25 December 2009

Foamy Phishmas!

Here is my gift to you on this most special Phishmas 2009, having been blessed with their return. With best wishes and good cheer, here's some dude in the audience during the decidedly nog-licious 11/2/94 "Foam":

And lo! He is joyful throughout! Listen on, good patron, to the foamy goodness in its 10:47 entirety:

Ah, indeed my friend. 'Tis true. 'Twas good, 'tis good, and 'twill be good. Foamy Phishmas to all, and to all a good spike...maaaaannn! 

PS: This show is perhaps more noteworthy for its 30-minute-long "Tweezer," but I thought the "Foam" was Yuletide-fitting because it reminds me of snow. If you want a bigger present, clear a half-hour from your post-Christmas shopping schedule and dig some serious cold, cold, cold instead:

[Shite-awful Photoshop by yours truly; pic by Nubar Alexanian]

20 December 2009

Notes from the Center of the Forest: All is Well

"...A multitude of words is tiresome, unlike remaining centered." 

"Words and the thoughts behind them may be clever, perhaps inspired, but still there can be enough of them. Then it is better to silently take it all in. We don’t need to describe everything we experience, or to express all that we learn. The words are mere shadows. If we focus on them we may lose sight of the reality they try to imitate.

"Instead, we should trust that our inner stillness finds the Way, and makes us see the patterns in the constant bombardment of information that is our daily life.

"The word ‘centered’ in my translation...is jhong (or zhong) in Chinese and means middle or center. It is used in the name for the Chinese nation (Jhongguo or Zhongguo). The Chinese character for the word is a simplification of an arrow hitting the center of a target. In Lao Tzu’s use of the word, inner balance and steadfastness is implied, somewhat like the keel of a boat that is unaffected by the waves on the sea. That is how the human mind should be – calm in whatever turmoil surrounds it, confident even in a rain of urgent questions and answers."

-- Stefan Stenudd, Tao Te Ching: Each Chapter Explained, Chapter 5

Things are better. Work on the horizon, agreement with space, no big motion for now, and time to sort it all out in the next month. Plans for Miami are underway; tickets and a ride (ROAD TRIP!!!) being secured, and crash space being outlined in the approximate shape of one sleeping bag containing a human form, and one Vaude camping backpack. Oh, and a pair of shoes.

Trying to keep it simple. Had a spiritual experience last night working on a large exegesis of a Hampton '09 / Phish 3.0 Fall Tour shuffle mix I allowed The Fates to deliver to me. Funny stuff. May post it soon. But writing and watching the Clifford Ball DVD up in a corner of the screen (magical: Disc 4, Day 2, Set 1, "Reba > Cars Trucks Buses"):

"Be the stream," a voice said.

We are each a stream: strong, silent, turbulent, slow, quick. Streams flow through their beds, moving, not clinging to rocks. I've spent a lot of time struggling; "Why this, why that?" I ask, carving out my niche of expression and understanding of Phish, in an otherwise statistical, repetitive cloud of showy self-competitiveness. In a moment last night, I merged. Fingers stopped. Brain stopped.

"Be the stream," the voice said again.

A lot on my mind, a lot on my plate. Much to reflect upon, and to celebrate. Not a lot in my wallet, but so much in my heart. The music of Phish makes me feels good, enhancing life, encouraging tolerance, very challenging, very rewarding. Their acceptance and inquiry -- of each other's notes, changes and fills, small and big breakthroughs, instrumental evolutions across time both brief and extensive -- is extremely engaging, and wholly satisfying.

But I'm going on...suffice it to say, I'm transitioning into a new experience. More will be revealed. I don't know if "more" will look like emptiness, or fullness, but there will be sounds of Phish, whatever it is. I'll be standing in the stream, water to my ankles, rocks under my toes, eyes closed, listening, feeling, letting thoughts rise from my ears, and pass from my nose. Learning to describe without description, and write without words, while chanting words from a song.

I neither cling to the stream bed, nor attempt to detach from it. I am in the stream. I am the stream.

16 December 2009

Winter Recess: School's Out in the Bush of Ghosts

Gotta take a break, folks...be back soon! Life is in session. -- C.

13 December 2009

If You Become Naked (Guy): The Charlottesville Meltdown, Part II

"It's Almost Like Being Naked"

Once again, I can't believe I finished this post. You'll be lucky if you see another one by New Year's Eve, I'm so f'in exhausted. Hell, you'll be lucky if you see me at New Year's Eve (unless you're willing to make my rent). But I'm going to start Part II of the Tour Closer report with a broad analogy:

One of the things Phish continues to teach me is how to use structure and containment, to allow free play within a framework, like quarks in the Hadron Collider. Containers provide a means of marshaling less definable, static substances, such as liquids or gases, as opposed to solids; e.g. Ernie Stires to Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell to Phish, the pentatonic scale to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… There are a myriad wild, untamed forces in the universe that, if left at least partially unchecked, might have made the Universe as we know it an impossibility.

The entropic implosion-sans-containment theory can be seen, in another example, up and down the rock music timeline. The Joplins, Hendrixes, Staleys, Cobains, etc… Musically, psychologically, logistically, there may not have been sufficient regulation of the sheer force of their talents, causing the engine of their volatility to devour them whole. Unfortunately, adding insult to injury, a great many creative people are out of their goddamn minds. Oh, hey…self totally included! I was reading my old Jambands.com pieces last night (which I've finally scraped together, at least temporarily, via links to their archived pages, over on the right).  As entertaining as they can be, I get a f*cking headache reading them!

I don't want to assume terminal uniqueness or anything, but it can hurt to have so many things going through your head all at once, all the time. It's exhausting. I'm also stubborn, and often mistrustful, so I often try to do things my own way. Initially, various substances served to throw my crazy brain-salad at an angle, and into a different level of focus, so I had to more carefully watch what was flying into, and out of, the bowl. Emotions, impressions of the world and people, my own activities and responsibilities…it was all too much to deal with in the first place, so "managing" it with self-directed chemistry experiements seemed like a convenient means of control for a good long while. Not to mention, it just felt good to have the rest of my body feel as wacky as my mind so frequently did.

The whole operation was now on its own mission of perma-crazy autopilot. In a mind already naturally riddled with incoherence, believe it or not, coping by making it more crazy seemed like a perfectly sane idea. At some point, though, the helpful tilt, manufactured tension of watching everything and keeping stuff tilting this-a-way and that-a-way in my head, to make things seem "straight" -- "sanity via reverse engineering" -- backfired. All I had left was a three-and-a-half legged table in an empty room, with lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage and other salad items in varying states of decay, strewn all over the place.

Family, community, moral and ethical balance, chord structures, programs of recovery, religion, instruction manuals, computer programs, shelving units, meditation practice, antidepressant medication, a new pair of glasses…all these things and hundreds more can provide fine alternatives to the use of illicit and/or non-prescribed drugs, to remedy the chronic inability to manage one's own disorganized thoughts and/or life in general. But boy…for a stubborn, oversensitive mess like me, that last method was just so EASY! My Man (you know, the same one Lou Reed was waiting for) is always lurking around; at the deli, on the corner, hell, anywhere...ready to pony up the easy way out. I look at the clock and, hey! It's 4:20! Temptation is everywhere…any f'in excuse I (or anyone) can find to "take a break" -- I will usually wanna take it, especially if it seems to be the way around feeling pain or discomfort. Yes, it seems to be…and I can be wrong.

As a member of 21st century society, I can either believe things are getting easier, faster and more convenient for me to just be able to work less and do less, or because, through these advancements, I'm meant to deepen my mental, emotional and spiritual experience, with more time to work on removing certain obstacles. By way of circumstance (or the mercy of an unknown source), I've been able to find a little structure, and sorta get my shit together. I'm still pretty much a bona fide mess, "wookin' pa nub in all da wrong places," trying to force solutions and fantasize my way into reality, making unreasonable demands.

But a few key changes, additions and lessons learned have informed me of a new path, if I choose to take it. And yeah…given what I was like at the end of the last path, with the lopsided table and overturned salad bowl, sure. I'll try to keep giving structure a shot, a day at a time. Basically, getting sober and trying to learn how to live and grow up a little -- it's kinda been like someone throwing a rug over my bare ass. 

