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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/10/22
by Jesse Jarnow

10 years, pt. 2

BRAIN TUBA: 10 years, pt. 2
Gabba Gabba Hey Doc –
As it happened, it was one of the boys in the village who told me about the Phish reunion. It was about a week post-Zaireeka (the children loved it, and took turns standing around each other and cooing to mimic the quadraphonic sound set-up) after which we licked tree slime and floated down-river for three days, enjoying the local equivalent of an indian summer before the first gentle snows made the pass impassable. Just before the pass closed—last week—one of the boys (Kzzzknkh, I think) drew me a picture in the sand of Drthalu, their dream-god, joyfully urinating into the ear of a flaming goat, an image they’d collectively conceived when I played them ‘Glide’ (the Picture of Nectar version). ‘Back,’ he said, pointing at Drthalu. ‘Back,’ he emphasized.
I was securing a small winter-yurt for my ox at the time, who whinnied winsomely when I said the word "Phish?" out loud, as if baying for a cold, orange moon. Kzzzknkh nodded solemnly, in that way that small children do, and put his hands on his hips. I know these small details probably don’t matter much on the mainland, Dean, where the story is all about tickets and hotels, but so it goes. It seems just last month I was wondering to you ‘what now?’ I suppose Kzzzknkh has answered that quite succinctly: Drthalu will urinate in the ears of flaming goats.
But it does leave me wondering, Dean, what’s really going to happen. Phish is playing three shows, the internet tells me. Probably more. Maybe a lot more. I’m astounded—mildly, anyway—and hope it is all for the best. It’s been a rough patch of years for those who believed in Phish finding ideas that were new—to the band and to the world, at least at the scale Phish executed them—and running hard. The kind of years and sequence of new albums and events that make one wonder if there was ever anything valid in funk and surreality and prog-intensity to begin with, or if maybe he’d merely been booted from Brigadoon for lack of faith. I know there are some people are very excited about all of this, but that’s sort of where I’m at. It’ll be fun, probably, to see everybody. To see them. But will be it be more than fun?
Certainly, this has happened once before, when the band returned from their two-year trial separation between 2000 and 2002. Knowing what happened last time—hoping they would reinvent themselves totally, as they’d once floated, only to see them literally unprepared—leaves me skeptical. Things were different then, of course. Drugs, etc.. But, in any reality, I’d be happy if Phish never toured again, just hung out in Vermont, pulled a Beatles, and lived in the studio. Let it snow—the actual, meteorological substance, that is—and crank out weird discs of improv. Play three or four gigs a year at out-of-the-way festivals or over short runs (intensely preparing new material and weirdness for each), but mainly just be hermits.
It’ll never happen, of course, and I doubt they’re interested in it, and I doubt most people who even like Phish would even be happy with that. Given how much fun it probably is—aesthetically and economically—to tour in front of Phishheads, Phish probably shouldn’t be interested, either. Just saying. That’s the thing about getting older, Dean. It gets harder to be ambitious. (Makes a fella wanna hole up with a vinyl copy of Dark Side, and just figure it all out eh, man?) At this point, the reality is that Phish can play with orchestras, and that’s probably what’s going to end up happening, or some other maturation/‘maturation’ of their original concepty classic rock trickbag.
And it’ll hopefully be great. But I’m under no delusion that (much as I think they’d be awesome at it) they’re gonna come back jamming on krautrock or doing live circuit-bending on a Roomba robo-vacuum or bringing the Sun Ra Arkestra on tour or wearing Residents eyeballs to make us wonder if it’s really them or updating "Keyboard Cavalry" and "Acoustic Army" to include "Gamelan Garrison" or even "Bagpipe Battalion" or some shit. I hope I’m wrong about all this, and that Phish just being Phish will suffice and be fucking sweet. That’s all they can do, anyway.
The question, Dean, is what’s left to say through the medium of stadium music, using this language that Phish used and will likely continue to employ: two/three sets in big rooms, rock light show, seasonal runs, festivals? And it’s not just that, but this incredible artistic limitation of hassle. It’s built in to seeing Phish—tracking down tickets, dealing with hotels, conveying a car through rush hours in drab sprawl-cities—all with the fairly presumptuous notion that something transcendent is going to happen on the other side, when one has finally found the parking lot, passed through a barrier of security guards and bag checkers and ushers. Of course, it’s about the adventure of it all and the romance and chance of the road, Dean, of course it is, and seeing old friends and doing drugs and audience participations and dancing and involving yourself in the subculture and all, but it’s still also about music, right? Can art—real art, not just throwing around glowsticks and calling it a Happening—exist on the other side of all that? Listening back, it seems like it sometimes could. Sometimes. But it also seems like it got harder for Phish to do that.
I imagine I’ll be back by then. Maybe I’ll see you at one of the shows. For now, though, we’ve got the winter to contend with. I’ve been told there will be occasional days of white sunshine and nearly tropical warmth, which will melt the snow into blinding sheets that subsequently freeze into astounding and perilous ice abstractions. I was thinking of introducing the children here to play Dungeons and Dragons, but I fear it might be a little too literal a snowbound activity for a culture that worries daily about Drthalu destroying their souls through dream-song. Besides, I don’t have any dice. I suppose I’ll just stick to teaching the children how to splice old cassettes into musique concrete collages for now. More later on stadium art, 10 years of this website, etc.. Good luck with the Presidential election. Time for soup.

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