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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/09/23
by Jesse Jarnow

10 Years, pt. 1

BRAIN TUBA: 10 Years, pt. 1
Hey Budnick –
Okay, so that fucked me up, going back to look at the first few columns I wrote for, 10 years ago this month. Though I’m not quite inclined to tug on it quite yet, I suppose it is something of a reassurance that I have a month-by-month line directly into my brain’s past (and backed up on the internet no less!), one I’d perhaps be ill-advised to sever. You never know. Rosebud could be back there somewhere. But, y’know, being so quiet here and all, I got to thinking about anniversaries and all of that.
On one hand, it’s a minor miracle that is still around, I think. Ten years in internet terms is an eternity. (I might’ve said that at the 5th anniversary, too.) Though I’ve frequently been pissy about the lack of attention (and funds) directed to this website by its various indie-corporate overlords, it’s probably all for the best, and allowed us to thrive like some low-level swamp organism. Which is to say (once again): punk fucking rock, man. It takes a lot to survive these days. Sometimes laissez-faire is the way to go. So, we’re all still here, clearly. But, give or take Widespread Panic, there aren’t many dyed-in-the-wool full-time, seasonally jambands out there these days. It’s worth pondering WTF happened. And I don’t even mean musically, necessarily, though there’s that, too.
Hunter S. Thompson instantly pegged 9/11 as "the death of fun," and I’m inclined—of course—to agree. For starters, it was the end of the ’90s, of the first burst of cyber-money that fired two separate purchasings of by dudes wanting to monetize our assets (ifyouknowwhatImsayin’). The sound of jambands—big, happy genre crossings—came out of the perfect storm of peacetime prosperity and post-modern utopianism. And, certainly the Bush Administration put a swift kibosh on any residual good vibes that might’ve lingered in the air despite 9/11, stomping on them like blue meanies on butterflies. That certainly made it hard for jambands to exist aesthetically and existentially. When Phish came back from their hiatus during the run-up to the Iraq War in early 2003 it was with a less-than-innocent veneer.
But it was really probably Al Gore that killed fun.
Or, rather, another perfect storm (what with global warming, there seems to be a lot of those going on): inflated gas prices and monumental society-imposed guilt for long drives. (At least, you should feel guilty about long drives.) Perhaps the latter only sucked the fun out of road-tripping for a small minority of people, but it certainly stole a good handful of sub-cultural credibility away from a musical notion based on the idea of following a band around the country in a hand-me-down Volvo station wagon. Even more than ever, the open road is a place of privilege. And maybe that’s appropriate enough for the jamband scene at this point in time, having embraced luxury cruises and such, but it still feels instinctually a bit weird to me.
What was it that jambands—that dated, weighted word—were invented to express, anyway? Certainly, the Grateful Dead and Phish, the two templates for much that followed, had dancing at their core. And that, by itself, is still perfectly valid. Improvisation in real time, likewise, is just as proper a notion as it ever was — not for everybody, but definitely very much for some people (indeed). But below these two things was a set of values that could be described sociologically and musically, in terms of the way jambands defined themselves in opposition to the culture at large, usually with a deep sense of humor — though significantly not so post-modern as to embrace irony. Most important to the equation, however, was the sense of total devotion it required (at least in its ideal state): seeing every show, collecting all the bootlegs, knowing the name of the lighting director, and on down the line into obsession. Hence, the touring.
So what now?
Well, right now, Budnick, I’ve gotta go. I’m needed in the village. Some of the children have apparently never heard the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka in all its four-stereoed glory. Until I arrived, they only had three stereos, anyway. But don’t worry, Dean. The snows arrive early here, and we’ll get to the rest next month.

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