Baby Snakes 

On my iPhone and MacBook are scattered rudiments of a piece I began writing in March 2009, called "The Evolution Will Be Terrifying." It is the interminable "Ur-post" of this blog, which evolved between Hampton I and one month after Gorge II (8/8/09, the night a pile of disparate thoughts in my mind was ignited by a spark that shot from the stage). In the ratty, often incoherent piece, I consider the concept of "error" as it applies to the new, live Phish experience (i.e. Phish 3.0). 

Now, as I've mentioned, I can be kind of a pushover, and often find it difficult to be critical of, or contrapuntal to, entities I deeply admire. I've been thinking a lot lately, too, about where this blog and my now rather public phandom pushes the boundaries of "people-pleasing" (cue Jon Lovitz as Harvey Fierstein: "I just wanna be loved, is that so wrooooonnng?"). But I'm trying to cultivate neutrality here; it feels new and interesting. I wouldn't say it feels "good" just yet. It feels worth the effort to be part of the conversation, instead of a strip of wallpaper.  While excessive critique is definitely an impedance to formulating intimacy, an informed criticism is the stuff productive relationships are made of.

In the early moments listening to the inaugural reunion show (3/6/09 Hampton), I got verklempt. The deafening roar and first notes of "Fluffhead" won't ever, I think, cease to cause the hairs on my neck to bristle, and tears to well. Witnessing the opening of a long-closed faucet of creative collaboration, envisioning the intricacies of relationship, communication, trust, and risk involved in those notes finally being played onstage…I was immediately inspired to kick out the jams. At a transitional point in my own life, I knew it was time to head in a new direction.

However, a short ways into the show, it was apparent there was slipping and sliding going on. Compassionate as ever, I thought, "Dude, they're onstage for the first time in years; sure, they rehearsed, but you know it's never the same in front of a crowd…" After a while, it got scary; the mountain of expectations came down in a big avalanche. I tried to push the sluice back up with the Benefit of the Doubt: "Give 'em a break!" But the powerful entropic force of gravity pressed my hands, saying, "Crap! Trey's blowing notes left and right; it's so awkward! How can this ever good again?"

Looking back, I realize that right then, when I a) acknowledged what I was feeling, then b) picked up my proverbial pen and started scratching out the horror and the terror and fear, I joined the conversation, the process of evolution. I made a decision to see it through (or rather, feel it through), note for note, splotch for splotch, botch for botch, and (yes) peak for peak. Humanity wouldn't, and couldn't, have moved forwards if fellow Cro Magnon, or other adjudicators, stood by scrutinizing: "Oh no, no, that hair shouldn't be the one to fall off!" or "No! Walk this way!"...

Among the landmarks of early Phish were a few key experimental performance tanks like Hunt's, The Front, and most of all, Nectar's, popular clubs in and around Burlington where the band cut its live teeth back in the mid-1980s.  Phish: The Biography has naturally been informing a lot of my discourse on the band these days, teaching and re-teaching me a lot about the granular details of their transformation throughout the years, in another handy (and appealingly more narrative than statistical) volume.

Talking to confidantes this past post-MSG week, they made reference to "devices" they'd like to see employed, to somehow manufacture comfort, intimacy, latitude and creative contingency in and around Phish shows. Unpredictable disturbances, and/or the long-term commandeering of a specific venue were put forth as ploys that might be catalysts for chaos, in this static age of Live Nation, 10,000+ crowds, and airtight security seals, to recreate the original kinetics that made Phish what they were in those germinal stages, right after small-venue sparks caught tinder among a bursting audience, and propelled them towards bigger theaters in the U.S. at large.

Drugs (booze to benzos, soup to nuts) are a means popularly utilized to fabricate an atmosphere of "acceptable" comfort, trance, and contingency in a band, and among an audience. But what happens when a carefully cultivated consensual space of "acceptable altered reality," created by generic handfuls of chemical mechanisms, and disorganized, unpredictable organic forces…are stripped away?  Reality encroaches…but what is "reality," really...?

Well, it took me a while, but here we are, back in December 2009. A skinny guy with no clothing bursts into a hermetic space, and changes the game for Phish once again. How did he do it? Why? What was going on before he got there? 


Saturday, 12/05/2009 
John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

Set I: AC/DC Bag, Chalk Dust Torture, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Sneakin' Sally through the Alley, The Old Home Place, Cavern, Funky Bitch, David Bowie, The Wedge, Bold As Love

Set II: Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free, Sweet Virginia, Harry Hood > Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, Run Like an Antelope

E: Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise

[JPJ Arena: The Crucible.]

Logistically, here was a band at the end of a stretch of 13 shows, or, moreover, at the end of a year of 46 shows, following a hiatus of 5 years. Such numbers were drops in the bucket to the Phish of the 1990s, but it's a decade later, and while the name of the game may still be "take it to the limit," the real science behind limitations is how to negotiate with them, without sacrificing the integrity of the experiment, by endangering (or eliminating) key variables.

There was an "AC/DC Bag" opener, much like the first show of Fall Tour in Detroit, the first show of the Albany run, the first show of the MSG run...and, hell, debuted on 4/1/86 at Hunt's in Burlington. Not quite sure what they're going for with all the "Bag"s, but the jaunty tale of the robotic hangman borrowed from the energy of the last few shows to launch things at JPJ. "Chalk Dust Torture" was next…it was revealed to me last week in an interesting little hiatus-era (2000) teen magazine-type Phish snippet in Entertainment Weekly online, that "Chalk Dust" is allegedly Trey's favorite song to play live. Hmm! "No wonder they keep playing it," some might say, just like I might remark about "Prince Caspian." I glowered at some folks when they griped about "Character Zero" last week, which I personally would miss if it went away. Hey, to each their own. Either way, despite a remarkably fumbled change towards the end, the "Chalk Dust" was heated up with some guitar dominance.

"Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan" became third in what sounded like conspicuous consumption of Southern guitar energy to keep ramping up the already raucous storm brewing in the arena. "The Divided Sky" that followed, as compared to, say, mid-1990s versions (i.e. the "we are aware of our awesomeness" phase, 1996-1998), is woolly, shaggy and propellerheaded. There's nothing serious about this "Sky" but the pause, which, interestingly enough, was a particularly pregnant one that caused my squirrelly, inebriated seatmate to look at me and say, "A little arrogant...?"

I rubbed my chin and quietly watched. I never scream during The Pause. I use it as a moment to breathe in the vibe, to taste the energy of the audience in my skull and skin. I've always had a (probably improbable) dream of the whole audience falling silent with the band in the crevasse the four create, plucked from the chaos, frozen meditatively in time, with blue Kuroda spots slowly punctuating space with extraterrestrial calm. The vaster majority of 15,000+ rowdy onlookers goaded them with the usual screams...

"Elegant," I responded.

An Effervescing Elephant

It was obvious by this point in the show nothing technically special was happening; apparently, it was just the opposite. The jamming is loose to nearly sloppy, a few elementary changes are tilted, such as one near the end of "Chalk Dust" (which has been performed in no less than a quarter -- 24.76% -- of all Phish shows), lyrics are melted, and the normally precise, taciturn Mike Gordon seems wacky on the Groove Juice, sliding all over the Modulus frets like they're covered in chicken grease. Fishman has turned into a total fill-aholic, playing what seems to be a constant stream of exploratory improvised interludes, rather than the "drum lines" of the songs, and the only one seeming to hold the hay-cart together is usual straight-man, Page McConnell, who has, it appears, taken on a stern resolve, having stepped South of the Mason-Dixon Line, in stark contrast to his boyish, billionaire bachelor energy from the rest of the tour.

Onwards, either amused by their own disregard, or simply in a chiefly end-of-tour space ("I'm gonna finally get a minute away from you mo'frackers when this is all over!"), the fellers began to wind into what could become a spicy "Ya Mar." But right in keeping with the ridiculous, off-kilter temperature in the steep, concrete cauldron of JPJ Arena, a pink wisp of a shape with spindly legs suddenly interrupted the sanctified, familiar four-person aquarium of the stage, followed by three burly security guards in hot pursuit. A streaker, running so fast his feet barely touched the ground, leapt with incredible deftness over an undoubtedly intricate assemblage of sound equipment. He pounced on Trey in a puppyish hug; Trey patted the guy on his bare back, grinning benignly. The guy continued to give the guards brave chase until, finally, he was pressed down near Fishman's kit, and hauled off by the authorities.

[Apologies for the grainy, clumsily captured, Bigfoot-like photo.]

