16 November 2009

All My Plasticmelondreams Split Open and Molten: My Long Walk Down Festival 8 Mile

They have measured many a mile
To tread a measure with you on this grass.

-- William Shakespeare 
Love's Labours Lost, Act V, Sc. II 

Loyal readership (*guffaw* I mean, all 4 of you),

Festival 8 was a journey through a wormhole of epic proportions. And I do mean EPIC. For me, enjoyment of Phish has never been solely about the music, their concerts being, as they are, multi-sensory, situationist energy gatherings. I attend to be transformed, and I can be fueled creatively by Phish by simply knowing a show is occurring.

You may have noticed I sort of like Phish. I have a lot to say about them, and most of it ranges from okay-so-so, to the limits of ecstatic, and many mental / emotional stations in-between. But their recent, eighth, large-scale festival walked everything quietly off the charts. It was a game-changer. Suddenly, I had even more more to contend with in relation to these four man-machines, what seemed like insufficient time in which to do it, and what has begun to feel like much too much to take on, without a damn good reason.

To participate in Festival 8, I once again air-lifted myself out of my more-or-less controlled reality, to place myself along the continuum of shared Phish experience. The collision of ideas, emotions, observations and occurrences was multifarious, and even more weirdly personal than the already rather exquisite details I've exposed in my short-lived blogspace.

To explain; since re-opening my blog after needing to take a week off to regroup, what started to get wrung out of me as "My Take on 8," has become a (as yet unfinished) 20-page micro-memoir of my experience in the jamband community, 1993 until the present. In short, it has become clear that the story of MY Festival 8 experience can't be properly told, "in short."

But I'll attempt to suffice it, by saying the following:

In getting sober, I spent six years on a kind of wilderness retreat, where I carefully re-created myself, my world, and my view of the world, with me in it. I learned the central theme of my life was simple, and that I had a key purpose: staying sober, and, in so doing, being of service to others. In an attempt to extrapolate this new vision of the world onto Festival 8, I decided to volunteer for the event. In the end, my motives were not the purest, or, at least, I had more specific ideas for service than what were afforded me.

The return of Phish has rehydrated my talents for music journalism, which I have, time and again recently, stubbornly refused to dilute or train in other directions. As it happens, I've discovered with a mighty *THUD* that writing about Phish is something I've always wanted to do, but was too scared (of failure and rejection), and proud (lest I be misapprehended as a "groupie") to do. So, I talked around "the subject" for almost a decade, which I guess was good for the zeitgeist, since I talked about, and championed, a whole bunch of other stuff related to the creative world they influenced.

I doubt the fire would have died with Phish, but I can say they were the first in six years to rekindle it. I can also say the (albeit delayed) reformation of my other favorite band, Pavement, didn't inspire the unceasing wellspring of intellectual chatter that the return of Phish has. And since it's hard enough for ME to come to terms with why this is, I can scarcely give much thought to "how the band might take it," since I don't see that as being my job. My job, I think, is to feel my feelings, and try to keep them safe and manageable, but attempt to follow the dictates of this "life-instruction" I feel Phish has given me: Surrender to the Flow, Take Care of Your Shoes, Keep What's Important, and Know Who's Your Friend, etc. -- yeah, yeah, thanks Tom Marshall, but you know what I mean. If a band carries this message, it doesn't matter who wrote it; it becomes anthem, a sense of direction. Marshall's words are part of the delivery method.

This doesn't mean my life would have found no direction otherwise. It just means that, without Phish, the character of that direction would've been different. Now, I've been dealing with the direction I'm going in with Phish around, and it's an all-or-nothing game, kind of typical with me. Imagine a rich dinner conversation you have a lot to contribute to, but you're sealed behind glass, and can only hear snippets of it. The other participants, however, can hear you perfectly, but you don't know if they're listening, much less want you in the mix.

Starting a Phish blog felt so intense, as does feeling persistent feelings that are not manufactured or cultivated, but naturally-occurring, as an underground spring. My faith in this love is strong enough to convince me of its power, and has pretty much every day since I listened to the Hampton 2009 "Fluffhead." I get aggro when people (or even I) slag off the power of phandom for too long. No one hassles young lovers, established corporations, or sports teams for inspiring intense, complex and abiding emotional loyalties. But fear of the unknown – the endlessly looping question, “Just where is this all going?” – can be just as powerful a motivator...

