X-Philes: The Phish-UFO-Mayan Connection 1997-2001, Part 4
[Agent Stardog has returned to offer up another installment of his X-Philes. Once again we counsel, "Believe it if you need it, if you don’t just pass it on…"]
Greetings music fans and Welcome back to the X-Philes. The saga continues this month along the Phall 99 tour trail, in the wake of another epic run at The Gorge
The Portland Meadows show on September 12th was decent – it may have been better than I could grok, cuz I was wiped out. I was surprised that the band would play the day after The Gorge, and was a bit too exhausted to really get a groove on at Portland Meadows – I had to chill in the bleachers due to a Sirius lack of sleep the previous two nights at The Gorge. Nonetheless, I still had a memorable time thanks to Doug "Lawnboy" Loeb who hooked me and my friend Liz up with 3D glasses that really enhanced Kuroda’s light show very far out visuals. But my mind was already looking ahead to Shoreline. (I was unable to make it to Boise.)
Shoreline - September 16
Close Encounter With Jon Fishman and "The Book of Information"
Rumors were rampant about Phil Lesh sitting in on night two, so I figured they had to deliver a great show on the first night to set it up - which they did of course. Afterward, Liz and I were walking through the main aisle way with big smiles on our faces when a kind gentleman says, "would you guys like to go backstage"? Me: "sure!"... and he hands us two aftershow passes. A good night just got better.
So there we were hanging out and drinking a beer when Jon Fishman appears. He was surrounded by a posse of young ladies, so it was hard to approach him. I wanted to ask him about a story I'd heard from a reliable phan who had told me that Fishman had told him about receiving "The Book of Information" from the late, jazz great Sun Ra. Ra claimed to be from Saturn, and in his biography, "Space is the Place", he is purported to have received "The Book of Information" from some European mystics.
"The Book" had allegedly been produced by extraterrestrial beings and detailed numerous mystical events from both Earth's past and future. (It should also be noted that three alumni of Sun Ra's Arkestra - Marshall Allen, Michael Ray, and Damon Choice - played with Trey on his "Surrender to the Air" album.)
InTeRlude: ThE CoSmiC PerSonA of SuN RA
Before going on with this story, I feel some more background on Mr. Ra is in order so that the reader can realize the full significance of this story in my overall research - Sun Ra is both a big influence on Phish, and someone whose cosmic theories are very much in tune with my own. Henceforth a few quotes from the aforementioned bio, "Space is the Place" by John F. Szwed:
Sun Ra "endlessly pronounced on astronomy, physics, and space travel, and told tales of a future when science would become one with music..."
"With music he would reach across the border of reality with myth; with music he could build a bridge to another dimension, to something better; dance halls, clubs, and theaters could be turned into sacred shrines, the sites of dramas and rituals. And though people would be drawn to hear the music, it was they who would become the instrument on which it would resonate, on which he would create the sound of silhouettes... the images and forecasts of tomorrow... all of it disguised as jazz."
Sounds a lot like a Phish show! Of course Sun Ra was creating his cosmic tones before the members of Phish were even born. Arkestra bassoonist James Jacson recounts:
"...Another time he said, 'You know how many notes there are between C and D? If you deal with those tones you can play nature, and nature doesn't know notes. That's why religions have bells, which sound all the transient tones. You're not musicians, you're tone scientists.'" Later Swzed writes:
"Sonny charged his music with Neoplatonism - the philosophical-mystical tradition in which music is seen as both a model of the universe and a part of its makeup, and where it has the power to bring human beings in line with the cosmos." Phish has obviously been influenced by that concept in a Sirius way! Szwed summarizes some more of the Sun Ra cosmology:
"Music could be a bridge to potential, to the future; it's possible to paint pictures of infinity with music. 'The bridge' was a metaphor for another reality, a break with the cyclic order of life and death. Music could be used to coordinate minds. It could touch the unknown part of the person, awaken them to the part of them that we're not able to talk to, the spirit." This seems like it could also be an analysis of the special powers exhibited by the Grateful Dead and Phish.
