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.]


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