The path has, so far, been decidedly twisty and bumpy. Over the last decade, I've had to work to support myself, being sort of an "acquired taste," rendering marriage, long-term relationship or the prospect of shacking up and sharing resources with a mate perpetual non-starters for me, completely beyond my control. Hauling ass into the middle of the desert with the squirming papoose of an ardent, engaged phandom on my back, I was once again throwing myself over the rack, for the sake of "Being There."

I signed up to volunteer at the fest with the hopes of working in Production or VIP, to give back to the band, not only in ways I knew how (having been in several bands, and being a computer technician), but also in other ways I'd always been afraid to try. I have never been a "groupie," having much more impossibly high standards than attempting to gain sexual access to the inner circle of a band's space. In 16 years of seeing Phish, I do not boast but will report never once having attempted to get backstage of my own volition. I've shared here about the one experience of being escorted, for an astoundingly anticlimactic 30 minutes in the bowels of MSG.

Elaborating on the simple (perhaps too simple) fact that I was en route to Festival 8 with high hopes of meeting the band, and working for the festival behind-the-scenes in a backstage capacity for a weekend, is one of the giant boulders of shame that's kept me from expounding on my Festival 8 trip for this long. I signed documentation in which I was asked what capacities I could contribute particularly well in, and I mentioned a long-term involvement with the jamband scene, long-time sobriety, and a desire to positively impact the vibe and meet these artists with whom I feel special kinship.

Although I guess it was gullible of me to think everyone applying for festival work didn't have some kind of similar angle to lay down, the hopes of going out to the desert, meeting the band, sharing ideas and appreciation, and being a kind of fly-on-the-wall influence, which I did for years with lots of bands during my Jambands.com tenure...they were absolutely real real hopes, naive as they may have been. My part in the disaster is that I probably waited 10 years too long to entertain these hopes, and, in so doing, had inflated them to impossibly grandiose proportions. Those hopes were roundly dashed, and, with the toppling of the first domino, all fell down after that.

I arrived to sign in and was informed I was doing Campsite duty Friday and Sunday, whatever that meant. Some kids told me it entailed standing around in the road while pretending to direct traffic. I showed up to do that Friday night, prepared to miss the first show, but ended up listening to Set I from a mini-boombox while standing by the check-in tent, to get picked up by a golf cart to take my group of volunteers to our post, which never arrived.

After about 2 hours (all of Set I), I was summoned by one of the staffers who said, "You, come here. You're released!" Basically, they'd watched me air-guitar-dance-drum-and-sing my way through every song of the first set, and realized I should be at the show, instead of standing around waiting for a mystery golf cart. The first set had completely smoked; the band sounded full and festive, energetic and savvy. Upon my early discharge, I literally bounded off, skipping into the grass towards the concert field, yelling, "Woo-hoo!" The second set was the truest musical moment of the weekend for me, where it started, and what it was all about. I ponder to myself: can I dial it all back to that? What does it take to make it all about that slab of sheer aural experience again, i.e. "THE MUSIC"? Or is it a fallacy to think things can remain so simple, after all this time?

I was told Saturday I'd be working in the General Store. That entailed, first, standing around in the blazing desert sun for an hour with a nice guy named Adam (sort of a labor in itself), whilst being maligned by polo club staffers (one quizzically wearing a fur-lined pea coat), and being called "Volunteer" rather than my first name. Then, I got golf-carted away by a death-defying, ADD-riddled manager to a tent shanty in the middle of the "Exile on Main Street" campground, to haul 10lb bags of ice for 5 hours, and give codependency advice to another control-freak polo club staffer, who wouldn't let me do anything except -- you guessed it -- haul ice. The ice-hauling itself was actually the best part of the job: it was concrete, straightforward, humble, and simple. If they told me I'd be hauling ice for 6 hours a day, every day, for 3 days, I'd have been psyched. Hey! (Drum roll)...it's ice! (boomsh)

Here's where things got ugly. While hauling ice, I got a text from my buddy Marc from AZ who was keeping me apprised of the details; he'd gotten his hands on the Phishbill, and the costume was indeed gonna be Exile on Main Street. My loathsome opinion of this impending decision became known the week before the Festival in really brutal fashion in the blog, and was the very first time in all my years as a phan that I've voiced that level of public disdain for a creative decision by Phish. Normally, I'd not even mention it; I usually take what I like, and leave the rest. However, it wasn't until that moment I began to come to grips with what was really causing my blood to boil at the prospect of Exile being covered at Festival 8.