The alternate cosmic bible known as The Urantia Book comes up again, as Ra was reading it throughout the filming of the 1972 film, "Space is the Place", "part documentary, part sci-fi, part blaxploitation, part revisionist bible epic." Szwed notes, "The Urantia Book is an account of the history and nature of the universe (of which Urantia, or Earth, is only a small part), and which predicts that a celestial musician will appear on Earth one day who could change the world." See: http://www.urantiabook.org/newbook/papers/p044.htm
As noted in the Summer '98 X-Philes section, I feel there's been a wave of these musicians - Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, etc... and of course Sun Ra and Phish.
The Book of Information
In 1990, the then 76-year old Sun Ra continued to tour the world with his Arkestra - Ra was a musician's musician! Szwed relates:
"It was in Turkey that Sun Ra was approached by some mystics who gave him The Book of Information, another channeled work from forces beyond, only this one had been dictated from a satellite to a computer. There were forty chapters in a manuscript of over 500 pages, all in English, written in the familiar register of New Age, much of it concerning space travel and advice for survival, an explanation of the higher forces watching Earth and evidence of secret knowledge held by a select few on Earth. And in spite of the ominous messages within, it concluded cheerfully by predicting that things would improve on Earth after 1990. (One might note here that the 90s marked the rise of Phish from cult college band to global musical phenomenon.) Ra was known to give pages away to anyone he thought would benefit from them. At some point between 1990 and 1993, he apparently gave The Book of Info to Jon Fishman.
In summarizing Ra's legacy, Szwed notes how Ra knew and taught that "Music could provide a metaphysical experience through which one could enter the sublime, and come to know the cosmos. He understood music to be a universal language, and something akin to religion. Music could convey more than feelings about phenomena, it could express its essence, and thus could disclose secrets of nature not available to reason, secrets which reveal the true nature of the world." Your phriendly, neighborhood Stardog feels this also an excellent summation of the tantalizing possibilities that many fans have experienced at Grateful Dead and Phish shows.
Back to the 9/16/99 Shoreline Aftershow Party
The story of Fishman getting "The Book of Information" from Sun Ra fuels a theory of mine that Phish are privy to some info about upcoming global events leading up to 2012. So I was looking for some kind of confirmation, but was having a hard time getting a word in. My friend Sean had made it into the aftershow party as well and asked me what I wanted to ask Fishman, so I told him. Moments later he skillfully queried, "Hey Fishman, did you get The Book of Information from Sun Ra?" Fish then replied that he had indeed received "The Book" from Sun Ra. He didn't seem at first like he really wanted to talk about it though, and claimed that he hadn't even really read it and had just put it up on a shelf. He was looking right at me though, and I sensed that that was not really the truth.
But then a few minutes later, Fish volunteered a story about a part he had read, that referred to an ancient temple in Egypt that had a hall of records that had been mysteriously burned but with no evidence of how the fire could have started, implying that some kind of unexplained, mystical destruction had taken place. It was an odd but nevertheless Siriusly interesting anecdote.
Not too long after, Mike Gordon walked by on his way to exiting the aftershow area. I took the moment to say, "Mike, why no Scent of a Mule in 99?" He kept going but stopped momentarily to turn and reply, "we've played it", to which I responded, "uh uh, not since Worcester!" I was right, and I was hoping that this would get us a "Mule" the next night, but alas the only 1999 appearance of the song would be December 11 in Philly.
September 17 - Phish in the Philzone!
It was one of the greatest treats in Phishtory when Phil Lesh walked out onto the Shoreline stage to join the band during the trampoline segment of "You Enjoy Myself". Followed by an amazing duel bass solo between Phil and Mike, and stellar versions of "Wolfman's Brother" and "Cold, Rain, and Snow", this was one of the greatest sets in music history. (The pre-Phil segment was also excellent, especially the "Piper".) A "Viola Lee Blues" encore with Warren Haynes brought the house down.
A show of this magnitude should have had a day off after, but nope, it was off to San Diego where an epic "Boogie On Reggae Woman" to open the 2nd set highlighted a show that while good, just couldn't quite hang with Shoreline and the Gorge. The Irvine Meadows show on 9/19 was similar, though certainly not without its moments. It pained me to be too poor at the time to be able to travel on to the Tucson and Las Cruces shows, but the cosmos did deliver a little bonus treat to cap off my tour that night at Irvine as Liz and I won the Waterwheel raffle for aftershow passes and were again backstage having close encounters with band members.