Speaking of Fishman, what was most notable to me while it was all going down was: before it began to the moment it was over and beyond, the Befrock'd One didn't stop playing the hi-hat and kick-drum Calypso intro of "Ya Mar" for one single second. This says a few things to me, some of them conspiratorially speculative: 1) the spirit of unpredictability can be nothing if not alive and well in Phish -- like anything else, it has required re-invigoration after a period of dormancy; 2) did Phish plant the Naked Guy?

While it's not entirely impossible to believe Phish would be that calm if a mercenary came onstage with unrevealed intentions, to be so immobilized with unconcern says either you're in an excellent, Zen-like position, or you're already aware of something everyone else is not. By the time I got to the last conclusion, I realized, well…Fishman's always that close to naked, so perhaps it's just kinship.

So, I'm at the show, furiously thumbing thoughts into my iPhone, and my nosy seatmate bluntly asks if I'm "a reporter or something." I stare at him for a moment and keep thumbing.  "I mean, are you covering the show for something?" Looking at him again, I say, "Sort of…" and continue thumbing. After a second or two, he says, loudly, "Whaddya writing over there, a novel?" I like to be respectful to my surrounding phans at shows, and the whole nakedness idea reminded me of my last post, which talked about the seemingly contrary disciplines of critique vs. boogie at Phish shows. I took the dude's babbling as sign from the Universe to stick with the fuckin' show (despite being the last of tour), and not wreck it for others with my bright iPhone poking. In a bold gesture which felt kind of refreshing, I turned my phone OFF, and prayed for the resurrection of a few old, hooch-enfeebled brain cells to remember what happened.

This show is refreshing in its urgent messiness. Right about here, keen setlist choice takes over, sending JPJ to the moon again and again, tapping deep into the feral insides of traveling phans, first with the slippery classic, "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley," a personal fave, if not for simple recall of that gorgeous 8/7/09 evening in George, WA. "Sally" brought Charlottesville to the brink of abandon, putting the ever more jangly, unfastened atmosphere between band and audience to excellent use. The trend continued with cozy homage to C'ville with Bustout of Show, "The Old Home Place" (last played 4/15/04), the shoe-minding reminder in "Cavern" (albeit with some more unfortunate lyrical muck-uppage), and a massive save with "Funky Bitch," played thrice in the 3.0 so far, and pulled from the bag at an excellent juncture.

"David Bowie" arrives with the audience boiling for more heat, and more than interlocking groove (witnessed in Albany or Syracuse), there's an alternating undulation, each instrument's flow rising and falling, wrapping and writhing around the others, separate but closely engaged. It sounds like a race…a mutual urging. This "Bowie," unlike the more bossy, forthright 11/22/09 Syracuse version, inspired me to begin making an effort to think more in terms of the instruments in Phish, and less of the players behind them.

I can get lost in personalities and temperaments of the musicians, so I'm making more of an effort to hear the music, regardless of what the people playing it do. Not to disregard the un-disregardable (that is, those four lovable genii), but they are, as I often need to remind myself, MUSICIANS. The point of all this inquiry is, at very, very bottom, that which is channeled through their hands and voices. Why is it a difficult enterprise to make the important (even compassionate) distinction between music and musician? I'd say one reason could be because most people can't afford themselves enough time away from the everyday schlock of living to play, either by making music, or just having unstructured fun, being goofy and randomly inventive. Cleaving to the Pied Pipers is easy because, more or less, they do "fun" for us, and they do it pretty darn well, and for me, the excuse to travel is almost one of the best parts of the package...

In more salute to the spirit of all who've ridden the rails with the band over the year, "The Wedge" expanded on the broadness of the show, which added to that hair-in-the-wind, devil-may-care feeling. 

Capping the set was a "Bold as Love" explosion which hepped me to the fact that the keys were conservative, but sticking and moving in a manner only detectable in retrospect. The intensity is in the interstices; eyebrow-raising, head-tilting.

[Kinda shaky in the beginning, but just wait for it...]

Dare I say Phish 3.0 is not so much about "jamming" as it is about "flourishing"? There are certain quasi-erotic elements -- foreplay, for example -- which are absolutely integral to intimacy-building. I'm not being clever by suggesting anything about duration. But I am hinting that choice moments of intensity may provide equal satisfaction and otherworldly transport, rendering a slavish adherence to "duration-as-quality" in jams suddenly debatable. I've enjoyed listening to Phish throughout the year, and hearing moments of flourish, despite cringing through alleged "fails," and indeed, witnessing the moments (Cobo, Cinci, Syracuse, Albany...) when flourishes amass, collect and cohere into brain-erasing jams.

"Tweezer" begins Set II with a bold gesture speaking to either impatient insistence, or (as I like to think) a "Last one there's a rotten egg!" friskiness…as the band emerges from backstage, Trey marches over to, and picks up, his guitar, straps in, and guns right into the "Tweezer" intro, without the rest of the band even having gotten to position. Fishman, for example, quickened his walk to a scurry to get to his kit stool. I was like, "Hell yeah! Trey's not fuckin' around!" True enough, Anastasio was the 1986 Lenny Dykstra of Charlottesville; shifty and fast, not so much about precision as he was aiming to "git it done," quite steamy in its own sense, and a large part of the show's heat.

They crunched through a thick, metal-esque sludge jam, then segued slightly clumsily into "Light," in which Trey promptly conflated the lyrics (inadvertently flipping the second and first verses). But "Tweezer > Light > Piper > Free" is probably the most poetic segue-fest in recent memory, though not entirely deft in its transitions…the jam out of "Tweezer" has more of that undulating quality, alternating between interlock and splay, clamping down briefly into a dancehall reggae-style percussive stomp, with some truly puzzling steel drum-type guitar effects melding with other ambient percolations.

No, the transitions are not clean. Why should they be, must they be? I was gonna develop that question, but for right now, I'm gonna skip it, because I've got a thing I'm trying to do here. It's a narrative. The jam that blooms into "Piper" is an amphetamine spin, and, as the song kicks off, the deficits of JPJ's cavernous concreteness are revealed in some jarring, squawking feedback -- but the band rolled onward without any attempt to right the situation.

So much about this show is where I think Phish is heading…the Universe will conspire to manufacture more instances of retrograde evolution, which will continue to yank the trajectory of the music in a forward, outward direction. A band this big cannot turn back the hands of time, morphing MSG into Doolin's circa 1985 Vermont. But one of the things Young Thane from the Train and I agreed upon, on the 12:05 to Charlottesville, was that, on an primordial level, Phish needed to STOP GIVING A PHUCK. I'm dying to text Thane up and say, "Yo, it's Carol from the train…would you say that Phish STOPPED GIVING A PHUCK in Charlottesville?" I'm almost positive he'd say "Hell yes!"

Mike kept throwing down this low C note that kept me thinking they were gonna bust out playing "The Guns of Brixton" by The Clash, which would definitely qualify as "not giving a phuck," musically or thematically: 

When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?

When the Naked Guy comes a-knocking, how did Phish greet him? How would you? If you're Fishman, one foot's on the kick, and the other's on the hi-hat; Trey, a smile and and a pat on the back, Mike with a few low notes floated amused before a question mark, and Page, staring narrowly and ready to leap over his gear and put some Chuck Norris-style hurt on the phucker if the security guards failed...

"Sweet Virginia" was my first Phish-does-Stones live since Halloween: it was the third Exile tune played since F8, the first being "Torn & Frayed" (Cinci Night 2), and the second, "Shine a Light," played the previous night at MSG III. Really Drunk Dude and His Friend, Other Dude had switched places (possibly because Drunk Dude was embarrassed to be standing next to Not-at-All-Drunk Girl). Other Dude plopped down when the Stones tune began, then loudly asked me the question I least wanted to be asked right then:

"You like the Rolling Stones?"

Yaaaghhh! Oh why'd ya have to... I don't typically like sitting down during Phish shows; I usually perch on the edge of an upturned chair, propping myself up gymnastically, arms straight against the seat back, or one foot on the seat in front of me and the other on the ground, or some other not-quite-standing-or-sitting position. I was so positioned, smirking and silent.

I asked him, "Do you?" (Well played, right!)

He said carefully, with a mishmash of exasperation, surprise and forbearance, "There was a two-year period for me that, if it wasn't the Stones, it was BULLSHIT."

