of weeks between our final conversation and his death. And this is where a lot of regret comes into play. I was thinking about Phil’s teeth. They were really in awful condition. He had lost a few more since the mushroom incident and those remaining looked discolored and perhaps a little rotten. I was thinking that I would really like to take Phil to the dentist but I was figuring that the kind of work he needed would be pretty expensive.

    The opportunity is gone now.

    Phil Gair fulfilled what was clearly an essential function in the metaphysical management of Charlottesville, though I am hard-pressed to describe it exactly. It was always comforting to know that Phil was somewhere within 2 blocks of Central Place, grappling with the really big questions in life so the rest of us didn’t have to.

    All together he reminds me somehow of Winnie the Pooh. That is, if Winnie the Pooh smoked cheap cigarettes and sat on the street all day long. He was a good man and I will never forget him.

    PS – If there is a soda fountain in heaven, Phil is meeting Steve Weiner in the back booth for a long-awaited cup of coffee right about now.

  7. PS – If there is a soda fountain in heaven, Phil is meeting Steve Weiner in the back booth for a long-awaited cup of coffee right about now.

    PHIL: Why do you have two cups of coffee, Steve?
    STEVE: Because I’m a schitzophrenic!

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