September 19 - Close Encounters with Trey and Mike at the Irvine Aftershow
So there we were hanging out drinking beers at the aftershow party again. It was a bit on the chilly side, but still a very festive vibe. Fishman was surrounded by the young ladies again, and I figured I'd let him be this time. I ran into my friend Angie, who it turns out was celebrating her 100th show. She's been to a lot more aftershows than me, so I ask her what are the odds of Trey appearing. She voices sentiment that its pretty slim. In the back of my mind however, I am recalling how Trey appeared at the Ventura 98 show, and so still hoping since this was Southern Cal again.
A few minutes later, Trey did indeed appear! Angie was thrilled and gets a big hug since its her 100th show. Trey is just hanging out chatting with folks. Someone had asked him something about his driver's license, and he had it out showing it to us. I was of course a little nervous again - there are SO many things that I would like to discuss with Trey, what should I go for? Of course I wanted to probe for X-Philes info, but how to do it in a subtle way? In the spontaneous moment I decided to ask something about a song that is key to the X-Philes - "Vultures". This is a song that I feel is subtly referencing the Mayan calendar in the oblique way it references time:
"Timing is everything, that much I know.
Sometimes I'm fast(er) and sometimes I'm slow
Some days vacation but some days I'm told
I've come to the end of the line
But when I can't be what's expected of me
I look at the clock and say this can't be
Watching it pass without reason or rhyme
I feel I'm suspended in time
(Repeat replacing last line with)
I see the vultures moving in (repeat)
The song was debuted in the summer of '97, and I immediately felt that the above lines were referencing the false timing frequency that is the Gregorian calendar, and how it is leading society astray, and pleading for a timing frequency that does have reason and rhyme - the galactic calendar of the ancient Maya. In the summer of '99, the band added a new verse - I heard it at Deer Creek and then again the first night of Shoreline, but I had been unable to decipher exactly what was being sung... so I said - "Trey, what's that new verse in 'Vultures', I can't quite make it out?" And he thought for a second and then sort of sung it for me and then said it was basically about "the naming of the ghost", presumably the ghost in "Story of the Ghost"...
"Poly-utec(?) reminds me of the bible
Andromeda was used I think before
My guess is that I'll never name this ghost well
but I think I hear him knocking at my door"
I'm still unsure about that first word... but I found the passage intriguing in both the naming of the ghost aspect and the mention of Andromeda. I should have asked Trey if Andromeda was referring to the Greek goddess or the constellation. But I didn't, and such passages are probably meant to be open to interpretation anyway. I really should have asked why "Vultures" didn't make it onto the "Story of the Ghost" album, as I think it is a great and crucial song. Why I didn't ask I don't know, but it wasn't like I was the only one there. __________________________________________________________________
Interlude - "I Saw It Again" - While we are on the topic of key X-Philes songs debuted in the summer of '97 that never made it onto an album, I should also make mention of "I Saw It Again", a tune that very much seems as if it could be describing one of Trey's ET contact encounters. Judge for yourself:
Well, I saw it again
(I saw it again)
A form in my window
(in my window)
It wants to come in
(it wants to come in)
Well, I seen it before
(I seen it before)
When I wake in the night
(when I wake up in the night I'm pulled from my dreams)
Well, when something's not right
I try not to look
(but the curtains pull open its breathing I hear)
For there is the shape
That I fear
And I'm fully woken
I saw it again
I saw it again
I saw it again
I saw it again
I saw it again
Trey only hung around for about five more minutes. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten in a couple more X-Philes questions, but I was just feeling much more casual that evening and for some reason was not in the mood to press about it. However, a few minutes later I saw my friend Christine chatting with Mike Gordon, and I sort of walk over there and she says, "Hey Greg, have you met Mike?" I thought to myself, "well yes actually", flashing back to the 7/17/98 Gorge aftershow, the 7/20/98 Ventura parking lot, and 4/17/99 outside the Warfield, but we were never introduced so I said, "no, not really", and she introduced us (she didn't know me as Stardog.)