Ah! Hmm. Okay, I've definitely been there, with Pavement, Steely Dan, hell…Depeche Mode and Black Sabbath in high school and early college...that's how we music addicts do. If you're there, you're there; if not, it's like the horse and the water. If you're not thirsty, nothin' doin'. Like me trying to justify to Jesse why Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic would've been the PERFECT Phish Halloween costume; he just never "got" the Dan. Man oh Manischewitz…it's just the way it's got to be, though. I've been sort of ashamed lately: how I can say I'm "open" to the ongoing continuum of Phish, but not step foot near an MP3 of the Halloween set? Yeah! It's weird! I won't deny it!

Is that where I am with Phish? Errraaahhh...uhhhh...sort of? I've been listening to other stuff, sure (even compelled myself to go out club dancing the other night, and had a dandy time). But it all inevitably gets thrown through the grinder. What can I say? It's just something I'm ready to do right now. Like I said once before, the timing is right, and why not?

One thing I'll definitely give the Stones, which has caught up with me in my post-Festival 8 teeth-gnashing and re-examination, is that they're amazing poets. "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Emotional Rescue"…while not quite ever doing it for me musically, for whatever reason, the Stones have always impressed lyrically. But I guess it's a matter of choice, and focus. While I'm willing, at this time, to examine the relevance of Phish playing TV on the Radio's "Golden Age" (Dig the lyrics to that one, whoa! Talk about Sunburn of the Spirit!), I'm not as appreciable of their musical donning of the Stones. As mentioned, there are also extenuating historical circumstances further complicating the bias, which appear to be presently non-negotiable in my psyche. Okay, psyche: have it your way. I can adapt. But I appreciated hearing these lyrics in particular, in Fishman's raspy murmur: 

Thank you for your wine, California,
Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruits.
Yes I got the desert in my toenails
And I hid the speed inside my boot.

But come on, come on down Sweet Virginia,
Come on, honey child, I beg of you.
Come on, come on down

You got it in ya, uh-huh
Got to scrape the shit right off your shoe.

The words drew my life into focus as I perched in JPJ, through a big magnifying glass sweeping over the last six weeks. Just, really…PHUCK IT. A tall, blond dready dude came up to me during setbreak and shouted me out for this blog. Aghast, I smiled and nodded idiotically at my first public shout-out, as he expressed regret for the recent loss of my job (he'd read it that recently??). All I could manage to say, standing there again in a foreign state with no idea how I was getting home (but surer than ever, irksomely, that it'd all fall into place), was "Aww, PHUCK IT!" He grinned appreciably at my (albeit manufactured) defiance. We do what we can, when we can, I suppose.

Another good part about "Sweet Virginia," and why it wasn't just a leg-rester at its point in Charlottesville, is Fishman's vocals. News flash: I am a total sucker for Fishman on vocals. "Moma Dance," "Taste" (and the little in "Limb By Limb")...his voice (believe it or not) does something to me. Its rarefied, mysteriously tart sweetness is the underutilized secret kiwi fruit in Phish, yet another of the Universe's unsolvable enigmas, lurking within that hoop-covered frock.

Doug, a dude from North Carolina sitting to my left, said, "This isn't a very nice song to play for Virginia, is it?" (likely referring to that whole shit-shoe thing). I had no comment either way, but did find it sort of nice how I tend to befriend all the weirdoes sitting around me at Phish shows.

Charlottesville's "Harry Hood" was like being wrapped in a warm, freshly-washed, fluffy beach towel after a good soak in the hot tub. Everyone scattering out sun-dots: mellow Rhodes tinkling like emerging beads of sweat, slightly fuzzed guitar emitting a detoxifying flush of heat on the brow, bass and drums together the heart's racing thump from increased temperature, all together winding upward in cascading steam, until…your asshole friend comes running up behind you and shoves you into the ice-cold POOL…of "Suzy Greenberg"!

Warm towel goes flying! Cold, chlorinated water surrounds and goes up your nose! Flounder! Splutter! Expletives! Waving fist! Yet a sense of relief…when you're hot out the jacuzzi, and feel like you're gonna faint, the hilarity of shocking oneself with a cold dip is quite like the naughtily abrupt launch from "Harry" into "Suzy" here (whose titular irony is not lost on me). Adding to the scandal, a handful of keyboard solos come stampeding from the stable for a few scorching dips back into the hot tub -- set up nicely by a couple of uncharacteristically subdued guitar bridges -- first with frenzy-inducing wailing and moaning synth licks, and later, forbidden juke-joint piano flickers, then hauled back into the elated arms of Trey, who heaves the final verse to Fishman, to nail the hell out of another "Suzy" neurologist interlude with extraordinarily extemporaneous gurgling, as he's been doing expertly lately, causing me to scream with laughter in the middle of public places. The crowd boils over with mania…phew!

And just when you think it's safe to be back standing jacuzzi-side with your warm, fluffy towel, along comes that douchebag friend again…SHOVE! "Golgi Apparatus," in the place it appears in this second set, can't go wrong, even with its messy thrown-down intro…and more hilarious contingency, when Mike's bass rig decides to poop out in the first minutes of the song. What does he do? Well, of course:  he starts singing the notes! I was too giddy to notice all this, because, for the first time since, maybe, the second time I heard the song live, I was busy getting out my ticket stub so I could actually dance with it. 

During the first chorus, still inspired by Fishman's reh-tehr-ded blubbering in "Suzy," I stuck the stub behind one of the lenses of my spectacles, and danced like I was at a hoe-down. By the second verse, the stub was getting all damp, too close in proximity to my forehead, so I flapped it about in my hands, and passed it once behind my back from one one hand to the other, in an homage to the hallowed Passback-Cluster Technique (granting, umm, possible guaranteed admission to a section of your friend's ticket stub's choosing, or, umm, instant ejection from the venue if handled poorly…hey, life's full of risks).

Speaking of which, good old Naked Guy was then sent-up at set's end in the unprecedented "Naked Guy" rendition of "Run Like an Antelope." In the intro, I must point out that the drums caught a brief case of "Dixieland Fever," with a clearly detectable micro-Charleston riff rising from the toms, causing me to break out in my best wrist swingin' and ankle twistin', much to my surprise. The rest unraveled into a sweaty-palmed sauté, with the band interlocking again, not undulating or alternating, but plugging directly in for a straight-ahead firestorm that, upon climax, caused one audience member to quite rightly scream, "PHUCK YEAH!" The end of "Antelope" raged such that I almost wanted to do "THE CLAP," that most vulgar of endearments, as Trey inquires as to the crowd's possession of any "Naked Guy." The ensuing "run run run" harmony is so rich and together, Page and Mike sound sliced out of the '60s vocal group, The Association. And, in his most gleefully ironic fizziness, Trey interjects with "Run run run run, Naked Guy!"

In a citrusy explosion of lime and yellow, Kuroda turns December into June, as Phish throws the Fall Tour into a tropical crescendo. There are actually even audibly lusty "Oooh!"s and "Ahhh!"s for Kuroda's lights on the AUD recording of the show. I swear…listening to it now, I wonder: even if Phish didn't deliberately stage Naked Guy's assault, how could absolute chaos continue to elude them? They are, after all, still essentially the same people as they were in 1985, if not in the same exact circumstances, bodies or mindsets. They seem to have re-asserted a dedication to their craft, which was always approached with a rigor and tenacity that went untouched by serious external augmentation for years.

The question I'm having to ask myself so often -- every other fear-and-sweat-soaked minute, in fact -- is: at what point in the life of an artist dedicated to "Pure Art," do life and art become inverted, so, as inside, so outside? Or, so as one's desire to evolve, so the seemingly spontaneous delivery of the "pure" means by which to execute that, even if it's only time in which to dig further down, writing for 60 minutes, then resting, exhausted, for another 90 minutes, dreaming fitfully about making "CK5"-engraved pancakes for Chris Kuroda (seriously), awakening, drinking Red Bull, rinse and repeat? (Which it was for me this past strange, depressed, bewildered week...)

I keep using the "hot, hot heat" metaphor for Charlottesville because it was indeed so warm, in the midst of the cold winter bite, and that fast-approaching, kinda glum "end-of-tour" feeling…it was like Phish saying, "Nature…people…what's wrong with y'all?" and insisted upon righting the order by a) bringing the heat back to the South where it belonged, and b) dare I say, warming and messing and mixing things up to a fever pitch and leaving them there to marinate, and pick up in Miami right where they left off. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" hasn't ever made as much sense. Did drugs make me more naked or awake? For a while, they sure as hell did. But that's not why I did them in the first place…I first put foreign substances in my body to attempt to solve my problem of not knowing how to be in the world, by artificially erasing the fear, emotion, doubt and anxiety associated with lacking life skills.

