When Phillip Phillips was just nine years old, Max Harris was just beginning his tour of duty with the U.S. Armed Forces. The Allentown, Pa., native served as an Arabic linguist. He remembers crossing in to Iraq on the first night of the war and spending his last nine months working on counter insurgency.
In 2004, Harris received his discharge due to post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is becoming too common amongst U.S. veterans. PTSD can lead to everything from nightmares to suicidal thoughts. A 2008 study by the RAND Corporation placed the prevalence of the disorder among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans at just under 14 percent. As knowledge and awareness of the disease rises, many believe that number increases as well.
When Harris was sent home, Phillips was 14 years old. He just started playing music. Sure, he showed promise early on, but the Georgia native still had his sights set on high school, college, and working in between at his father's pawn shop.
Phillips went on to win the 12th season of “American Idol,” release a single that has sold over three million copies, and drop an album that is on the verge of going platinum. But perhaps most importantly, the stories that Phillips shares through his music are now helping people cope with problems in all corners of the world. In Allentown, the Iraqi vet is thankful for Phillips' new album, “The World from the Side of the Moon,” specifically the next single, “Gone, Gone, Gone.
“This past weekend I had some pretty horrible nightmares stemming from my service overseas,” explained Harris on “The Ralphie Show” via telephone while Phillips sat in studio and listened. “I really needed something to calm me down.”
Not able to sleep, Harris reached for his iPad and cued up the track.
“Something about the lyrics in that song… I heard things differently that time and it finally put me at peace,” he said. “I wanted to thank you, Phillip, for the amazing things that you're doing. It's been a long time since a storyteller has come along who really conveys that emotion in his music.”
Phillips, normally reserved and low-key, seemed to be at an even greater loss for words, yet was compelled by Harris' story to respond.
“You know, music affects me in a lot of ways; it's very therapeutic for me, and then once you share it with people in the world, you hear so many stories come out of it,” he said. “I respect you a lot, Max, for what you've done. You're more of a man than I am.”
From hospital visits to family members making headlines, Phillips' ride to success since “Idol” has been far from smooth. Yet moments like this help him to put things in perspective.
“It's a little nerve-racking when you (share your music) because…that's a big story,” said Phillips after we hung up with Harris. “I don't know if you'll ever overcome that because it's always just so new.”
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