They were having a casual conversation about video or something and that prompted me to ask Mike if they would have screens at Big Cypress - "because you had them at The Great Went, but you did not have them at The Lemonwheel," I queried. Mike said something to the effect that he wasn't sure yet and started to say something about maybe leaning towards not. I sort of cut him off and said, "Mike, with a crowd that size, you really ought to have them." He and his wife (I think) both laughed, and he said okay then, that decided it, they would have them. Liz has suggested he was probably humoring me and that they intended to have them all along. Maybe so, maybe not, but it's fun to think I persuaded him - and someone tell me why they didn't have them at The Lemonwheel?
I had hopes of making it to the Knick in Albany for the fall tour closer and back to Hampton in December, but neither panned out. My next Phish shows were the once-in-a-lifetime event known as NYE 2000 Big Cypress. There was another Sirius musical event for me before then though, which was Phil Lesh and Friends playing on my 30th-Earth birthday at the Denver Fillmore. A very special show – those interested in the cosmic details can email me for the link at my website.
December 30-31, 1999 – Big Cypress!
The entire fall of 1999 seemed like it was just a prelude… biding time until the long awaited Millennium show. All thoughts were predominated by planning for Big Cypress, so as to pull it off in 100% triumphant fashion. To this end, my "Y2Trey" crew of six rented an RV and purchased Motorola walkie talkies for each member of the party. We had everything pretty well dialed in.
What can be said about this stupendous once-in-a-lifetime event that would do it justice? I’ll just take a bit of space here to do a quick run-through, and speak of some of the most cosmic moments. Like The Great Went and The Lemonwheel, the concert grounds were done up in stylish and cosmic fashion. The Big Cypress Seminole Reservation is a beautiful piece of land, and it was very nice to ring in the new millennium on turf not reigned over by Wilson’s Foul Domain. So many things were so cool: the boardwalk; the drum circle lights in the forest; the huge paper airplanes in the trees; the time-traveling secret agent characters running around, etc.
What I found most interesting of all however was the ice pyramid that looked very synchronistically akin to a Mayan pyramid, such as the famous ziggurat style Pyramid of Kukuulkan in Chitza Itza. Someone later tried to debunk this by saying that the ice wasn’t originally supposed to be like that, but that they couldn’t figure out what else to do with it, so stacked it into a pyramid. Either way, there was a very Mayan-looking ice pyramid on the grounds!
The 12/30 show was a fine fun time, but everyone was obviously holding back for the big event. The Mike’s>Simple>Hydrogen>Groove was probably the highlight, with some cool lighting and dry-ice effects creating a Mothership vibe of sorts.
The first set on 12/31 was stellar. The jam out of "Melt" into "Catapult" was extremely groovy, and perhaps the best "Catapult" ever. Closing the set with "After Midnite" was in retrospect an obvious choice, but at the time yet another brilliant Phish bust-out. And then it was back to the campgrounds for the last meal of the millennium.
The vibe as the 11 o’clock hour approached midnight was filled with freaky anticipation, what with everyone getting their schwirl on and waiting for the big moment. When the band appeared in the hot dog-airboat, electricity was in the air. "Meatstick" played over the P.A…. not exactly what I was expecting, but at that moment it was hard to care. But when the clock struck midnight, and the band followed "Auld Lang Syne" with "Down With Disease", the cosmic party was on! Considering my theory about DwD pointing the way to 2012, there was no more appropriate song to ring in the new millennium. And this was surely the greatest version ever – with the massive fireworks, the huge jam that just rocked the cosmos, going into the groovy, more ambient "millennium jam" before a half hour later segueing into "Llama", and then the long-awaited NYE "Bathtub Gin" – the show was off to quite a stellar start.