First off, I have never really dug the Rolling Stones that much. Okay, okay, get up off me! They're a blazin' rock band among the oldest and boldest. But I like them least of all among The Beatles, The Who, and Pink Floyd, those big Brit rockers that Phish (wisely) memorialized in their first costumes in the late '90s. I was able to tolerate the Stones, and appreciate them for their gems, until my tepid reception was drastically worsened to a freeze, by my association of them, and Exile, with a hellish, shitty, hopeless-seeming time in my life. A terrible non-relationship, the dissolution of everything I held dear (including Phish, and my world, as this was all going down around 2000-2002), powerlessness and debauchery eating my life alive. I guess I wasn't ready to have to face up to that stuff right there, at that time, and in that way.

I started sliding into an emotional nosedive so precipitous, I was blessed to be surrounded by a giant wall of sober dudes in the Phellowship, with whom I'd connected before I went to the fest, to provide sober communion and camaraderie, amidst legions of amateur recreational chemists. To refresh, the Phellowship is a group of men and women who desire to stay sober at Phish shows. It's not related to any particular outside enterprise, program or methodology, although it has no opinion on them either way. It's a group that exists to help those who wish to stay sober at Phish shows to do that. 

These new sober phriends buffeted me as I sobbed my ever-loving eyes out for a good 20 minutes, following the first set Saturday afternoon (which was also really good, though I could definitely hear the Stones coming in on the Blighty-blues waves in the "Gin" jam). I finally understood I'd soon be subjected to one of my favorite bands playing two hours of music by one of my lesser-favorite bands, in a horrifying musical flashback to the worst year and a half of my life.

Of course, 6 hours of manual labor in 90-degree heat didn't help. I was totally sunstroked.

I volunteered to man the Phellowship table during the Halloween set, grinding my teeth, fighting back tears, and talking to other sober Phellows. Phish sounded absolutely great; I will not deny them that. But I was psychologically blocked; just couldn't get into it, which made it all the more awkward.  It's the first time since I was 18 years old (besides the previous night's first set, when I thought I'd be working), that I voluntarily sat out a set of Phish music. It was one of many not-so-positive firsts during the weekend.

Finally, setbreak came. Since I was the only one not all "HEEEELLLLL YEEEEAAHHHH" and "EPIC!!!!", I was asked to chair the Phellowship meeting that happens during setbreaks at shows, which was an awesome honor.  The meeting was big, with lots of new pholks, and it made the whole fucking ordeal totally worth it. Being a part of the scene as a sober person neither for nor against anything, but just who I was right then -- pissed off, sunburned, but not piss-drunk -- was the absolute, hands-down highlight of the entire weekend.

Then, I could return to another part of who I was, and why I was there. I zipped off to plant myself Page-side for Set III where, thankfully, Phish itself would re-appear soon.

Now's a good time to mention something that I've wanted to clarify for years, but hasn't been, err, maybe the most appropriate to cover anywhere else but in my own blog. The depth of my desire to connect with Phish (and other bands) has been mostly nonsexual. Granted, my love for music and musicians is ridiculously emotional and sensual, and personal -- I've been musician myself since I was 7 years old.  I'll even admit to early schoolgirl crushes on all four Phish, in recognition of certain commonalities and outlooks. But there has been a deeper, subtler appreciation, which, until very recently, I wouldn't allow myself to think about, much less indulge.

Believe it or not, personal principles adopted in 1995 have led me to carefully consider my interactions; I uphold spiritual vows to refrain from causing controversy in personal relationships, my own or those of others. I don't do it perfectly, but it's something I've taken seriously throughout my involvement with the music scene. As lustily ardent as I may get about bands and music, I've not been one to see physical intimacy as, or means of entrance to, "where the action is." To me, that always seemed like it would be a disingenuous mistake.

