30 September 2009

The Thick End of the Wedge: Happy Birthday, Trey!

"I'm naturally pretty spaced-out to begin with. I don't require dope to put that good old-fashioned wedge in my head -- I was born with one."
-- Bob Weir, Conversations With the Dead, David Gans, Citadel Press, 1991)

Today's post is in honor of The Carrot Top of what I like to call my "Four-Headed Boyfriend." I endearingly call him "Treycifer" when I refer to him much of the time...Ernest (is it really Giuseppe, or just Joseph?) "Trey" Anastasio III was born 45 years ago today. Broken bits of the mold smashed after his birth still threaten international spacecraft in Earth's orbit to this day. Allow me to present some of my fave pix and quotes, and humorous anecdotes, in homage to Cap'n Happy-Hands.

Trey is the guitarist and "front man" of the band, Phish. I never know how to feel about that descriptor, since both Trey and Mike play in the same part of the stage, and both step forward in turns. Sometimes, Mike's hair puts him way further out front (and up, even) than Trey, but for some reason, that seems not to matter. I guess orange is brighter than gunmetal grey, and Trey smiles a lot more. That, and he's a raging, showboat ham. (Did I say that? ;-)

Trey began playing drums at a very early age. Seen here, he practices for all the future "Hold Your Head Up" madness to come. HYHU is a ridiculous arena rock outburst / quasi-cover of English hair-rockers, Argent, and normally precedes and follows many a Fishman-fronted spectacle in a blast of manic, comic frenzy, with Treycifer getting to demonstrate his acumen on the skins. Speakin' of which, I've highlighted here the HYHU from 5/17/94, which, lest you forget this coming Spring, was Page's 31st Birthday Show...

Trey is probably the most outspoken member of the band. In fact, sometimes it seems like he can't shut up, second only maybe to Fishman, who has been Trey's chum since college days. They definitely feed off of each other's energy. They once lay naked in a bamboo hut in some tropical paradise and talked about music for days on end. I have no further information on this event, other than Trey alleges they were naked "because it was really hot." (staring)

I have met Trey. He's a great guy. A quintessential geek, from what I could detect, he runs about 45 degrees warmer than the average human being, but this might have been because he was wearing a flannel shirt at the beginning of May. His eyes are very bright, pale blue, and his often kind, aimless, benevolent gaze felt like it was quietly tearing through all my possible bullshit pretenses, and carried just as much potential mind-shredding evil and mischief, as a thousand blazing moons.

He's about 5' 8" tall, his hair really is that red, his voice is really that buttery and cheerful, and his laugh really does that loud, honking, throat-sucking geeky gasping-hose Revenge of the Nerds thing. It's probably one of my favorite things about him, since I sometimes laugh the same way. One of my life goals is to make Trey laugh so hard he snorts; I know it must have happened once, and will someday happen again.

He's a dude. On any given day, to me, he's The Dude (man), but on most, with time, he's just become A Dude (man), a super-admirable one at that. Hearing about his arrest, and watching his subsequent recovery unfold has honestly been a profound joy. Now that he's firing on all cylinders, and back on the road with, in my humble opinion, the band that best suits him (other than maybe the NY Phil, ha ha), he spends much of his time again being adulated as "One of The Best Fucking Guitarists, Ever (man)," or myriad other outlandish correlations. For one example, I think Trey's got Jerry [Garcia] beat by miles, but that's just me. No hate: I'm actually beginning to really dig the Dead, as I learn more about them, to keep my relation to Phish fresh in comparison and/or contrast to the band they are so often paralleled with, for better or worse.

Either way, walking around being called shit like that isn't great for one's ego, but, despite whatever his failings are as a human being, I think Trey handles it better than most. He's a string-strummer, a knob-twiddler, dad, a husband, likely a cousin, not sure if he's an uncle, but he probably once made a pretty rad brother. In the sense that energy is neither created nor destroyed, he still is a great brother. I'd have loved to have Trey as a brother. I guess in some ways, he sort of is. My brother from another mother.

I also met Trey's dad. I ended up backstage at Madison Square Garden on 12/28/98, via the machinations of my buddy, Richard Gehr (with whom I am now gladly and gratefully re-united, along with good ol' Jesse). Trey's dad is an executive for Educational Testing Service, the über-examination superpower responsible for making me look dumb for life, in the form of the SAT and GRE standardized tests. I (hilariously) was scheduled to take the latter graduate school qualification exam the
very morning after the moment I stood backstage, stupidly shaking the elder Ernest's hand, and telling him that fact. "Slackjaw!" he may have thought, but I'm pretty hard on myself. So, I threw back a couple more glasses of free Burgundy and went back out to rage to the Carini > Wolfman's, etc. that fueled Set II...

If you want to read a steady stream of strange and ridiculous things Trey has said onstage with Phish over the years, follow this dude on Twitter. @trey_talks gives me my daily dose of Trey, when, to live without it would surely mean scurvy, memory lapses, or unforeseen toenail loss.

In addition, today is also the 1-year birthday of one of Phish's more appreciated and gleeful tunes, "Backwards Down The Number Line." One year ago today, Trey's old buddy and lyrical collaborator, Tom Marshall, emailed him a poem, which eventually turned into a a sweet, nostalgic, folksy twirl debuted as the Set II opener at 3/6/09, Phish's first reunion show at Hampton Coliseum. Since then, the tune got mutated into a 20-minute jamfest, as the Set II opener of Phish's last Summer 2009 Reunion Tour show, 8/16/09 in Saratoga, NY. Who says true love doesn't last?

Finally, I'll close with some of my favorite Trey quotes:

"You know, there's this core of music floating around the universe, and then there's, like, a bunch of bullshit all around it, because music is such a powerful thing. So, there's an incredible amount of bullshit all around it. "
Addicted To Noise magazine, 6/7/95 

"People don't really listen that much. Just listen. You want to learn how to play guitar? Sit in a room and listen, and write down twenty things that you hear and then try to play them. You have to get your own blocks out of the way to access that. All the fears and brick walls that you've put up through your whole life. 'Oh I'm not good at this,' or 'I'm just supposed to play this riff,' or 'This is what I was told is good.' You've got to drop all that somehow. It takes time."
-- Some interview read by Anthony DeCurtis before Trey's 2007 talk at 92nd St Y, NYC

"I got into this because making music in the basement with my friends became an addiction. I need to play music; it's my ultimate release. You can't imagine the feelings I have onstage. It's a very self-centered experience, in a certain way, but it's like a dream to me. When I walk off stage, my feet feel six feet off the ground. Then somebody says something like, 'The bus is leaving in fifteen minutes,' and I'm back to earth again, and I can't wait until the next night."
The Phish Book, p. 122, Phish & Richard Gehr, Random House, 1999

So, here's a poke in the ribs, Trey. Happy Birthday. Take a spa day. You deserve it.

[pix courtesy of, respectively, RollingStone.com (Trey @ 19 years old, senior year at Taft School in CT); The Phish Book (Trey as a wee lad, at Bearsville Studios, NY, on the ice in Pee Wee hockey w/ Big Ernie & rockin' thousands of peoples' ever-lovin' worlds); Dave Vann; The Morrison Hotel Gallery; and Mike-Gordon.com, where Mike refers to Trey as one of his heroes. Aww!)


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