River Phoenix: Story Behind the Song Joaquin Quoted at the Oscars - Rolling Stone
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Which River Phoenix Song Did Joaquin Quote at the Oscars?

Phoenix’s ex bandmate talks a song lost to time

river phoenix joaquin academy awards speech

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock; Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Shutterstock

When Joaquin Phoenix collected his Oscar for Best Actor for Joker Sunday night, he quoted a song that his brother, River, wrote as a teen: “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.” But where, exactly, is that song today? And what was it called?

Rolling Stone reached out to River’s ex-Aleka’s Attic bandmate, Josh Greenbaum, who recalls: “It was a very long time ago — one of the songs Riv had written prior even to our connecting. And we never actually performed the song together. With me, he wanted to focus on his newer material which was stylistically different — more musically advanced and experimental.”

Still, Greenbaum thinks he remembers the name of the tune, “Halo.” Tad Friend’s 2001 book, Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands, lends credence to this memory, as it recounts that, during the filming of 1991’s My Private Idaho, River Phoenix jammed with Flea and other actors from the film, “play[ing] the sweet, off-kilter lyrics Phoenix had written for himself and his band, Aleka’s Attic — ‘Run to the rescue with love/and peace will follow’ or ‘Hey, lo, where did your halo go?’”

My Own Private Idaho, directed by Gus Van Sant, is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and River and Keanu Reeves starred, playing gay hustlers who become friends and then take a transformative road trip.

Greenbaum isn’t sure where “Halo” is now. “I have a bunch of cassette tapes in storage that I have not yet had the opportunity to go through, and there is only a slim outside chance that a song that old is actually on one of those tapes,” he says. “It would have been something he gave me when we were just starting out, and even if it exists, I don’t know if it would play. After all, we’re talking three decades of storage, moving several times in between, living in hot humid conditions, etc.”

River, who died in 1993 of an overdose outside Hollywood nightclub the Viper Room, was a teen idol, musician and activist, much like his younger brother, Joaquin. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for 1988’s Running on Empty, and won Best Male Lead at the Spirit Awards for his role as a gay narcoleptic hustler in My Own Private Idaho.

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