More Cheese Is Strung…I’m a Song-Writer (and an Optimist) Again
Back in August we printed a review of the String Cheese Incident Horning’s Hideout show that inspired some commentary and calls for another perspective on the event. To that end we offer up John Perry Barlow’s account of the weekend which appeared on his mailing list (and he graciously allowed us to run). As most of you know, Barlow the former lyricist for the Grateful Dead is co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He also appeared as a presenter at the Jammys.
You will recall in my last dispatch a suspiciously hyperbolic account
of my attendance at a concert of the String Cheese Incident in
Steamboat Springs July 4.
Indeed, so glowing was this account I came to wonder later if once
again I hadn't been duped by my tendency for inflated initial
enchantment. Or perhaps, I thought, I'd been caught up in a wave of
mass hysteria, exacerbated by the sight of so many lissome maidens
hula-hooping. Not to mention the heart-expanding sight of my own 3 lovely daughters having such a rippingly swell time themselves.
Also, it occurred to me that the extraordinarily civilized and loving
nature of the audience might be as much a characteristic of Colorado
as much as it was any culture that might have accreted around this
supernaturally tight little "blue-jam" band. (Though, based on the
rest of what I've seen of Colorado culture lately, I should have
dismissed that theory at once.)
In any case, I figured I ought to give the experience another test.
Besides, there'd been talk in Steamboat Springs of our getting
together and doing some song-writing – which I miss doing more than I
thought I would – and I figured I'd have to know the songs they
already had better to be any good at writing them new ones.
So, bringing with me (in the service of objectivity), the wise if
mildly jaundiced eye of my pal Carolyn "MG" Garcia, I headed off to
another Incident about 10 days ago to see if I still thought both the
band and their fans were really so cool.
The Incident was a three night stand, August 10th through 13th, in a
Paradisiacal glen west of Portland, Oregon called Horning's Hideout,
where the Incidentalists were encouraged to come and camp all three
It was their explicit intention to create a TAZ, as my friend Hakim
Bey calls Temporary Autonomous Zones, anarchic sanctuaries where
suppressed cultures are at brief liberty to be themselves. Kind of
like a gentler, kinder Burning Man. Burning Man with fairy wings,
perhaps, but with the same effort under way to create civilized
anarchy, if only for a moment.
Mountain Girl, as she winces to be called (but by which name I've
always known her), had her doubts. We've both watched old dreams lose
their luster. (Or worse.)
Indeed, I think both of us have wondered, as the United States headed
into its 2nd Bush Presidency since the '60's, if the ideals we've
lived our lives for would even outlive us.
As you know, I am a pronoid (someone who fancies everything to be a
conspiracy on his behalf), but, as you also know, my pronoia has been
far too well under control lately. While I'm hardly as gloomy as I
was last winter, I could still Eeyore out on you with only a little
discouragement as recently as July.
Both of us left Horning's Hideout with a much sunnier outlook. What
happened among the 4 or 5 thousand Incidentalists at Horning's made
my experience in Colorado seem like a good start. I have rarely, if
ever, witnessed such an eruption of pure optimismo.
Hell, I tuned myyself so tightly to their wavelength that when some
damsel slipped her fairy wings onto my back during one of the
concerts, I left them on for the rest of the evening. There I was, 17
years a Republican cattle rancher from darkest Wyoming, getting
comfortable with an inner fairy I never guessed was in there.
The music, or whatever you want to call it, is clearly a joint
creation of the audience and the band. It becomes a kind of breeder
reactor that continues to animate even the most exhausted, dancing
us, playing them, long after we all should have dropped.
On the second night the band played for six hours, almost two hours
of which was a completely improvised soundtrack for a mind-frying
spectacle of fire-twirling, stilt-walking, and swan-dancing put on,
without rehearsal, by the fans. Despite the self-organizing nature of
this extravaganza, it looked as tightly choreographed and as creative
as a production by the Cirque de Soleil. This is not an exaggeration.
Something very special is going on with these people. It gives me
hope. I feel as if the culture of love in America is getting another
chance. This time, it might just work. I believe it can scale. These
kids aren't thinking about it, as we too earnestly and
self-consciously were. They are being it.
They are thoughtlessly thoughtful. Carelessly caring. Unconsciously
conscious. They are also marvelously trusting and self-regulatory.
They fling out their love around them, realistically confident that
no one will knowingly walk on it.
And, in this completely liberated enclave, where anyone could have
gotten away with just about anything, I didn't see one sloppy drunk,
nor a single psychedelic asteroid, nor any angry faces. Never the
faintest scent of violence.
And it's not because they're too dim-witted to have a shadow. It's
there somewhere. But they have chosen, not so much to suppress the
darkness, but to generate as much light as they can.
MG, finally convinced that she wasn't in the grip of an hallucinatory
episode of wishful thinking, turned to me at one point and said, "You
know, the last word that would come come to mind in describing this
scene is 'sinister.'" Right.
I mentioned this later to Michael Kang, their electric
mandolinist/violinist. "Yeah," he said. "That's probably the most
sinister thing about it, eh?"
Michael turned up in San Francisco a few days ago, having ridden his
BMW down the coast, before heading off to Costa Rica for 3 weeks of
> > > We were ready to take a shot at song-writing together. I think both
of us were apprehensive. As with any other kind of relationship,
musical collaboration works or fails according to alchemical formulae
that no one has ever systematized.
> > >
Each of the participants might be talented, each might like the other
and share similar tastes (and we do, a lot), but the results will be
as they will be.
I'm delighted to report that our first foray felt like an unqualified
success. We went from a few chords to a whole song with strong lyrics
and a haunting melody in less than an hour.
Michael then grabbed another set of lyrics I'd pulled out of the
archives and given him earlier, asking me to sing it. Within an hour, he had fine-tuned my melody and produced the beginnings of the sort
of orchestration that will make it a perfect launch pad for a journey
into the improvisational Oort Cloud that his band/starship generally
I am very pleased by all this, of course. It's been a very hard year
and continues to be in many ways, but the discovery and validation
that something socially beautiful is growing around the String Cheese
Incident – along with this recent evidence that I might become a
useful contributor to it – is the best thing that's happened to me in
a long time. I'm grateful. I'm alive.
Preserve Wild Life,