When Trey announced that ABC 2000 would be televising the next song to the rest of the world, another jolt of electricity shot through the Phish-Nation. "Heavy Things" totally rocked and The Cheesecake Chronicles will forever shine as one of the classic moments in Phishtory. I also loved Trey’s "message of peace and harmony" about staying "out of the left lane unless you’re passing and let’s have some peace and harmony in the 21st century." ;-)
The energy waned a bit with "Twist" and "Caspian" but this was going to be a long show. The next trio of "Rock and Roll", "YEM", "Crosseyed & Painless" was simply astounding. "Rock and Roll" seemed to go on for days, in a timeless transcendent groove that saw the band take it everywhere it could possibly go. "YEM" brought the millennium mayhem to a crescendo as the spontaneous glowstick combustion at the "nirvana point rivaled any previous glowstick action. The cheesecake vocal jam in "YEM" was another classic moment in Phishtory. "Crosseyed & Painless" was also explored to its deepest potential. And it was here that I had a moment of cosmic revelation – as the band kept singing, "still waiting", I grokked the idea that they were singing that out to Wilson, as in, "your foul domain may have survived the Y2K Bug, but it’s still a teetering house of cards, and we are still waiting for it to topple". I wasn’t that sure about the lyrics at the time, but upon further review, decided that I was right on the money. Somewhere in this segment of the show came the big, "Let’s go cheesecake!" chant, a hilarious moment I’ll never forget.
Trey gave us a breather with the soon-to-be-titled "Inlaw Josie Wales" and then the band continued the anti-Wilson vibe with an incredibly huge version of "Sand". The Everglades were grooving in a deep way here. A stellar ambient groove then segued into "Quadraphonic Topplings" before the band finally morphed into "Slave to the Traffic Light". It was about 3AM at this point, and this is where I needed to go let some liquid out of me and get some more to put into me. My crew made a plan to meet at The Tree of Life at 4AM.
"Albuquerque" had one of the most sublime moments of the evening when Trey substituted "cheesecake" into the lyrics and of course got a huge roar of appreciation. "Reba" was a cosmic delight, and "Axilla" showed the band giving no signs of slowing down. "Uncle Pen" always takes me back to the Great Went, so I was loving that too. I believe 4:20 occurred somewhere during "David Bowie". My "Y2Trey" crew enjoyed a Makisupa Pineapple that we had been carrying around all night. It was at this point that we started to notice how some people were looking like war refugees – sort of sitting around, down on the ground, looking very fatigued, etc. I guess this show was too long for some people, but not the Stardog Posse, we were grooving til the end.
When the band went into "Drowned" around 5AM, I was amazed – they just kept rocking and rocking! The "After Midnight" reprise was another stupendous moment. "Horse>Silent" brought things down a bit. I was way stoked for "Bittersweet Motel", as it always takes me back to the mystical 7/21/98 Desert Sky show. "Piper" and "Free" got things rocking again before "Lawn Boy" and the Jon Fishman comedy hour gave chance for another rest. "Roses are Free" had an unusually long ambient jam, and we knew we were headed into the home stretch. It was at this point that Liz decided we needed to go on the Ferris wheel. I had no desire to wait in a line, but agreed to check it out. When we got there, they had stopped selling tickets, but it turned out the tickets were the same ones used for the Waterwheel raffle, which Liz had a pair of, making us among the last people to get a ride.
We were up there on the Skywheel during "Bug" and it was truly amazing – to rise up above everyone and get to see the entire Phish-Nation freaking freely, was another surreal moment I’ll never forget. We were back down on the ground before dawn though and when the band kicked it into "2001" as the clouds started to glow, it was possibly the most cosmic moments in concert history. "Velvet Sea" seemed an odd choice – I was too beat for a slow song at this point. "Meatstick" wrapped it up in funky fashion, although I will always recall the Beatles’ "Here Comes the Sun" as the real show closer.
I must apologize if the reader is disappointed that I didn’t have a higher quantity of cosmic revelations during this show. NYE shows are always filled with such a zany vibe though, that I find they are generally not that conducive to such revelations. But to me, the entire night was a revelation about the best of what humanity has to offer – the Phish-Nation threw the best millennium party on the planet, and everything went off without a hitch (except for that 14 hour traffic jam getting in). I felt like the greatness of this show was helping to offset any bad Y2K karma and thereby helped ensure a peaceful transition to the year 2000 for all humanity.
NEXT MONTH X-Philes 2000 and the Phuture of Phish