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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2003/12/29
by Jesse Jarnow

The Days Between

I quite enjoyed having a day off in the middle of Phish’s four show
Thanksgiving run. Phish tour is, let’s face it, a hassle, so there were
obvious benefits to relaxing in between days of minorly stressful travel,
irregular sleeping and eating patterns, physical self-abuse, and dealing
with lots and lots of people. More than that, I took a real pleasure
in that day. Being a Phishhead is, among other things, an identity. For even
the most devoted tourhead who hits every show, that still leaves him
not seeing Phish on roughly 300 days out of a year. No matter what he
considers his true self, on those days (unless he’s in the even slimmer
minority of full-on folks who never leave Tour), he must slip – at least
partially – into another identity to deal with the rest of the world.
Or, more accurately, since those days make up the majority of his year, and
his life, it is on the days he when he sees Phish that he must become
somebody else (maybe himself), somebody who doesn’t mind traveling long
distances on little sleep, and somebody who takes pleasure in being
obsessive. I’d venture a guess to say that there are a great deal of
people who might describe themselves as "casual Phishheads" (if using that
term at all) who knew the significance (hey, it’s a relative term) of Phish
playing "Destiny Unbound" for the first time in over 10 years at Nassau
Coliseum in February. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a ridiculously
minute piece of arcana of which to be aware. Likewise, presumably, the
knowledge of that fact (and the joy taken in that knowledge) is only
accessible via a certain mindset — one that sheds the more adult cynicism
of thinking that knowing anything about "Destiny Unbound" is unquestionably
stupid. And there, in a nutshell, is one of the deep appeals of being a
Having a day off in between shows – at home, especially – accentuates this.
With gigs on either side, it’s hard to turn back to one’s normal self. For
me it was, anyway, and I found myself suspended in a state of sort of pure
Phishdom. I slept late. I relaxed. I read. I wrote email. I made music. I
listened to music. Hovering over it all was the constant memory that I was
departing for Albany on the next afternoon. Over the course of the day off,
I pulled out my copy of Skeleton Key: A Dictionary For Deadheads by
Steve Silberman and David Shenk, perhaps the finest book yet written
explaining the scene. Published in 1994 (as Silberman has observed, written
at the last possible moment when the Grateful Dead existed as a breathing
cultural entity), the book is now a little bit outdated.
But that dated quality made the reading even more fun. Skeleton Key
is a perfect browser’s book. The entries are arranged in alphabetical order – Dick’s Picks to Diga Rhythm Band to The Diggers (and so on) – so
even the experience of reading straight through is non-linear. I found
countless entries that now seem quaint. Picking now at random: "Gorby
blots" ("a particularly potent and clean vintage of blotter LSD popular
in the early ’90s, illustrated with the face of Mikhail Gorbachev"; ah, when
Gorbachev was still a recognizable world leader, and people still put art on
their LSD), ‘drum circles’ (they seem to be appearing with less and
less frequency these days), ‘retreading’ ("taping over a previously
recorded tape"). Like the latter, many of the dated entries had to do with
the outmoded technology of tape trading: "J-cards," "Pop the tabs," "Gen"
("short for ‘generation’"), and so on. By the end of the day, I was ready to
start a retro-cassette movement claiming that the joys of tape hiss were
just as rich and wonderful as the warmth of vinyl. (And I still might
believe that, at least ‘til I get a new tape deck…)
If I was nostalgic, it wasn’t for long. Sometime that day, I logged onto an
FTP site, and realized both how it was an improvement in quality and speed
from the old days of waiting a few weeks for a possibly shitty-sounding
audience tape to arrive in the mail (despite the coolness of a neat package
and other treats tossed in with the tapes), and – more – how FTP downloading
itself is already well on its way to being outdated, replaced by BitTorrent
and Furthur (and other technologies that, too, will disappear or mutate
sometime in the next decade). There is something very nice about sharing
widespread change with a group of people, about sitting down at setbreak
with a stranger and already having some kind of shared history. On my day
off, I appreciated that world. It was nourishing. More, it made the next two
shows that much nicer, being able to appreciate the rituals and the
routines, the down moments, and recognizing the instant my tour ended: when
I got into a taxicab near the Fleet Center to take me across Boston so I
could crash at the apartment of an old friend, a non-Phishhead, and I tried
to figure out how I would explain my last four days to him (in between
catching up on other worlds).

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