“In a Numbed State, The Mind Drifts to Optimism: An Examination of Phish and Their Fans”

Summer is coming, and so, in America, Phish will always be a relevant topic. I’ve seen two Phish shows, and, appropriately enough, I scantily remember either of them, though I remember the histrionics leading up to their onset more vividly, swallowing a chocolate candy drug, thinking it was acid, discovering it was mescaline, seeing the sky turn pink, getting shocked by an electric fence after the show on my way back to our campground. The shroom chocolate at the earlier show (we’re talking summer ’03, some unknown night but which featured “2001”, and then summer ’04, of which I just remember the date, June 24), though the main musical connections I remember from this picturesque (yes) July day were of the CD’s I listened to on the way down to the show, The Best of Blur and Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking. Clearly, this was antecedent to my holding tightness and kinetic drumming as a standard for rock music.

Probably because… I was fu**ed up! And indeed, it’s crazy but true, people still go to Phish shows, on a regular basis. This, my friends, is mythology. I struggle to say it’s a “cult following,” because, at least in the town where I live, actual Dionysian, underground music, even something tautologically palatable like say The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, are relatively occult.

Phish don’t bend gender. Phish play a lot of notes (one time one of my hippy friends hilariously made the following critique of jam band Moe: “They play too many notes”). And they learned from the best. There’s a garrulous bloated confidence about the vast majority of the Grateful Dead’s “live tapes,” as you hear them settle into a numbed, masturbatory mode of jamming for upwards of six minutes at a time, usually paying little if any regard to scale, therein.

Contrast with the musically impeccable Doors, and their 10-minute song that is their best song, “When the Music’s Over,” and what you get is the disappointing conclusion that successful people in life, those who favor Phish, don’t want climax, don’t want artistic statement. It’s like conservatism in politics — whoa, man, I’m making $50,000 a year, you think I want truth? Fu** that, I want my jacuzzi, I want my billion-inch TV, I want my yard, and stay off it! Oh, the hours spent inside the coliseum. Dodgin’ lines, wastin’, wastin’ time. See, with me you get the dad without the money — I just preach about this sh**, because viable bands like Ween get condescendingly towed into this orgiastic paddy wagon that is the “jam genre,” as if it’s some big favor to the band that wrote the pertinent “Roses are Free,” as well as, just to go by album here, “Don’t Laugh (I Love You)”; “Springtheme”; “Sketches of Winkle”; “The Golden Eel”; “Even if You Don’t”; “Happy Colored Marbles”; and La Cucaracha, about which they apparently didn’t care very much. But we’ll leave that to the nerds.

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