It's difficult to relate this next domino toppling without being specific, but let's just say that I had many layers of hope surrounding my voyage to Indio, all of which kept collapsing onto one another in pretty dramatic fashion from where I was standing (i.e. underneath it all). Set III on Halloween night was a really great dollop of a set, comprised mostly of a sly "BDTNL > Fluffhead > Ghost," which  one-upped 6/09/09 Asheville's "BDTNL > Ghost" by adding a tricked-out "Fluff" layer to the sandwich. But during the "Ghost" jam, I caught wind of a circumstantial symbology that communicated to me the negation, cessation, or otherwise serious complication, of another Phish-related hope I'd been fostering. The blowback from this visual information, amidst giant images of the band on the jumbotrons, caused a dizzy, disorienting recollection of The Clifford Ball, my first phestival (which I've been revisiting on DVD in the weeks leading up to 8).

My adult life flashed before my eyes; weeks before turning 35, I was alone in the desert, having traveled solo as always, following and devoting my time and hard-earned money to men I want to know and to care about me, who maybe never can, or will. A not uncommon occurrence, but standing in the middle of a crowd of 50-odd-thousand, the heat of embarrassment hit my eyes and forehead like nuclear radiation. What the hell was I doing with my life? I've asked myself before in similar situations, but this just seemed ridiculous.

Although completely unaware to know the machinations behind the work application process, I felt rejected and ignored by having signed up to (hopefully) work in VIP, and instead getting sent to haul ice. My overweening sense of magical thinking had me hoping I'd be plucked from among the crop of recruits, and brought in to witness and add to the vibe. I felt betrayed by my own sensibilities, for once again placing me in a scenario where my all-too-strong love, and devotion were being misdirected. It was the one-way conversation again; I wanted in so badly, the love wasn't unconditional anymore. Which -- let's face it -- is a problem, in more ways than one.

Frustrated, tired, sunbaked, sulking and squirming, ashamed, humbled, and just plain fucking sad, I turned right around and marched from about the 20th row, through row after row after row of thousands of people dancing in the moonlight, and kept walking and walking, straight back, until I boarded the ferris wheel, on -- oh look! -- car #13, natch. I reached the apex of the spinning wheel, sitting across from a nice couple (of course) from Big Sur, right about when they started Suzy Greenberg (which gives you an idea of scale, how long it took me to get to the top of the ferris wheel from Row 20 during a YEM intro, right around the quiet, pretty part)...

Weeks earlier, in my infinite genius, I'd accidentally booked my return flight to NYC for Sunday the 1st, instead of Monday the 2nd, in my itinerary. To correct the mistake, I then booked a replacement flight for the correct day, and was going to cancel the erroneous return flight for credit on a flight later on (maybe Miami for New Year's, I thought idealistically). I awoke the next morning so miserable that I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was in my sleeping bag on a carpeted floor at the lovely home of my new Phellowship friend, Barrett who, in an incredible spirit of service, generously put me, and an infinitely rotating host of phreaks, up for the weekend.

Opening my eyes, moving my face and arms, I winced. I may have failed to mention up to this point that, among my evolutionary defects (chronic obsession and fantasy addiction among them), I am also allergic to the sun, and, to complicate matters further, also allergic almost all over-the-counter sun protection. Around the time of the August 2009 Shoreline and Gorge shows (my first and slightly more detached, enjoyable Phish excursion out West), my dermatologist recommended a 58 SPF waterproof sunblock which succeeded in keeping me from being scorched alive, during my two days in Central Washington. However, I used a different, non-waterproof version of the same sunblock at Festival 8, and I think all the Southern proximity and perspiration rendered the product ineffective.

