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Columns > Mike Greenhaus - The Greenhaus Effect

Published: 2004/01/02
by Mike Greenhaus

Outside a Small Circle of Friendster

Not to brag, but Trey and I talk all the time. In fact, after following Mr. Anastasio for seven years, and surely helping secure his daughters’ college fund, I now count Phish’s front-man among my nearest and carefully calculated dearest. No, I don’t have my recently acquired college degree or fledging role as "jamband journalist" to thank for infiltrating Phish’s socially secure fortress. In fact, these seemingly productive pursuits have only distracted from my ambitious adventure. Instead, my rock star fantasy has been fulfilled by none other than my perennial procrastination plaything, Friendster.

In case you are not familiar with pop-culture’s newest buzzword, Friendster is a cross between instant messenger and a cyber cocktail party. In "hippie terms" it’s kind of like a Phantay Shakedown Street where any budding social capitalist can pawn his or her personality to likeminded Internet denizens. By way of photos, baseball card-like stats, and an assortment of witty banter- often funniest when they fall flat – a Friendster user like myself can refashion their persona with classified-section style. Designed to help reintroduce long-lost friends and help further the on-line baby boom at Summer of Love speed, Friendster is a nifty way to waste time between the world of stuffing and filing that consumes my life. It’s also a fitting hobby for a slightly compulsive character like myself. After all, collecting has always been my vice of choice. Baseball cards, comics, and compact discs have all liquidated from a piggybank pile of money into a cluttered mess on my floor. Collecting "cliques" seems like a logical next step. So, you’ll image my excitement when I obtained the Babe Ruth of Friendster friends: Trey Anastasio.
It happened so suddenly. One day, while searching for other users who list Phish as their favorite style of music, and discovering that Brooklyn now houses a third of my graduating class, I stumbled upon a rather popular character who has already amassed two-hundred friends (definitely a home-coming king candidate at Friendster-High). A living caricature of Phish’s front man, "Trey’s" Friendster profile included all sorts of random references that only "in-the-know" phans would understand and slightly soured ex-aficionados would appreciate. Wearing a Wilson t-shirt and utilizing his middle finger to its full potential, "Trey" was everything a resident of the newly gentrified East-Shakedown would except from the "evil" King of Gamehenge.
Given the highly superficial nature of this on-line frat party, I quickly be-Friendstered Trey. Within a few minutes, sitting among a mutt-like mixture of my real-life friends was Trey’s mug. It seemed so fitting. After all, I did spend more nights with his band last summer than my ex-girlfriend (which might account for that newly acquired prefix). Within my social circle, Trey’s name pops up at least every six degrees, so it’s fitting that he helped connect me to 193 fresh faces. Oddly enough, Friendster seemed to put my-so-called life in social perspective making me realize just how often I utter the four letter T "word." So the only thing stopping this fantasy from coming to fruition is that Trey isn’t a Friendster user.
Yes, I’ve finally accepted it. Most likely someone created a "Trey" Friendster profile. Unless Trey gets really bored recording albums up in the Barn, or hires an intern to help, he’s most likely not going to spend hours a week playing on Friendster. In a very Wizard of Oz moment, the kid playing Trey on Friendster is probably a bouncy, slightly neurotic set-list scribe like myself who spent his summer sitting in traffic to make it into Shakedown. Unless, I win that weird MTV Fanatic program, Friendster is about as close as I’ll ever get to being an IM away from Trey.
But, that relationship is strangely symbolic of Friendsters’ most important quality. Leather pants and jet planes aside, this somewhat sophomoric computer program lets the dorky kid in each and everyone of us indulge our rock star fantasy. For being a rock star, or celebrity of any sort, isn’t just about talent or technical skill, it’s about presentation and persona. Take Trey for instance: he’s obviously a skilled musician and darn fine composer, but it’s his identity that makes him a bonifide celebrity. No matter how great a guitarist he is, for many fans, that Friendster image constantly comes to mind: the Revenge of the Nerd Scarecrow, the Pied Piper of suburban boredom. It’s not just the middle-finger or post-hiatus passion for tennis shirts. It’s the idea that celebrities can make "regular Joe" qualities fashionable.
A few weeks ago, I actually observed my newest Friendster friend up-close for the first time. Playing an impromptu show with the Jennifer Hartswick band at the Lion’s Den, I literally, and most definitely figuratively, bumped into the arena rock star. Standing somewhere between an angry front-door bouncer and the bar, which is about a fifty foot gap, I casually saw Trey emerge from backstage, hoping to view his friends’ performance. Reaching for a laminate I didn’t have, I tried to get close to Trey, causally two-stepping my way through the crowded club. At first I tried to play it cool, turning my head 180-degrees the wrong way to avoid being star struck. After realizing that I was accidentally staring at some dude waiting in line to pee, I decided to put any journalist integrity I’ve earned aside and observe the rock star in his natural habitat. I crawled up near the stage door, and peered backstage, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Led Zeppelinesque rock star hotel party. Unfortunately, instead I got a glimpse of aprmeal conversation reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner. Casually placing his hands in his pockets, Trey didn’t do anything superhuman or particularly exciting (except give drummer Russ Lawton a friendly jab on the shoulder). Yet, given his legacy and high-profile persona, Trey elicited a huge response from numerous not-too-casual onlookers.
Hoping to gain VIP access, one dude quickly declared his longtime love to a bouncer, only to be rejected worse than at a high-school prom. Another seemed to lose his socialist, anti-capitalist persona and tried to buy his way backstage (he too ended up going stag to the bar). A third girl suffered temporary "red carpet fever" and mistook Brad Sands for Dave Matthews, while the skeptics in the house too voiced their opinions (a choice quip: Dude, Trey is so overrated, but I guess its cool he’s here)
It seemed so strangely fitting. No matter how humble they are, rock stars always end up becoming cartoon characters, known for their image rather than their musicianship. In a fun way, Friendster kind of does that for "normal" folk like you and me (unless Trey happens to be reading this column). Like a recent college grad, Friendster’s future is bright and full of hope. But like its big brother Napster, Friendster will most likely end up the bi-product of some media conglomerate (the spoils of capitalism). Maybe one day Phil Ochs’ ghost will write a sequel to his song "Outside a Small Circle of Friends" about this nifty little program. Either way, as least for Friendster sake, Trey and I are finally best- friends. That is, of course, until Jerry decides to join.

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