31 July 2017

ASTRO PHISH SCHTICK:
The Baker's Dozen Harpua



On 7/30/17 -- the second Sunday of The Baker's Dozen, Phish's monumental 13-day Madison Square Garden run -- the band chose "Jimmies" as the night's flavor. Uproar ensued. "'Jimmies' is not a flavor," some complained..."they're just sweet, and sweet is not a flavor; it's a taste." Along with the furor, elation erupted at the almost sure indicator that one very popular "Jimmy" would probably make an appearance in the setlist that evening...

Relatively ubiquitous in very early setlists, as part of a handful of mysterious and alluring tales which peppered the more thematically frisky days of Phish 1.0, the song became ever more rare, finally disappearing with the band itself into their first hiatus.

Aligning with an early-Aughts jamband trend of wacky and labyrinthine segues of tunes into each other, Harpua made its lone one-night-stand of the 2.0 in a single show at the Star Lake Pavillion in Burgettstown, PA. Punters that night will never forget the serpentine treat that began with Harpua, and ended with David Bowie, after popping up twice more within a chain including three other songs!

Phish 3.0, now nearing its decade-mark (and still chugging), has not been lousy with Harpuas, much to the chagrin of many phans, but to the glee of those who do manage to stick the landing, and turn up on a night it's pulled out of the bag. It first appeared in two, one-night segue-fests: in Saratoga, NY, and then on an explosive Fourth of July night in Alpharetta, GA, where it was famously (and perhaps quizzically) interspersed with Rage Against the Machine's relentless punk shredder, "Killing in the Name." Only 3 more times did Jimmy have a talk with Dad, once each in 2011, 2015, and 2015. To call it a rarity would be an understatement among phans...

So, to get personal, my lone storied experience with the dog named Harpua and his aspiring owner, Jimmy, consists entirely of lone, extremely damp and cathartic second night encore at the Clifford Ball in 1996. Having listened to it in so many shows, resigned to the fate that I was just lucky for making the trek to the Airforce Base in Plattsburgh and sleeping in my friend's car, Harpua just became the song other people get to hear.

Until, quizzically, your FOMO disappears, and you find yourself in the Hole in the Donut.

The Baker's Dozen marks the first time I am solvent enough to potentially have afforded the entire run, but didn't actually go for it. My relationship with Phish, when I lean back into it, is and always will be one of the most important and inspiring ones in my life. Like all relationships, it has come with its ups and downs, mostly related to the increasingly complex economic and logistical machinery involved with experiencing their copious live shows.

I've said enough to say, for the record, that I am in a great place; one of the best I've been in during the time between Phish's reunion in 2009 in the midst of an economic downturn, and today (August 1, 2017, which would've been Jerry Garcia's 75th Birthday), where I'll be getting to see Phish for the second time during the month.

However, this post is not really about that (although it is, kinda)...had I not been in this mellow mood, this relaxed mind-state borne of hard work and plump savings, and of the thick skin that forms from years of gleaning tickets from flighty phellow phans (many of whom are now young enough to be the ditzy Millennial tour babies I thankfully never had), I wouldn't have managed to score a not-too-exorbitantly-priced-over-face ticket for Night 8 of The Baker's Dozen, effectively near the midpoint of the circumference of the circle that is the so-called Dozen.

What happened on that night? Well, this happened. Actually, this happened after I scooped my jaw up off the floor, and seized the presence of mind to capture the moment I'd probably not witness again for some time. And then they started talking about astrophysics, which is one of my favorite topics in all of science. Their dulcet tones, japing and jesting, brought me back to those pastoral days, when these wily sons of businessmen plied their ragged trade across the country, to the salivating scores of many who still remain rapt and loyal. I, being one of that lot, was really glad to be there, and I'm really glad to be back here, to share a bit of it with you.

(PS: Sorry, Phish, if this is copyright infringement, but hopefully you'll be glad I'm still on the train, and I've gone through the effort for posterity... ;)

Editor's Note, 8/7/17: On Monday, August 7, 2017, the dawn of phandom's first day without an MSG show on the immediate horizon, an Important Journalist revealed in an Important Rock 'n' Roll Magazine, the provenance of the following transcription, in an Important Article from an Important Newspaper, from March 11, 2003. On that date, I had been in Upstate New York, deeply pondering my life, for 23 of what would eventually be 40 days. In the scope of this discussion, as far as I'm concerned, that is like saying, "The picture of an eyeball pasted to the inside of that Joseph Cornell box from 1953 was taken from a copy of Le Monde that he bought at a newsstand on Fulton Street some time in July of 1947." That is to say: kinda irrelevant.