Extracting myself painfully from my sleeping bag, and slouching reluctantly to the bathroom mirror, I was delighted to find I looked like I'd been dipped in boiling oil: swollen, oozy, red and itchy. I'm still peeling today (it's 11/16/09), and my hands still look a little reptilian, after spending two weeks slathered in Aquaphor. My deplorable physical situation didn't make my broken heart or bruised ego any less pained. Even before I got back to Barrett's house the night before, I'd locked down the blog (again) and protected my Tweets (Hark! A new level of bashfulness!) -- when I have "phisshues," it hurts to be associated with them at all. It's like I don't want any historical evidence of my having loved them visible to anyone, when my emotions about them are embattled.

I'm seeing all these little quirks I've had that made me very private about my phandom from the very start...it's more intense than I realized. For better or worse, this is the way things are, and the best I can do each day is stay grateful that Phish are back around, my personal "phisshues" notwithstanding, and that at least I can feel this passionately about something today, without having to drink or do drugs to mute the pain of not being able to control the situation. It's a huge improvement that, when confronted with a back-breaking straw of information, I went to get high on the ferris wheel, and nothing else. A HUGE improvement.

Anyway, upon seeing the desert sun's effect on my face and skin Sunday morning, I decided I was gonna get on that 12:55PM flight outta Palm Springs after all, and flee the scene of the crime. I thought of the acoustic set, the 8-shaped donuts, but also of the sound of my skin sizzling, and the impossibility of even being outdoors, looking and feeling the way I did. I simply couldn't stay. So many new horrible Phish firsts: voluntarily missing a set for naught...albeit to volunteer, but ending up boogieing to a boombox? Sitting out an entire set? Sitting out what was my first HALLOWEEN SET? Leaving a Phish concert early? Leaving a Phish Festival early? WALK AWAY...DURING YEM...?!

The flight home, with a stopover in Chicago, was interminable. I sat in the same row as the trumpet player from the Exile set, and one of the backup singers was elsewhere on the flight (we all ended up at baggage claim together at LGA). Before even getting back to my apartment, I decided to start "counting days" off Phish, like they were cigarettes, heroin, or booze. I took all the shows off my iPhone, didn't read a website, tweet a tweet, look at a picture, watch a YouTube video...I even backed up all my shows and wiped my Mac with the new Snow Leopard (which I was planning on doing anyway, but it adds nicely to the drama, doesn't it?). I did this for eight days. I was convinced everyone thinks I'm crazy and dumb anyways; who cares, really, about my bad feelings related to a bad relationship's long shadow, as it relates to my dismay at Phish playing a widely-accepted rock music masterpiece?

Some funny things happened. Karl Denson requested to have access to my blocked tweets. Huh? Karl Denson reads my tweet feed? Well, whatever, must be "user error." Richard Gehr poked his head in, emailing me and saying, "Write something!" Mike says NO! Then, Dean Budnick emailed me and said, "Hey Carol, where've you been?", again asking me to write something.

Where've I BEEN? MIKE...SAYS...NO!

These things warmed me up a little bit. It's not that I'm crazy, or everyone's ignoring me, or the band hates me, or any other extreme, negative mental concoction I can invent. I DO love too deeply, react too strongly, and put too much force in one direction, a lot of the time. I'm oversensitive, intense, and impulsive -- all symptoms of the problems I struggle with. But Phish can't solve my problems. Continuing to work on myself, keeping my spirits up, and remembering what's important -- yes, the music -- helps me to get back to zero. The music's coming back to the iPhone and the Mac. I returned Clifford Ball Discs 2 & 3 before I left Indio (without watching Disc 3), but got 4 & 5 (oops!) near the end of my 8-day "phast." I've been watching them. Powerful, powerful shit. I don't know how to explain my particular brand of pain, trying to have a conversation with something that cannot answer back. But I guess if I stop waiting for a specific answer, I'll hear that the answer is right there -- in the music.

It's like Mike said in the hysterical "Get Bassed" "commercial" for his recent solo tour, "...because what you don't hear is important too, y'know." And it's like the Stones said, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."

In summing up, the moral seems a little bit obscure... Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be groupies -- d'oh! -- I mean, "rock journalists"...? Institute a parenting license for people with emotional problems so they don't pass them onto their children, causing them thousands of wasted dollars on drug addiction and other escapist tactics, not to mention hours on analysts' couches...? Always use the waterproof sun block, even if you're only going swimming at the Phish concert, or rather, don't go see Phish in the desert if you're allergic to the sun...? It beats the crap outta me, what lessons I'm supposed to be learning in all this.

