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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/12/23
by Jesse Jarnow

10 Years, pt. 4

BRAIN TUBA: 10 Years, pt. 4

Ho ho ho Dean:
The calendar year here is 16 months long, so the holidays actually fall in different seasons each time they come around. This isn’t as ridiculous as it might sound, because it means that each holiday really does have its own unique shading that only comes around every four years. Like, Halloween in July, October, January, and May. Each would be totally different. It’s like that here. I certainly haven’t been around long enough to give you any kind of anthropological reading on the differences, or even the meaning of any particular ritual, but I appreciate the subtlety of the scheme.
The one that is occurring right now is somewhat akin to Christmas. Lots of ritual gift giving, though its origins seem to have something to do with a meteor shower and a subsequent bumper-crop of frunkfrunk fruit. For an isolated mountain village, the consumerism is impressive, as are the cottage industries that pop up to meet their various holidays’ needs. That is, because of the scarcity of each holiday, nothing is really manufactured in gross. There’s no need. Got me thinking about how much I don’t miss about shopping in mega-stores, that particular feeling of hoping that my very specific need might be met by an object somewhere in the endless, fluorescent-lit aisles. Naturally, Dean, I got to thinking about Phish and how they’re the big box store equivalent of the counter-culture. Or were, last time they existed.
It’s almost a coincidence of fate that they ended up that way, carrying over from the Grateful Dead, who were probably the ones who were supposed to have shepherded in the new age of the Other. The Dead were the sixties’ ark. They were a band, of course, but carried with them weight of their traveling circus, which served as an important, floating access point to the great American wilderness. But, in large part, it worked because it was a big tent, serving the Deadheads who loved the music just as much as sub-cultures that adopted Dead tour for lack of someplace else to go. Though often victims of a negative rap, and not without reason, the parking lot became a destination. One-stop shopping for the counter-culture, in a lot of regards.
And Phish, coming along when they did, picked this up. If Jerry Garcia had lived a few more years, it never would have been an issue. Subsequently, as Phish repeatedly decided whether they want to be a band or not, in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2008, that function—of being a counter-cultural big box—did what so many other industries did in the same period: it went digital. It would’ve happened no matter what Phish did, musically or otherwise. Phish embraced it as it happened. It was a totally natural move for them—websites, Usenet, etc.—as well as their followers. It was the perfect organizing tool for a non-fixed community. So perfect, in fact, that the idea of an entirely offline community—one linked only by shared ideals and some basic belief that there are other people like you somewhere—is almost hard to grasp these days. You just find your people and you go to them.
One of the books I stashed away with me on my sojourn is called Say You Love Satan, an exploitation paperback about some alleged heavy metal cult killings that occurred in my hometown in the early 1980s, when I was growing up. (Really.) In the chapter I just read, the author—David St. Clair—details how an impressionable young pothead who’d never showed any interest in anything other than being a wastoid wandered into the library, found books about Satanism, and became completely obsessed by them, reading until a librarian kicked him out when the place closed for the evening. He details the kid’s summer spent getting stoned in the woods and reading. But his implication is clear: Satanism bad. Now, clearly, Ricky Kasso—who eventually stabbed another kid while instructing, ‘say you love Satan’—was damaged. And it’s not to say that the internet would have saved Gary Lauwers’ life. But, at the very least, it surely would have doused Kasso’s interest with pure streams of information: links to communities of actual Satanists, maybe some scholarly information about Aleister Crowley, maybe a Livejournal. Who knows?
My point, Dean, is this: the Other is there. Deviance is an established, irrevocable part of the American fabric, and people don’t need big box stores anymore to find it. They can get what they’re looking for by free association and/or deep Wikipedia links. Neither is a replacement for actual community, but each channels one closer and closer to the exact people he might want to meet. That’s how I ended up here, of course. I don’t even remember the chain of search terms I put in. Suffice it to say, Dean, their concept of time, their rituals, strange landscapes, seasons, and everything else appealed to me. Just someplace resolutely different. It’s nice to have some perspective. I’ve been thinking of sticking around, or at least establishing some kind of semi-permanent encampment. That’s a topic to discuss with the elders, I imagine, though they’re sequestered for the remainder of the festivities, each ringing gongs, continuously, for 12 hour stretches in the courtyard of their compound while Kzzzknkh and other boys slowly pour water on the instruments from the ramparts. Imagine a John Bonham solo in extreme, meditative solo motion, Dean. I am going to watch the sunrise shift.
Happy New Year, Doc.

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