Fortunately, it worked for a while, otherwise I'd have been in very bad (possibly invisible) shape. But it was later revealed that my problem with living was too great to be remedied by being wasted 24/7/~4/12, especially when the anxiety and emotions were pretty much all that was left, rather than solutions. Now, I have to move through my goddamn emotions, anxieties, and doubts, not around, over or under them. Nothing else works. When I try to circumvent my humanity, it's always lookin' to find me, usually does, then roundly kicks my ass. But when I plow forward and split my fears into pieces, in time, they're changed, and then gone.

So now, and again, and again, let the nakedness begin. Are Phish n00bs? Stop giving a phuck. It's getting hot in here! So, take off all your clothes. "Let 'em see you sweat!" is my new motto. Something I don't need anymore might melt away in the process.

09 December 2009

If You Become Naked (Guy): "Too Hot" Tour's Cold, Cold Closer (Part I)

You could call Fall 2009 Phish Tour the "Too Hot Tour" -- it was for me on occasion, in more ways than one, sweat trickling furiously into my eyes too quickly for me to swipe it away with frenetically gesticulating hands. I tend to liquefy when in motion-propelled trance states, or just extreme heat in general; expansive, progressive Phish shows are obviously no exception.

This here's the first installment of my tour recap, which I shall be engineering in reverse, from most recent to the beginning, backwards down a blistering, controversial, celebratory cluster line of shows marking the return of Phish as I know and love 'em: sometimes slowly, haltingly, and occasionally in great bursts of brilliance. Thirteen shows in sixteen days yielded a condensed slab of evolution in the band, its phans, the "discourse" surrounding them as a "phenomenon" and of course, their music, which is escalating in exploratory risk exponentially.

So, if not to only prove my point that some points on that line can definitely be termed "key evolutionary moments," I'm going to start at the end, and work my way back, with the full complement, travel and music, opinions and sensations, soup to nuts...me, you and my kazoo, on Phish T00R 2009.

I remarked to the friend of the dude from whom I bought my ticket for last Saturday night's Charlottesville tour closer: "The amout of sweat on the forehead and neck [indicating with right index finger] is a barometer of the quality of the show so far..." He stared at me, blind drunk, having imbibed with a vengeance since the lot, then swiffed readily from a hip flask of some reeking firewater before the show (of which I demurely declined to partake).

Later, paralytic, he tried to slow dance with me during the pastoral "Harry Hood" outro jam. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to try that one on me. His unsteady arm attempting to encircle me, I unraveled a dainty pirouette that sent him reeling Fishward in confusion towards his friends. Capture narrowly averted, I continued my avian Page-side gyrations, the matter flying blithely behind me.

"Naked" is a pretty good way to describe where I was at by the time I got to the Charlottesville, VA Saturday evening; a raw, humble, surrendered space, where silliness settled upon me like a blanket of new snow. Soul-wise, I was clothed in nothing but my smile, and all the wry and elusive humor I have inside floating around me like gauze. Imagine, if you will, six weeks of feeling like you're living in a nightmare, a trapped parakeet stuck in an all-wrong situation you feel powerless to change, but one making you monetarily able to enjoy a delectable freedom otherwise difficult to achieve. I found myself on my knees on a few occasions, pleading for a solution to emerge. Now, with one crucial part of the equation solved (awkward, ill-fitting job = removed), a new level of puzzlement presents: Life Without a Net (all the time in the world, while the world bears down)...

Flashback to Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, 12/2/09, 7:52PM. I got a ticket from a phan in Phlorida, and was chillaxin' with the one and only Mike Z, a/k/a The Famous Nile, responsible for getting me into this mess in the first place, back in '93. Just kidding! Being a turbo-phan isn't so much a mess as a perpetual toss-up. If and when it does get messy -- e.g. including, but not limited to, body parts afloat in a pool of perspiration, the result of an electro-fried Cactus slappin' irrepressible Fish shimmy po'boy -- it can be the finest morass imaginable.

Believe it or not, 12/2/09 was Mike Z's very first MSG show. I realized later with surprise that, with that statistic, I've probably surpassed him in the number of shows attended, which is a bit like realizing you've grown taller than your mother; kinda odd. Weirdly, the exact moment I uttered my recent occupational update to MZ, an MSG guard descended upon us like a screeching falcon, where I innocently perched with Mikey and some other "seat magicians" attempting to conjure up a "psychic upgrade" before the lights went down. We were drawn up sharply and threatened with eviction by The Man, and Mike Z sidled off, remarking in mock gangsta behind Makisupa's back, "I took a bullet! Yeah! I took a bullet!" That's my Maggie!

He didn't get to hear the news until a text floated in, nearly paternally on Sunday evening: "Are you alive?" The last he'd heard from me was frenetic begging for his credit card as the whole rental deal went south; of all the pholx in the world, he was the one I knew would dig the scenario, and sweetly researched the train in tandem with me, and suggested it as Plan B, when we discovered he'd need to rent the car himself to pull it off. He was already at his place of employ when I anxiously called SOS, one main (uh, rather crucial) reason he couldn't even come on the trip.

I sent him a few texts earlier that week, pix of my sweet spot in Philly, of ex-AstroTurf-clad "Lawn Boy" Doug Loeb in Albany (mutual pal from our SUNY Oswego days), and one that said "Which MSGs are you going to? I've missed you all these shows! :-P " And it's true...as much as I've whined about that old college roommate "stealing Phish" from me, Mike Z gave me the gift of Phish, and I have partaken richly. 

Now I know the reason
That I'm feeling so forlorn
I'll pick you up at 8 as usual
Listen for my horn...

Flash Forward: Saturday, 12/5/09. I'm on the 12:05PM Amtrak to Charlottesville at Penn Station. I'm thankfully rested from the "misfortune" of getting shut out of the final MSG show. The way I see it, if you got into Friday's show you either hit the lottery, knew someone who did, bought a ticket soon thereafter (right around the time I was still languishing from Festival 8 expenditures), got lucky in the lot, paid above face, or "knew someone." Miraculously, I managed to miss every one of the hits in that list, hence (actually hilarious and kinda sweet) sufferin' my very phirst Phish shutout in 16 years. Not bad odds, considering!

[More (depressing?) (hilarious?) (holistic?) footage of me and the miscreants outside MSG Friday night, giving the streets a taste of what was up...video by me.] 

I mucked it up until a clearly deranged phellow shutout babbler splashed some squalid moonshine on my New Balance'd foot. Later, y'all! (Thunderous Zzzzzzz's...)

As the train rolled outside Penn Station on its way, I see it's now snoshing outside: that is, dumping down a nasty mixture of snow and slush in damp, fluffy flakes. Staring out the soon-speeding train, I was really glad I wasn't in a car on the road. The original plan foiled by The Man and his heavy requirements (that wee matter of credit cards being necessary to reserve rental cars in the borough of Manhattan), may have made me feel even more like a doofus that can't get their "adult act" together.

But, self-deprecation aside, one never really knows why any of these things happen, job-loss mid-tour, bollox'd Charlottesville rental car plot... For me, driving 6 hours in wintry mix would've been nothing short of a total horror-show. All the spraying backwash, flying grit, and tedium of trying not to swerve and spin, would've been just enough to render me loopy before the last show in an already pretty commanding run.

And the job thing...that's a little more tricky. I'm still adjusting to not having to go to that office anymore, which generates a sense of blessed relief beyond expression. But though I now have an assload of time to write, I also have an equal measure of time to stare into space trying to "solve my life" through sheer force of will. 

Won't make any calls
I'll just bounce off the walls
Till I go back to Kill Devil Falls... 

Thanks for the reminder, Trey. I'll try leaving the house later, maybe. Maybe I just won't talk to anyone about my job, and pretend everything's fine.

This uncomfortable phase of my existence has been reminding me of a story in Phish: The Biography that cracks me up wildly, and has been lending me a little comfort about the eventual amazing success possibilities of those who meet adversity in attempting to cram themselves into the Mainstream, with less-than-excellent results:

"Around this time Fishman went through a hard bout of the lovesick blues. A serious girlfriend split up with the drummer, plunging him into a chronic funk. The relationship ended over what she saw as his laziness. One day he had awoken with the revelation 'work sucks,' and decided not to show up for his job shoveling snow in downtown Burlington. She issued an ultimatum: 'Either you go to work or I'm leaving.'