My 20-page micro-memoir will get to dangle a bit, now that I've powered out this on-the-spot missive, since I had to say something. I especially had to close this thing out, before going back to battle with a full-time job I have lost interest in and cannot pay attention to, a computer technology career I'm extremely good at but can no longer stand, now that I'm doing the thing I've always wanted to do, that I thought I'd never do again.

I've got some iPhone videos, bad pictures, a dusty wristband and "Festival Volunteer" t-shirt, sunburn lines on my chest and back, and peeling skin, as souvenirs from Festival 8. I got something I didn't really need more of -- proof of my near-foolhardy dedication to Phish, and my wholesale willingness to participate in The Grand Experiment, in spite of myself, and all the more important things I think I should be achieving in my life (which seem as stubbornly far away as Phish do to me, sometimes).

I've also got options. Before starting my "straight job," I drove a livery cab for a little while in NYC, to make ends meet. I've decided I'm going to go the full route and get my NYC yellow cab license, which requires a lot more studying and time, but can afford one a lot more flexibility (to write, to tour, whenever, whatever), no bosses, and a lot more money to be made. And I can take a step back if I need to.

Something that freaked me out when I started this blog was it's shadow domain, http://wadinginthevelvetsea.blogspot.com (that's with a "Sea" not a "C." as in "me") -- an abandoned blog by a 22 year-old woman, who talks about being scandalized in her relationships and institutionalized. I really feel for her -- she should be 29 now, and hope she's okay, wherever she is. Struggle as I might with it, I started this blog so I can talk about the unique experience of someone like me (a single woman that loves music and especially this unique band called Phish, an oddball among oddballs), I can relate to her -- feeling out of control and on-the-edge, wanting to be rescued and saved. But I have choices today; I don't have to take hostages, run away or escape. There's help to be had, and if I can see my way straight for one day, I can go towards the hope.

Phish Fall Tour starts Wednesday, the day before my 35th birthday. Of course, I've been on the fence all this time, having being denied on ALL my Fall Tour ticket lottery requests. Of course, at the 11th Hour, I'm still actually considering spending $450 to fly to Detroit to spend approximately 8 of my milestone birthday's early morning hours in the presence of these perennial puzzlers, who it seems I might be better off just leaving alone for a while. The good news is: though I could probably spend it on something else, I could afford it. I have a party of 20 pals booked at a nice, affordable Korean place Thursday night, so not going to Detroit means I'll probably get there on time. Maybe I'll buy a round of sashimi.

I've asked so many times before and I'm asking it again: was it for this my life I sought? Yeah. Maybe so, maybe not. And that's cool. Tomorrow is another day.


tmwsiy said...

I only recently started reading yoru blog. I am quite certain that with the quality of your writing, that there are more than four people out here reading it. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I can't tell you how many times, I have found myself in the middle of a festival field, on a deserted runway, in a shitty motel room 1000 miles from home, in the balcony with a bad seat listening to an encore that I don't care about, driving in the middle of the night to make it back to work after a show, or in the umpteenth conversation with a family member trying to explain "it", when I say to myself, "Honestly, what the Hell are you doing?" I've "walked away" several times myself. Yet I can't let it go. It's a powerful grip for sure.

I'm just in the first 100 pages or so of the new biography. Being around since the Nectar's days and having grown with the band, it's interesting to see the parallels in my personal life with that of the band.

Just as Trey just lost his dear sister, I suffered an excruciating blow last week with the tragic death of my identical twin who was not only a twin and a brother, but a best friend and a soul mate. So as I listen to Party Time for the first time, there certainly is a lot of emotion running through some of those songs that I am certain were Trey's tribute to Kristy.

I look forward to more posts from you in the coming tours of this year and years to come.

Given said...

Fantastic post! I thought of All of These Dreams:
If you keep your eyes open
you may find yourself there

This is my favorite part:
It's a huge improvement that, when confronted with a back-breaking straw of information, I went to get high on the ferris wheel, and nothing else.

I will mention it on the Phellowhip yahoo group, assuming that you do not mind.

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