02 September 2009


"I stand on a featureless sheet of blue stone
And then for one instant I'm not quite alone
Your hand is extended but then you rescind
And you like my thoughts are borne off by the wind."
"Nothing" - Phish, Undermind, 2004

It's late, and I'm tired. Already, the idea of being disciplined enough to write on this thing everyday has become slightly daunting. But come on...one thing listening to s'hloads of Phish has instilled in me lately is a kind of hardiness-via-association. I think the Phishtistic goes a little something like: Phish has only ever missed two scheduled gigs in their twenty-six year history as a band. I can't remember where I read this appalling, intimidating piece of trivia, and one can perhaps guess at its accuracy, but thinking on it more deeply, I can absolutely envision it being 100% true.

Allegedly, one show was cancelled on the account of severe weather conditions, and the other due to low ticket sales (7/19/93 at Pier 6 in Baltimore, a mere four days before my first show). This means that Phish has played approximately (or exactly, according to the PhishStats page lovingly maintained by Phishtitician extraordinaire, David Steinberg a/k/a "ZZYZX", a must-dabble for all aphishionados)...1,215 shows. That's one thousand, two hundred fifteen shows, with TWO CANCELLATIONS.


I, when exposed to this knowledge, in all frankness, feel like a total fuck-up. This is most assuredly not a pack of lazy hippies I'm alluding to. Listening to the likes of the 35-minute 11/2/94 Bangor, ME "Tweezer," and the more recent 20-plus minute "Backwards Down the Number Line" from 8/16/09 Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) make this more than evident.

[I might add, in spite of myself, that their phans are a seriously jet-fueled bunch themselves, self included, flagellate myself though I might; two of the shows I already mentioned above occurred within a week of shows I attended (the second being 11/4/94 at the Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, NY). Possibly a fluke, but then again, I did just start a blog dedicated to the dudes.]

Either way, many, many Phish songs and other live unravelings fall anywhere between a couple handfuls of seconds, and those two (and other) shocking, wobbly knee'd extremes, cranking straight skyward to include three-day festivals with three-set shows each night, along with late-night hijinks up the wazoo. Listening at great, great length to their relentless drive, flipped with seeming effortlessness, a light, airy humor and mischievously good-natured participatory spirit, I am seriously humbled. What am I doing with my life?! (overdramatic sobbing) No, just kidding. So, the subject of today's post, I decided earlier, would be well-spent laying down some objectives for what exactly I'm aiming to do in this here "blobject" -- my Phish blog-project/object.

[Time passes...]

It's morning now, and my discipline propels me to finish this post before I hopelessly run into the shoulder of the randomness road.

Why am I doing this? How about an imaginary FAQ?

Q: Why ARE you doing this? Are you some kinda Jim Jones Phish phreak?

A: Yes.

The longer answer: I am crazy for Phish, have been from the minute I heard them while playing SCRABBLE (and doing other things) in my friend Mike's (nee Nile's) dorm room at SUNY Oswego, a brittle approaching autumn in Upstate NY, September 1992. They took a break for a little while, then broke up for good, but for the most part, during that time I was too busy with the fact that the wheels were coming off of my own life, to really pay much attention. Deep inside, though, I was crushed in such a way that my consciousness protected me, by hiding the sadness behind smoke and mirrors between my heart and head. I had other work to do. My wounded psyche did a dern good job, but when, suddenly, I watched one of the members of the band begin to publicly flame out, I couldn't avoid the grief anymore. It was a familiar grief for me, by that point. It was a grief I saw looking back at me in the mirror sometimes, between 2000 and 2003.

Then, at the end of 2006, when I'd been sawing at the log of my new life for almost four years, that band member emerged into public light again in the flash of a mugshot camera, and, strangely, I felt a twinge of hope. I knew the tenuous dangle from the tether of fate, pushed to the edge of sense and reason from tenacious, insistent, unavoidable forces from outside one's control. I began really paying attention; I prayed with abject sincerity for him, and went about my own life.

