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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2009/03/25
by David Steinberg

Backwards Down the Number Line

If you care at all about Phish, by now you're probably getting borderline sick of Hampton. Even if you didn't attend, you've read the reviews and downloaded the free MP3's and even found an You Tube video or twenty. There is little I can tell you about the music that you don't already know yourself.

However, even in 2009 there still exists a Phish community. While the highlight of the weekend was the return of the songs that I love – along with the new "Backwards Down the Number Line" – there also was the social aspect. I finally got a chance to meet some people who I have been interacting with on the Internet for years. It turns out that some people are actually more fun in person than they are online.

It had only been two days into Phish 3.0, but by Sunday I felt like I knew some things about how this was going to be play out. The good news was that I had a new group of people to hang out with who were fun and clever and wonderful in every way I could hope for. With so many of my old friends moving on in the past five years and the stupidity that gets put forth on the Internet, I was nervous about this but there’s a huge difference between online posturing and actual real life interactions.

As happy as that made me, I also had an unpleasant discovery. I aged quite a bit since 2004. I found myself sitting down a lot more than I used to in the pre-breakup days. I grabbed one of those Mockingbird Foundation stickers that were making the rounds and wrote in mine, "Hello, since Coventry I got old."

While I go back and forth about which show is my favorite musically between Saturday and Sunday – Friday was a little tentative as though there were training wheels on – Sunday was the show where everything seemed to click. Maybe it was the perfect group of people I managed to surround myself with that night, maybe it was the incredible weather (one more way where Hampton was the anti-Coventry), maybe it was finally really believing Phish were back, or maybe it was having my attempt to look less like a hippie for Phish 3.0 destroyed by Heather putting a psychedelic blue plush flower in my hat, but everything just worked naturally that day.

Walking into Section W felt like returning to a home that I thought was lost forever. There were occasional moments of bonding during the breakup such as walking down a pier in Mexico and overhearing conversations about whether the Jam Room was better than the Galactic set on the pool stage or watching people play Hippie Jenga with flat stones in the Stillaguamish River at the Flowmotion Summer Meltdown, but this was a deeper connection. My usual borderline anti-social behavior was impossible to maintain in this environment and I found myself giving into the joy, which was almost a tangible object. In short, this was a good time.

This wasn’t an amazing social scene; we still had two more sets of music to experience. It was about two thirds of the way through the first set where I had the moment that will always define the return of Phish to me. The band started to play "Maze." As the song went into the jam section, I suddenly remembered one of my favorite things about the song, that the music of "Maze" really did feel like a person trying to escape from a trap, making random turns in one direction and then another, constantly finding himself trapped. Inspired, I went into a dance that I sometimes did back in the early 90’s. Running up and down the stairs, switching from the left side of the handrail to the right, I tried to find an escape that wasn’t there for me. As I did this, someone about ten rows up caught on to what I was doing and he joined in. We chased each other for a while in our futile attempts to leave the labyrinth. Emy even caught a little bit of video of the tail end of the escape attempt. You can’t see what’s going on really but it reminds me of jumping up and down during another "Maze" in the rain in Brooklyn.

I went back to my seat as the song ended to try to rehydrate. The surprisingly warm day caused the Coliseum to be hot and sweaty. I sat down and took a long drink. I saw something fall out of the corner of my eye as I did so. I looked down to see what the fallen object was only to discover that the "Maze" dance caused the Mockingbird Foundation sticker to fall off of my shirt. I may have started the night thinking that I was old, but the "Maze" quite literally deaged me.

I know it can’t always be like this. As great as Phish are, they’re going to have off nights. I’m not going to make a dozen new lifelong friends at every show and there will be nights where I’m just too tired or cranky to completely abandon myself to the show. None of that will take anything away from the joy that was this run. It was like experiencing the show where we got It once again. Jadedness was replaced by bliss and I was annoying the poor people on a message board for weeks afterward telling them just how much I loved them. Weekends like this don’t come around often in one’s life, and the older you get the rarer they are. For a brief moment again I was 20 surrounded by wonderful people in a world full of possibilities. All my friends came backwards down the number line, and I can’t thank you enough for that Phish.

David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html

He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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