Pauline Phillips, aka Dear Abby, in a 1961 publicity photo
On Wednesday, Pauline Phillips -- the celebrated columnist and beloved American icon who dispensed advice as Dear Abby -- died at the age of 94. For decades her witty, no-nonsense approach engaged and endeared her to millions of advice seekers and readers around the world.
She delivered counsel like this:
Dear Abby, Which is better? To go to a school dance with a creep or to sit home? -- All Shook Up
Dear Shook,Go with the creep, and look over the crop.
Her humor and her salty tongue also won over musicians, who paid her tribute over the years. In his song "Dear Abby" (1973) folk singer John Prine included a series of mock questions and answers that get pretty close to the real thing. So close that, as the Los Angeles Times reported, one of Prine’s queries was submitted years later (with slight modifications) by a mischievous letter-writer, and turned up in print as an actual question.
Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
Well I never thought That me and my girlfriend would ever get caught We were sittin’ in the back seat just shootin’ the breeze With her hair up in curlers and her pants to her knees Signed, Just Married
R&B singer George Jackson also found the columnist good fodder for song. His tortured slow-burner, also called "Dear Abby” -- which appears on the album In Memphis 1972-1977 -- is framed entirely around a plea for help with his "serious problem."
I’m writing this letter in regard to my girl, who reads your columns all the time. And I wish by printing this letter that maybe it may change her mind. You see…she saw me talking to an old girlfriend and she thought we were trying to start an old flame again. Now she won’t see me….Help me save this romance from falling apart.
It wasn’t just the crooners and folkies who paid tribute to the tart-tongued columnist. The California punk band Dead Kennedys, who peddle brash humor in their songs already, wrote a gem of a number, "Dear Abby," that appeared on their 1986 album Bedtime for Democracy.
Got a problem. I'm a decent, underpaid, hardworking county coroner. It's important that my family eat meat at least three times a week. But we just can't afford to with the prices the way they are. So I bring home some choice cuts from my autopsy subjects. Just mix in the Tuna Helper:and ta-da!
The whole family thinks my new meals are delicious. They ask me what's my secret. Abby, I think they're getting suspicious. My smart-ass 8-year-old keeps asking, "Where's all the meat? The red dye #2 kind that's kept in the fridge."
If they find out the truth I don't think they'll understand. Abby, what do I tell my family?
Dear Reaganomics Victim,
Consult your clergyman. Make sure the body'sblessed and everything should be just fine.
But perhaps the best of the bunch is yet another song called "Dear Abby" performed by Northern soul girl-group The Hearts in 1963. What’s more Dear Abby than the concerns of these three lonely high schoolers? Listeners agreed, making the song a modest hit.
Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. Gee I feel so low. I just think I’ll go up out in the yard and eat worms.
And what is Abby’s advice?
Dear Mixed Up Teenager,
You know, maybe, I gotta suggest that you do go out in that yard and eat worms.
Gretta joined Soundcheck in 2010, having spent several years as a freelance radio documentary producer. Her stories on birders, fishermen, nurses, performance artists and even the Yale Whiffenpoofs have aired on a variety of outlets, from WNYC's Studio 360 to APM's The Story. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Brown University and studied radio production at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She was a cellist in the rock band Cursive from 2001-2005.