Miracles happen. I know they do. The phosphor dust settled, the ocean got calm, and from the heavens, a pebble fell. Ripples cascaded outwards, and reached my legs as I stood in the still surf. He came out to testify, and I was urged to bear witness. I sat, listened to (and joined in) the wails and howls of my phellows, too excited to be silent, too hurt to demand, yet emboldened to challenge. But when I really listened, I heard a language...Trey was speaking a familiar, gentle, subtle language, about his friendships crumbling and renewing, his music dying and resounding. I felt and heard the fresh, familiar energy of of a life being recovered. Then he said it; he'd be "the happiest person in the world" if he found himself back onstage with Phish. Something in all our heads stopped, said, "WHOA. WAIT! HEY NOW..."

A pause. Tenterhooks. Snubbing my nose; who cares? Bleh. Screw 'em. Anger. Why does it matter so much? I'm different, it would be different, it doesn't matter. (BUG!) Damn. Like they never left. Grr! What's gonna happen? Who the hell knows...?

And finally (FINALLY...or PRIMARILY?) the announcement in Late 2008. Holy shit. Another pause. Ambivalence. More anger. Who do they think they are? Why bother if they'll just leave again? What if he...oh no, can't even go there. I know it's not a cash-grab, but...what? Oh God! I can't believe it!

So the answer to the first question is yes. I am a straight-up, bona fide, Jim Jones-style, groove juice-drinkin' Phish phreak. And I started this blog to answer, for myself (and whoever relates or cares to go for the ride), the same question. Why am I doing this? Why am I so crazy for this band? WHO AM I? How does Phish influence me, and I, the world, in my own individual way, as a phan, an artist, a living, breathing, spiritual being?

Q: Really, though. Who ARE you? Who do you think you are?

A: Phish was the first improvisational rock band I'd ever really gotten deep into. I knew jazz bands "let it swing" and rockers took solos, but it wasn't like anything I'd ever experienced. I grew up listening to 40s-60s oldies, classic rock, heavy metal, funk, soul, R&B, calypso and soca, reggae, goth rock, new wave, jazz, disco, classical music, raised as the only daughter of two well-educated Guyanese immigrants (one a music-loving, vinyl-junkie father, particularly), on the border between the Queens borough of NYC, and Long Island. Music was, is, and shall ever remain my life. I played classical violin from age 7 to 17, until I discovered Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath (and Teenage Fanclub, and Alice in Chains), and chucked my violin for a bass guitar, which I still play today (though scarcely enough).

After finding Phish, I inevitably came into contact with other bands like them, and got swept up in the phenomenon of "jam bands" (which, admittedly, has always been just about my least favorite way of describing what Phish does in the whole...freaking...world. "Jam" is a sticky substance formed from a cooled reduction of fruit, sugar and water, with the assistance of heat. And while I guess that could be an oblique description of the lengthy, muscular and spontaneous concoctions other bands I would later follow did, for Phish...the term has always seemed just too plaintive). I began to see tons of shows, follow bands, write on the "scene," and become heavily immersed in the incipient customs of the surrounding populations. Throughout, Phish was the origin, the central thread, the common denominator, yet the singular standout. Even when they splintered in 2000, their unique filaments continued to reach through me, as much as any (and all) of the music I'd ever listened to.

Anyway, blah blah...in context of this blog, that's who I am. I claim no authority; I'm not the "biggest Phish phan" by any stretch of the imagination. I've seen under 100 shows between 1993 and now, and only recently traveled off the East Coast for tour. I've never seen more than four shows at a time. I don't own every studio album (which actually makes me more of a phan in some definitions, but I digress), don't like every song, don't know the band, or don't even know or hang out with that many other phans. I've skirted the periphery of their more elaborately nomadic phanbase for my entire tenure, choosing rather to apprehend and comprehend them in my own tangential, referential, slightly antisocial way.

And as for who I think I am, that tends to vary on a day to day basis, and will likely figure into the content here. Stay tuned.

Q: How long / often are you gonna do this? Are you always gonna be this long-winded?

A: As of right now (see my earlier rant on the inspirational, insane work ethic of the band), I'd like to post every day. That I even began this blog in an off-tour period shows me my impetus is strong, as is my immersion at this time. I am a bigger phan than I have ever been...I know I'll soon rocket past 100 shows in not too long, as much as they continue to soldier on the road with their psychonautic sojourns.

