Punk Rock Phish
Peaches En Randalia #42
“It isn’t rambling if you see a few fun spots along the way.” – Bugs Bunny, sometime in the 20th Century…(I think he said that.)
A few months back I was interviewed for a Writer’s Workshop series by editor and writer Ryan Dembinsky. A few of my answers explain how I feel about my craft, and how it also relates to my strong passion for improvisational music, especially my deep fondness for the music of Vermont’s Finest. I thought I would start off this brief discussion of the Return of Punk Rock Phish at Hartford on August 14, 2009 with a few excerpts from that interview to help explain my thesis. And what is that heady thesis? Phish is at its best when the band dismantles their songs down into tiny fragments which allow the audience to break through their own barriers to the band, and the music solidifies the collective union in a Townshendian way. Hence, Phish is occasionally a really good punk band.
Or something oh so deeply nutty yet spiritual like that.
Gentleman Interviewer: If you had to take a crack at defining your writing style and approach to differentiating yourself, how would you sum it up?
Rogue Writer: “Organized Chaos, which succeeds if I can plant unique visual imagery in a reader’s mind. When the writing fails, I am trying too hard. Style should be a four-letter word. Sometimes, I want the black and white words on a page to move like one is on a rollercoaster; sometimes, I want imagery to zoom by at random intervals like one is on a carousel; and then, sometimes, I’d like the portrait to resemble shattered pictures within a kaleidoscope. Sometimes, I haven’t a clue.
I like mystique, and I start off from an interesting point of origin, move towards clarity, and then return to that original point of mystery—hopefully, with some unique spin on things. I do my homework, and research my subjects. I also concentrate on the work, because the written word, after all, survives, so I keep that in mind with any project.”
Later, he asked me about my interview process. Yes, after over 100 Q&A’s, I do tend to get nervous before the cat gets on the phone with me, or we meet somewhere to chat. That will hopefully never change. I responded to his question in this way: “the only musician I’ve ever been really nervous speaking with was Trey Anastasio because we weren’t actually talking about easy subjects, and, like thousands of other cool cats, hippies, Wookies, Phunky Bitches, legendary loonies, and heady scribes, Big Red will always be a very creative and iconic hero to me, despite his faults.”
Still nervous around Trey, eh? It is interesting that Phish has spent 2009 doing what they needed to do to re-solidifiy that pretentious but telling collective union with its fan base.
For the most part, after Summer Tour – Leg 2 was completed, the consensus was—either by those who attended, or listened to the downloads, or did both—that Phish is back playing music with excellent chops, skill, talent, and an occasional desire to experiment.
That last attribute has always been my most favorite aspect of my little Phish fandom. I love how the band would either rehearse or spontaneously break into a rather geeky routine that was both musically compelling, and memorable as a theatrical set piece. I am writing this column for veterans, like myself, who may have moved on from the band, and only catch occasional marquee gigs due to family commitments, or an overall sense that Phish is in their past. Therefore, I will not provide oodles of examples of how Phish has broken the 4th wall, dashed over the invisible barrier at the front of center stage, and joined the audience. The tapes are out there, so is the film, just go treasure hunting. It’s more fun anyway. [Author’s Note: can you have an “Author’s Note” within a column? Isn’t that vaguely how-do-you-say “dissociative identity disorder,” or something official like that? Part of me says yes; the other, of course, is in complete denial…anyway, as we were saying: in one of many interesting passages in the recent Waful feature series on the site, Jefferson explains how fans have lost their grasp of the great aura surrounding a band—due to quick and easy access to live shows (both audio and video)—that is critical to sustaining interest and developing a unique mystique around said band. I concur.]