"He didn't go to work and she made good on her promise, so Fishman retired to his bedroom, rising only for band practice. Actually, he didn't even have a bed at that point, just a growing mound of dirty clothing that he sprawled upon. Each day he began sleeping later and later. The cycle was broken one day when when Mike Gordon brought a plate of eggs and toast to his room.

"'I thought you might enjoy breakfast in bed,' he said with the barest flicker of sarcasm. It was five o'clock in the afternoon.

"'That was the first thing that made me laugh in a long time,' said Fishman, 'and from there, things got better.'"

Hey, where are my eggs, Mike? (kidding, kidding) It's no easier that Phish likely escalated what was a non-working job situation, which makes it look amazing like I got let go because of tour. But I think, though it'll take me a minute to get my footing, the benefits of the turn of events will begin to show themselves, at least in terms of the real thing I've been avoiding doing for the last seven years which is: write, write, and WRITE, already!

And that, I'll continue. Plan B to Charlottesville meant eating a hundred bucks for a train ticket with some bananas and nuts, reclining and reading said Phish bio, and ended up sharing my heady snacks and talking shop with a young gent I'll call "Future Boy." He's the New Wave of Phan, 23 year-old recent Ohio University graduate, lanky baja hoodie-wearin', slow-talkin', dirty blond floppy-haired tour kid named Thane. As in "of Cawdor" (that Macbeth boy); or to me, now, just "Thane from the Train." This young gadabout opined authoritatively from under heavy eyelids on the finer points of every show from Hampton 2009 onwards, which he proudly boasted were his first Phish shows ever, which he promptly began hitting like meteors from the moment he stepped aboard, missing none except Hampton #3. I felt for him...

He got me completely re-aligned with the imperative to revisit Late Summer 2009 Tour, which (I know, I know!) I still haven't even touched my tongue to yet (though the ears have savor'd some glory), and, specifically, gems nestled among its early stampede (e.g. Red Rocks #2, 7/31/09, a near-historic dollop of proto-3.0 spontaneous shakedown). It came with great clarity speaking to Thane that I was bearing witness to both the evolution both of a brand-new Phish, as well as a brand new phan. There, before my eyes, was the future lot scene, with a Bachelors degree in Sustainable Urban Planning. Nice!

Thane and I detrained and made our way to the local bus stop across the street, to catch the #7 towards the arena, after realizing there weren't any cabs in Charlottesville, and the soonest you could get one via phone was 90 minutes! Not sure what I expected having not been able to find a cab anywhere at Midnight, the night before Thanksgiving, at the train station, dead in the center of Philly...yeah, right.  I personally love taking mass transit when I'm on tour, to get a feeling for the "local color." Speaking of which, the lighting in the bus was low and blue, the mood of some mobile nightclub grotto, a random assortment of students and semi-toothed hobos gathered in the bizarre disco glow. We hopped off the dismal Studio 54 on wheels when it rolled into a swarming flow of activity in the wet, glistening street about 5 minutes up the hill...

We hopped from the bus into a marauding phalanx of chaos. I will now posit my "Show Tone and Tenor" for the Charlottesville Tour Closer: CHAOS. The scene was not gritty like, say, Camden or Philly, and not outright silly like Worcester or Boston, but a haywire, inebriated, Final Four-type frenzy of heavily-accented co-eds, mixed in with an assortment of phreaks of every stripe.

Strangely, though, rather than being obnoxious, it was jubilant. Thane and I (the new and old guards, together) were pumped to finally be there. We made it! Both of us had suffered last-minute travel contingencies in NYC, and had the same miserable "I'm f*cked!" moment, then took the extra leap to find our way South in the wintry climate despite. Getting our collective shit together (tickets, peeps, meetups, etc.), we traded digits and bade each other farewell, and each disappeared into the mix.

The scene leading into the John Paul Jones Arena was a precarious tangle of rowdy, heedless obscenity; comically upset boyfriends and/or girlfriends attempted to hush their significant others' loud, inappropriate, Southern-drawled statements in close quarters with fellow phans. "Well, I never!" I said aloud at one point, at some of the dialogue. "Uh-oh, I think I just might have..." I replied to myself.

Inside the venue was a mess of a different sort. The interior of JPJ Arena must've been engineered by a disused slaughterhouse architect. The onrush of squashed spectators surged inward, and were then forced around an almost tubular corridor surrounding the arena space, like a grumbling herd of disenfranchised sheep in an interminable chute. This unnerving march was inconveniently punctuated by huge lines of beer-buyers, through which the already-ornery masses were squeezed like an absurd human sieve. Somehow, though, all the mayhem and disorganization made for an oddly edgy, cheeky fun.

It was a disaster in the happening -- the JPJ folks should really do some kind of follow-up on the way crowds are funneled through that place -- however, be it the tour-end energy, or everyone's collective excitement to finally be warm, safely traveled and at a Phish show in the Fall, chaos met euphoria, and the resultant product was a show that didn't stop for a second; no valleys, only peaks, and for all its hiccups and winding, precarious palpitations, Charlottesville was an apt end to a solid couple weeks of logarithmically evolving Phish.

[To be continued: the music part takes a little longer to write. In the meanwhile, do your homework: read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 if you haven't already done so.] 

08 December 2009

"Let's Hear it for The Naked Guy...That Took a Lotta Balls!" -- Trey, 12/5/09, Charlottesville

I'm still recuperating from tour, but in the meanwhile, here's a little placeholder taste of my post-to-come, on the Charlottesville tour closer, thoughts on my life in the past few weeks, and possible futures. I haven't laughed as hard as I did in Charlottesville in a long time, and if laughter is a sign of rebirth, then I think I'm a couple of days into an infinitely weird-feeling, but triumphant, bare-assed infancy...just the way Jesus found me.

And, apparently, Charlottesville's now-infamous Naked Guy is in the same position, albeit now possibly clothed in a fashionable neon-orange prison onesie. The two best parts about the dude's appearance (and I'll repeat them in my next post) are: 1) When he lovingly bear-hugs Trey, Trey barely registers any surprise, and just kinda pats the guy on the back, like, "Aww, hey there, naked guy!"... and 2) Fishman just never, ever, not for ONE SECOND stops playing the hi-hat intro to "Ya Mar." Not...for...one...second. 

This band does NOT miss a beat. And why should it, when rhythmically propelled by God's Own Original Naked Guy, or Practically Naked Guy, anyway? Y'all know what's up under that frock, right? Umm, no pun intended...? (*faint*)

Anyway, without further ado, let's have a look at Naked Guy's contribution to the Charlottesville Too Hot Tour Closer, soon to be tackled (hyulk) in slightly more depth by yours truly.

NAKED GUY UPDATE!!! This just in from "meltyourface," a reviewer over at Phish.net: apparently, naked guy was NOT arrested, just cited for indecent exposure! Huh, I guess they don't call it the Dirty South for nothin'...! Thanks for completing the Fall Tour Package, Naked Guy! (uhhmm...)

05 December 2009

Aggressive Mentation vs. the Art of Dance: Soul-Searching in the Garden of Earthy [sic] Delights

Tonight will be my sixth Phish show in nine days. I've never seen this many shows in a more or less consecutive fashion since 1993; the most I think I'd seen at a clip was four, and I'd done that tons of times, but never more. The last two nights have been hometown shows, the first in the NYC area since the Jones Beach shows. It has been bewildering, electrifying and stupefying, once again showing up for this ride with the constant companions, and once again, through another series of bizarre kaleidoscope fragments.

[Ed. note, 12:44AM, 12/5/09...I didn't get into tonight's show, getting shut out as I did in the lottery, and refusing to buy a plus-face ticket, or worse, a fakey (which were going for $150+ outside the venue). It's fine, because I planned to go to Charlottesville in the event of that very thing happening, and have decent seats in Section 109 for tomorrow's tour closer. Har har, phoiled again!]

I met Jesse Jarnow both nights before the show, in circumstances that both gave me some pause, and rocked me to the foundations of my self-esteem. You're going to have to bear with me in the next few days, weeks, whatever...as much as I complained about my job in this blog for the past months, I will probably spend at least a little while musing aloud on what the hell it really means, from a practical standpoint, to now be without that job. The job was indeed a bad match; I was a hands-on, systems-oriented, hardware-centric technologist, in a client-centered, application-centric, software-based company. Yes, I will continue to assert that Phish didn't make me lose my job, nor did I get fired because of Phish. But I'd be sort of a putz to encourage a level of denial in myself, to not examine the very real influence they had on this new phase of my existence, as a writer, a music-lover, an adult woman, and a citizen of Earth.