As far as quantity of content goes, I tend to be a little florid, but I'm trying to rein myself in. Sometimes, my emotions are directly connected to my fingertips, and my emotions can often veer towards hurricane strength. I do plan on expressing myself through song lyrics, those of the band and their lyrical chief co-thespian, Tom Marshall) and probably other bands, too. I am a poet, and that comes out in my extensive, sometimes unstoppably rhyming alliterative prose. I don't always want to go on this long, believing to a large extent in the power of silence, but I don't want silence to be out of laziness. I am inspired to this end quite a lot by the story of how The Chairman (keyboardist Page McConnell) came to join the band:

"In May of '85 -- at Springfest -- I was introduced to a band: Phish. I immediately knew that I wanted to be a member. I moved to Burlington and joined the band."
-- Page McConnell, The Art of Improvisation - Goddard College BA thesis, 1987

It's pretty basic, really. Not to say, of course, that I'm going to pack up and move to Burlington to join Phish. But I waved my techno-wand and cooked up this blog, because they're back, and I am fucking PSYCHED. I want to express my love, joy, criticism, scholarship, and findings about how Phish has been acting as a valued part of my existence, and a filter for my experiences as a music lover. More importantly, without this blog, I would continue boring the living HELL out of my curious, bewildered friends and loved ones, and chomping at the bit to prattle on endlessly about this shit. Now, if you're just like me (and also need to relate), or you're just curious about how one lives one's life as a Phishhead, each of us a unique, frosty crystal in a vast cloud of interpretation and passion, this is a not-so-bad place to start.

Q: Are you gonna review shows, albums, videos, blah blah?

A: Maybe. Sorta. Depends on what you mean by "review." I maintained a kind of silly version of music criticism for a bunch of years in the late 90s, which consisted of me basically rambling endlessly about how much I liked the band I was talking to. I was essentially a walking quasi-promotional megaphone for the bands I liked. Also, I wanted to be closer to a lot of these bands, and to be frank, I don't mean in a Cynthia Plaster-Caster kinda way. I've never been a groupie, in the conventional sense. I have too substantial a moral and ethical undergirding to allow myself such liberties, not to mention, I got a rep to protect. I'm a musician, a music fan, and have found I make fine friends with a lot of these bands (most namely moe., whom I miss, and need to catch up with pretty soon), because we think a lot alike. I've heard someone else describe Phish as, "the best friends he's never met."

These days, I plan to be lots more objective, as the social promotion aspect of my writing has vanished significantly. I don't really care if anyone's reading this, although from the view of someone who likes reading stuff I like and understand, I suppose it's helpful that people at least know I'm doing it. Oh, and it may just shock some people, because I've been down in a bunker with Dick Cheney for the last six years -- many of the people I knew had no idea where I've been. Which has been great, for the things I've needed to learn and achieve for myself. But to everything, turn, turn, turn...and it seems this is the season for change. For now, it feels very safe to reveal myself under a soft, scaly, piscene layer of cushioning.

I may comb over songs and shows in great detail, or give certain sets, tours, members, events and chunks of comprehension of the band priority, as time goes on. I honestly don't read a lot of what else goes on (sorry, I'm pretty fussy, and almost too busy for this -- labor of love, remember?), so I'll likely not be doing a lot of comparisons to other people's critiques of the band, though increased exposure through participation may change that in time -- this is, after all, the writerly version of a Set II stretch. I plan on comparing shows, in time, as I create my own body of evidence, among the shows I've mentioned (briefly or in depth), heard, heard about, and/or seen.

There's yer stinkin' FAQ. Why, who, when, and how. Where? Here. What? A whole lotta nothin'. So there. Woohoo!

On deck: Phenway and the Jones Beaches.

[PS - Re: "Nothing" the song...upon first listen, this song raised some serious hackles, sounding, to me, like Robert Hunter had been pushed off a cliff by a snickering Tom Marshall, with the wrong band playing beneath the lyrics. Did I mention apart from the "jam band" moniker, I've never thought much of comparisons to, err, That Other Band? Not to say I don't think much of That Other Band, but if I'm referring to them as That Other Band, then you ought to know I don't care about them, or identify with them, nearly as much as I do Phish. They're sort of The Fog That Surrounds, to use an analogy). Just an aside, one of many to come.]


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