TRANSCRIPTION (to my best cosmological understanding and ability. Initials are the JEMP of Jon, Ernie III, Mike, and Page. I can be heard exclaiming "Quantum Phish!" at 2:41, and, predictively, "A DONUT!" at 3:33. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I love the science. And the Phish.):

E: Wow. That's amazing.
J: What?
E: There's lumps in the cosmic gravy.
J: Huuuhhh...
E: No, seriously...there's lumps in the cosmic gravy!
P: Yes, actually, he's right! The microwave cloud is laced with ripples of splotches. Lumps in the gravy...that's where galaxies and other cosmic structures form.
J: Ahh. Interesting.
E: Yeah, the lumps are born as microcosmic fluctuations during the first instant of time, and then, they're amplified into sound waves.
M: That's actually right, Fish. And as the universe expands, matter and energy...they splosh around!
J: Wow! But, uh...I thought the universe consists mostly of, uh, dark energy that's expanding and accelerating outward. So, how does that fit in?
E: Well, that's true, Fish. There is a lot of dark energy in the universe. But, umm, for the record, it's an infinite universe, and the waves in the cosmic fireball appear randomly around the sky at all sizes. But there seems to be a limit to the size of the waves. 
P: Yes! None of them extend more than, say, 60 degrees across the sky. 
E: Wow!
M: It's kind of like...if the universe were a guitar string, it would be missing its deepest notes, the ones with the longest wavelengths. The bass notes! Maybe that's because it is not big enough to sustain them!
(Drum roll.)
J: Ooohh. I get it! So the fact that there appears to be an angular cutoff, like what Page is saying, hints at a special distance scale, in the universe!
P: Yes, that's it. If we only emit radio noise from the stars in our own galaxy...
E: Well...then the universe appears lumpier in one direction through space than it does in another. 
P: Exactly. And if you comb the finer variations out of the map, the remaining large scale variations form a line across the sky.
J: WAIT. So, if the universe is finite in one dimension -- meaning, it's like a cylinder...
M: Oh, yep...
J: Or...like...A DONUT!
E: Wow, Fish, that's right! It's definitely a donut. There's a limit to the size of clumps that can fit in that direction. And it couldn't be bigger than the universe in that direction. So, it has to be a DONUT.
M: A guitar string can only play a note solo, depending on its length. So, the biggest blobs would have to squish out in a plane in other directions. The way home around the donut would be perpendicular to that plane...
P: It's cosmology, with shapes! Except sometimes its hard to tell the difference between a coffee mug and a donut, because each object has one hole...
E: That's true...the two can be deformed into each other, so they're kind of...I don't know...topologically equivalent.
J: Ah! I see...so maybe the universe is a coffee mug? The way a figure-8 and a pair of eyeglass frames are almost the same?
P: Haha! Yeah. 'Cause you know what they say..."The more holes, the more complicated the topology..." 
(All laugh. Fish plays a rimshot.)
J: Page...you're a funny guy!
M: Well...a three-torus is a donut wrapped in three different dimensions. So...
E: That's gotta be it...it's SO obvious.
P: Duh!
J: Yeah. DUH. Three-torus...donut...universe...
E: It's tough to visualize, but it's almost like a cube with its opposite sides somehow glued together.
M: Exactly.
E: But...
M: Definitely a donut.
J: No duh. 
M: No duh!
J: Yup, no question about it.
P: The universe is a donut.
M: Living in this weird universe is kind of like being inside a hall of mirrors. Though, you know, instead of seeing new stars deeper and deeper in space, I keep seeing the same things over and over again. Light keeps traveling out one side of the donut, and back into the other. 
J: Weird.
E: It's like light just keeps repeating; it's just repeating patterns created in the sky by light going around and around the donut-shaped universe.
J: And somewhere, there are four guys having the same conversation, except one of them is talking to his DAD...
M: The dimensions are all curled in loops! And, of course the universe actually has 10 dimensions. Everyone knows that.
E: Of course! Nine of space and one of time. Not the four that people say it has.
J: Yeah, uh-DUH! Everyone knows that!
E: And the dimensions are curled up in to sub-microcosmic loops! 
P: Like the threads in an uncut carpet pile! And if it wasn't a donut, there'd be no way to get the inflation to stop, or for there to be enough space big enough to house all the galaxies, but small enough to see within the observable horizon. 
(All chortle.)
J: Well, that definitely proves it then...it's a DONUT. 
E: Unless, what if the biggest, longest waves are created first, and the missing notes are the earliest ones, that would've been struck by an inflation's guitar? Maybe...? 
M: Nope, wrong...it's a DONUT.
J: So, should I be looking for circles in the sky?
E: Yes. You should be looking for identical circles on opposite sides of the sky, with the same patterns of hot and cold running around them.
P: The size of the circles will depend on distance between the walls of the universe, which is, I supposed, shaped kind of like...A CAVE!
E: Ahh! Circles on the walls of the cave, if you will.
M: I will! 
(Rimshot.)
M: Oh, and by the way, on an entirely different subject...umm...Jimmy...?

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