Obviously, meeting up with Jesse both nights before the MSG shows led to us talking a bunch. Jesse is another of the resurgences in my life, having rejoined the "jamband" community (as it were), at the behest of Phish. After I began my underground descent in 2000, slowly but surely, relationships with the people with whom I had camaraderie -- close associations with others that closely followed and publicly remarked upon the phenomena of the improv rock band-and-fan community -- began to slip away as well.  Another is Richard Gehr, also an old friend in the "scene," who even allowed me to babysit his kids for a couple of years.

I've been back in touch with Jesse and Richard in the past months, and speaking with both him and Jesse, I've been slammed at the base of my being with a clattering question: what is my journalistic, analytic, characteristic contribution to the body of Phish wisdom going to be? I don't keep name-dropping these people to appear credible, though that's what it appears either "phan society," (male-centric, not to speak of race) or circumstance (after all, I did "go underground" for decidedly unglamorous, unpopular reasons) might require. But like it or not, easy or hard, it's now time for me to bite the bullet and throw down in the ring for real...despite my insecurities, self-recrimination and expectations, the evolution of that contribution will happen in its own way. Perhaps my contribution will be a living, breathing, changing thing, much like the subject planet, and its unique surrounding atmosphere.

Hanging out with Jesse during Phish shows throughout the years has always been both delightfully exhilarating and profoundly annoying. Such could be said, globally, about our friendship! With his intense scrutiny and musicological understanding, crucial examinations are made in both a historical and temporal context about, in this particular example, the music of Phish. Both our minds work in that way, so it has been a relief, at times, to share that thirst for granular analysis, almost as an expression of love; we give enough of a shit to listen that deeply, and care that much.

However, it happened again last night; one of those moments where my particular, occasional (but integral) temperament towards apprehending the music of Phish came in direct and grating opposition to Jesse's, causing me grave emotional and mental distress, practically all of which went unmentioned, for the obvious reason: visceral, muscular, non-linear emotive response finds no cozy bedfellow in the brittle, pebble-tumbling of critical minutiae.

One thing I do do in this blog is relate my personal experience. Come hell or high water, it's the only story that's truly mine, and I believe it's my birthright to tell it. It just so happens to dovetail rather interestingly with my life, as a music-lover, an artist, a professional, and finally (most pertinent to this journal), my life as a reconstituted Phishhead. When my life fell apart in 2003, all I had in my two hands was a pile of ashes that had been a semi-promising career as a music journalist, and a few chards of dignity. From that meager mound, I fashioned a relatively successful IT career, and a life manageable enough for me to continue surviving in the meat-grinder that is New York City, and to get my bills paid.

I'm naturally capable of a level of critical analysis that can detect and expose inconsistencies and interruptions in harmonious patterns of synergy and symmetry. I'm a computer technician as well as a writer: detecting anomalies has been my stock in trade for the past five years. But weirdly enough, there's this whole other thing going on in me that has always been there as well, a sensibility beyond time, a big-picture lens, an almost molecular, spiritual barometer that understands and processes phenomena from a position of wholeness, of oneness.

The past week of shows, to don my critical cap, have shown some fleeting struggles amid sprawling rhythmic experimentation heretofore unseen in Phish 3.0. The struggles seem to be twofold: 1) an occasional lyrical messiness (largely on the part of our redheaded charioteer, Trey Anastasio, who I will normally personalize in this blog as "Trey"), and 2) an unnerving hesitation among one or another of the band members to unhook the latch between an exploding jam, and a song's seemingly premature conclusion.

Number 1 occurred last night in "Stash," which is strange since it's one of the band's most-performed songs. Number 2 hasn't happened within the last four shows I've seen, but can be heard most recently in the 11/22/09 Syracuse shows, which, despite its majestic bigness, occasionally finds one or two band members yanking the reins, when one or the other is deep in the groove and marching on without intent to cease. But, as unnerving as that is to hear, as a phan intrigued and eager for some seriously deep and advanced jamming, it is brimming with promise. It is for me, anyway.

The odd-seeming blend of both analytical and psycho-emotional approaches is probably one of the reasons I like Phish so much, in addition to being one of the reasons Jesse Jarnow and I, despite our differences, are able to remain fellow phans and phriends. Watching Jesse scribbling furiously in his big, curlicued scrawl, into his perpetual, everpresent, mashed up little notebook, although numb with fury, deep down there was a respect for our differences. However we may express it on any given night, we are passionate about Phish. There's a fear that occupies my being that I've been unsuccessfully trying to evict for years, a homunculus residing deep inside (alongside that broad, elemental, fearless comprehension I mentioned) that wants me to believe Jesse's method of discourse is somehow more valuable than mine.

Hanging out at the Relix Holiday Party, I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, or any of a dozen movies about the dude or gal who gets hit by a car or a piano or something, and ends up in a coma, or stranded on a desert island for a decade, and comes back all amnesia-wracked and conflicted, to the world they once knew. Yeah...that sounds about right. The welter of old, vaguely-recognizable faces and voices, posters from shows and magazine covers with dates like 2002 and 2004 -- a few of the years I was "gone" -- lent an eerie cast to my already-extant sense of dis-ease.

And then there was Jesse, who, five years ago, managed to throw the ice water of his blunt reviews in the face of a Phish perhaps in a great deal of emotionally wrenching denial, about its future as a reputable, respectable touring unit. Dubious street cred, perhaps (which is certainly how he wore it when we first sat down and reconnoitered in July), it is impressive in its power to impact the band's self-analysis. He swanned about the party easily, chatting with the folks with whom he was a fixture, damnable to some at a time, but now, kind of a hero, for helping, perhaps, to impose a period of necessary exile on the band. Maybe Phish had to die to be reborn, and none among them were strong enough to cut the cord...and who can blame them?

Me? I'm just freaking out. Phish has been in my city for several days, during which my life purpose has (somewhat by request, but still shockingly) been reassigned. I'm glad, in a way, that my life has been transformed right at the end of Phish tour, because I'll have some space to process it all in the coming weeks, a naturally reflective Winter time of darkness and spiritual hibernation. Last night's show featured very, very emotionally indescribable moments for me, hence some frustration resulting from another friend's a) insistence upon dissecting it, and b) my own inability (or unwillingness) to exercise my critical abilities upon it in any substantial way. It was my first Phish show as a really free woman: for all the good and bad of that, there's really no quantifying it, none at all, at least not where The Phish Experience is concerned.

We were hanging out with this old-time Deadhead guy last night. After Jesse had finished tweeting the setlist out,  he asked the dude how long he'd have to wait back in the day to finally lay eyes on a Dead setlist. The guy sorta shrugged and said something like, "Meh! I...I didn't really care that much about it. Maybe someone would tape it, and write the setlist down on it..." He gestured, and trailed off.

"So, if they played 'Dark Star', you wouldn't, like, want to know about it?" Jesse inquired, quizzically amused. I looked at the Deadhead guy, nodding and goading him triumphantly.

"...welllll, I mean, it would be good that they did. But...I dunno, it wasn't really about that, so much..."

I interrupted pointedly, making a sort of globe-like structure with my hands, "It was about the EXPERIENCE, right? The totality of the continuum?" The Deadhead guy looked at me like even I was thinking too much into it.

I'm at a crossroads. I've been here before, but I was younger then, and had less faith in the world and its people, in myself, and my ability to function within it successfully. Now, all I have is art, and craft, love, and faith. The way of others' inquiry may be to launch missiles  of assesment towards an object of analysis, but (or so it would seem with Phish, now, in this blog) my method is a holistic experiencing of the shit and Shinola of phandom, where and when the mood strikes, for no particular reason, other than to expose, to myself...myself. Phish is, and has been, an exceptional mirror.

My evolution has traveled along with theirs, their catastrophes occurred right alongside my own, and now, I can only assume their triumphant return and growing pains in (undoubtedly) again evolving as a band of respectability, innovation, scrupulous artistry and artistic perseverance, will reflect my own soul-adventure. And, like Phish, I will not put in one granule less than everything I've got into it.

So far this run, I've walked the streets of this town not sure of my worth, nor talking very much, feeling very profound, and indeed thinking I might need to secure the help of a neurologist. I've seen the light between me and my mind, and felt painful, incomprehensible memories falling behind, incinerating in the white hot heat of an evolving now, captured, perhaps, in a blinding Kuroda moment. I have wondered, incidentally, how one may cheer for Chris Kuroda, without seeming a little strange...and so I just do it quietly, to myself. I've waded, resplendent, in a sparkling velvet sea, through doubt and sadness, and have then been pulled through the darkness of a bleeding sky, through time elastic, to catch afire and have all my cares get blown away as I get my reggae woman boogie on.

So, once again, it's time to get up so that I can show up to get down. I'm free to be who I want to be, and to see (if only seeing) through the clarity of my mind to the bottom of my heart, Phish grinning back up at me. Maybe tonight I'll discover the Grand Unified Theory, and why Phish has destroyed it. I know whatever happens, I'll be sore tomorrow, just in time to do it all over again, six hours south of here. So be it.

[All photos from 12/3/09 @ MSG. Check out the full flickr photo set here.]

03 December 2009

Turning Pro Again: Weirdness Abounds in Gotham

Hey hey, my my. In haste yesterday afternoon, I accidentally posted my next installment before it was done. Sorry about that, for those in the audience. The haste might have had something to do with a few key distractions. First, I was trying with all my 17th Level magic-user skills to cast my "cloak of invisibility in mind and body," and hustle out of work early to pre-show dinner with Jesse, before the the big phirst night at MSG. Second, and in rather large part related to the first, and the general rash of dissatisfaction, angst, frustration and (sure) exile I was feeling in my life as a desk-bound wage-earner, my boss decided do me a grand favor by planting his foot in my ass and giving me the ol' Donald Trump-style heave-ho.

That's right folks: my boss finally did for me what I couldn't do for myself, and fired me. Who can blame him, really? Scant weeks after being desert-rotisseried on two vacation days at Festival 8, I asked for a couple *more* days off for New Year's Eve (yep, Miami), then kicked the can off the cliff by asking if his silence in responding was because the answer was "no"...these are the acts of a person captured by a certain passion.

In rediscovering my true calling, my B-Job charade just couldn't keep pace with my waning attention. Jeesh. Don't get me wrong: saying things like "true calling (though more true than most things I can believe are true) feels so crazy and scary I can barely stand it. But, blogging as I have been on my iPhone from a cabin in the Poconos, the subway, parks and restaurants, lying on my back in a minivan in Albany (when I said I'd take a nap), in the dermatologist's office, wandering the streets of Philadelphia, and, of course (much to the detriment of my strict ethical standards) AT WORK...it was starting to get a little untenable.

My friends became baffles for increasingly tearful rants about wanting to be freed from the shackles of my quotidian imprisonment. Then (dramatic chords) Fall Tour began. On V-T00R, I pushed the envelope of sleep further into my wee night owl hours, making for dire complexity when the sun arose...namely, "snooze abuse." Things just started getting more and more awkward.

An elaborate Excel spreadsheet was concocted to track tour plans, needs, travel and expenses. Fifteen Firefox browser tabs were open at home and work with routine locations everpresent: Phish.net (setlists), ZZYZX's PhishStats (song frequencies), TripAdvisor.com (cars, hotels, flights, oh my), Craigslist & Gruvr.com (tickets), Gmail (endless communiques), and the inevitable Blogger "Edit Posts" window. Another window would contain three tabs I'd occasionally use for work; intranet, client portal, ticketing system/knowledgebase...

I'm good at pretty much everything I put my mind to. But I got a pretty humbling lesson in the power of passion in these past three months. When the soul (whatever that is) has a calling, it must heed it, and when it doesn't suffering results. I was doing the perfectly logical, seemingly most "sensible" and "adult" thing to do, by showing up to my job, and trying to stay focused. But in so doing, I was trying to push the rain back into the sky. My left/right brain talents for textual craft and technical acumen were at odds, and couldn't resolve in the way I tried to force them to in my office. Something had to give.

I've said it here a million times: Phish has led the charge of my soul's creative force, which, on ice for six and a half years, is now back with a bold, shiny vengeance. Yes, you're damn right I'm terrified. The fear of being a starving artist alone in a brutal city is what's kept me running *from* my truth. I've lived as a perpetually broke urban nomad for almost 7 years, since my life fell apart in 2003, due to poor coping skills, depression and self-medication with non-medicinal substances. Yeah, I'm pretty much completely sick of running on fumes, which is why I was trying to subsidize the dream with what became a nightmare.

I didn't get fired because of Phish, nor is Phish gonna solve all my problems. I got fired because a door to my past opened up into my future, and the magnetic force on the other side of that door sucked me through. My boss...he probably has no hate. He knows what I've been doing, and has seen me trying my best despite being torn in many directions.

And I don't know how it's all gonna pan out. Oh my god, what a creepy feeling. But I do know that, thanks entirely to Phish and the initial inspiration they've provided, I'm a lot less afraid now to let writing about music (and, sure, lots of other stuff) take its proper place in my waking activities, and maybe to try making a living doing this thing I love (and am good at), with the extra added bonus of knowing my way around servers and switches, Macs and PCs alike.

Now, I have little choice but to place my whole life in the hands of the forces I HAVE to believe are guiding me towards my calling. I stood in the swaying, pulsating throng at MSG last night, once again in the company of heroes of creative endeavor, whose passion, focus and resolve is continuing to propel them on a daily path of transformation and rediscovery. Broken shackles clattering around my dancing ankles, I waved my arms and hair and screamed and leapt...I really, finally feel free, because for all the terror and doubt, I know I can't control the uncontrollable. I can't push the sunlight of my spirit back into space anymore. Cute boys told me they liked my style and how I dance; one gave me a tall cup of ice water and demanded a kiss on the cheek (compliance!); but I kept my faithful post Page-side and raged like a woman whose job was now to provide this beloved scene with her 100% vibe.

If you ask me, despite the diminishing decimals in my poor, haggard bank account, the timing is just right. Oh yeah. "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." I found the Phellowship table the minute I walked into MSG, found my people, and told the tale of my termination/liberation. My phriends trickled in one by one, from Albany and Jones Beach, Philly & Festival 8...I offered rides to Charlottesville Saturday with the money I tried hard to legitimately earn and quickly burned as fuel for this potent preoccupation...

...but wait, there's more! it's not a "pre"occupation anymore. Now, it's where I'm at. A tall dude from Boulder came up to me after I shared my tale of "whoa" with my phellowship. He told me about a year ago, he willed his job away (hahah!) and it's been the best thing he's ever done, and he's having the time of his life young, sober, happy and phree! I practically cried, thanking him and cranking his hand up and down, my beanpole angel of Christmas Future. It's gonna be okay. It's here, and I'm no longer a traffic light slave. It's green-means-go all the way. And damn, its a crapshoot, but it sure feels good.

So, forthcoming from the free fingers of the fancifully Phixated, Syracuse, Albany and beyond, the end of tour, beginning anew, and more exciting new adventures in the life of a full-time phan. Hey, it's a living. Kids, don't try this at home. But if you're lucky, have a good safety net, some encouragement and a healthy dose of wanderlust, save yourself a decade of indecision and try it on the road.

Finally, a favorite scene (from fellow erstwhile music-scribe Cameron Crowe's seminal '80s romance, "Say Anything"):

So Lloyd, you graduated Lakeside, right?

Yes sir.

What are you going to do now?

Yeah Lloyd. What are your plans for the future?

Spend as much time as possible with Diane before she leaves.

Seriously, Lloyd.

I'm totally and completely serious.

No, really.

You mean like career? Uh, I don't know. I've...I've thought about this quite a bit, sir, and I'd have to say considering what's waiting out there for me, I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or... process anything sold, bought or processed, or repair anything sold, bought or processed, you know, as a career, I don't want to do that. So, uh, my father's in the army; he wants me to join, but I can't work for that corporation. So what I've been doing lately is kickboxing, which is really a, uh, new sport, but I think it's got a good future. As far as career longevity goes, I don't really know, because, you know, you can't really tell. Your training sticks as a fighter, you know, but it's no good, you know...you have to be great, but I can't really tell if I'm great until I've had a couple of pro fights. But I haven't been knocked out yet. I don't know. I can't figure it all out tonight, sir; I'm just going to hang with your daughter."