How I Accidentally Changed A Phish Song Forever: A Kitchen Sink File
I didn't write Harry Hood. Phish did. But I did change the song forever.
In the spring of 1996 I spent a lot of time in my car, just driving around. I was living in Northampton, Massachusetts, driving back to my parents' house in Pennsylvania most weekends to visit a girlfriend who was about to leave and a father who was about to die. I, on the other hand, was alive, was becoming more and more alive every second, was hanging out of top-floor apartments with Mr. Bubbles, smoking stoagies on the steps of the town, watching and waiting and learning and growing, eventually picking up the pulse and howling like werewolf thunder to the American Night.
Music had me hot as a pistol, with a cocked head and a loaded mind. I would shoot off as much as possible, going to see bands two, three, sometimes four times a week at the Iron Horse Music Hall, at Pearl Street Nightclub, on the sidewalk in front of Thornes Marketplace, in a barn ten miles out of town run by a dozen wild honey girls with hairy armpits and homemade dresses, in basements with bongos and bongs, in front yards with acoustic guitars and windowsills where the flowers were blooming (some a daffodil, some a rose), in dorm rooms with four-tracks, alleyways with bebop, street corners with barbershop bums, once even with the maraca mammas in the cafeteria of the university.
I could barely contain myself. I grew a beard to hide the insanity. I was in danger of busting out. I gave hints of it now and again, reading fantastic poetry at Fire And Water, wearing a purple beret that made me look like an affected cross between a Parisian mime and a starving playwright. I had a hemp necklace that made me look like I earned a steady B- in Headiness 101 (teachers comment: "Shows promise but tries hard") and I'd sort of shimmy up to you and say earth-friendly catch phrases. But I was alive. Do you understand? I was alive!! I was dying to live, digging this, digging that, illuminated by zoo and a neon dawn. Fuck, man I was so innocent in my intention, wanting only to live, to breathe, to be, to do, to run and I did this by not running at all but by standing still and looking at it all go by, pointing every which way and saying "Yeassss, I'll try this".
I also said, "HUH" a lot. Not the scratch-your-head, shrug-your shoulders "huh" but the James Brown HUH, the Funk Amen, the sound of a man getting on the good foot. "Popcorn, good gawd y'all. HUH!" I interjected it everywhere, trying to infuse a tiny two-step into the wide-open world that danced around me. Often it happened in my car while listening to music. Usually Phish."Won't you step into the freezer?" "HUH!" "Seize her with a tweezer!" "Oh, out near Stonehenge/I lived alone" "HUH!" "Oh, out near Gamehendge/I chafed a bone"
I remember being stopped in traffic at the light between Main and Pleasant with Harry Hood coming on the stereo, and the band going, "Harry" and me going "HUH!" I got more emphatic with each repetition and by the last Harry, the "HUUH!" was pushing itself out so hard, that it just sort of naturally found itself morphing into "HOOD!"
I nearly pissed myself from laughing. So when Darius Zelkha made a post to rec.music.phish a couple weeks later asking for crowd participation ideas, I pitched him the Hood chant. I got a kick out of doing it alone in my car, so I could only imagine an entire audience yelling it back to an unsuspecting band. As a prank, it worked. It was a joke, a musical gag, a band/audience shenanigan. Darius made up thousands of fliers with the Hood chant and a bunch of other crowd participation activities for the August '96 Red Rocks run. The idea was to pass them out to everybody in the audience, without the band knowing, and kind of catch them off guard.
I had no idea that it would work.
Red Rocks in itself is overwhelming. I remember the third night of the run, I went to take a photo of one of the giant rock formations that pointed upwards like "a stairway to the stars." Before I could snap it, a butterfly sweetheart passing by paused and laughed.
"It's not even worth trying," she giggled. She pointed at the rocks and then looked at the camera. "There's no way you're going to be able to catch this in that," she said. And I believed her. I never took the snapshot.
This was Red Rocks. This was The Edge.
The music that third night is something I'll never forget, even if it wasn't the best Phish show ever. That doesn't matter. What matters is that it spoke to me, it inspired me, it whispered things in my ear that I needed to hear, it led me to a place I needed to go, it motivated me to take my life to the next level. It was everything that was contained in that particular moment, and then it went beyond the moment to find a deeper truth and it put all of this into sound and from that sound I was able to find vision. Oh man, when music is like that, music itself is alive isn't it? Breathing. Four-dimensional. Notes flailing past like daggers.
The music was neither theirs nor ours, it was coming out of both of us, bouncing off the rocks, ricocheting through the cracks, creating an elusive sort of haze out of which certain notes could be pulled, while others shot out like daggers…or pearls.
The previous spring whenever I would hear Harry Hood in my car, by myself, I'd chant "Hood!" right back at the band. But here, in the church of Red Rocks, when the band played Harry Hood, thousands of people chanted along.
I could tell you what it feels like to have actually changed a part of a song that inspired me for years, to have actually modified a Phish song. I could mention the weird yet wonderful sensation I get at shows when the band plays Harry Hood and I look around and see an arena full of people shout my own personal inside joke at the band that I love so much.
But none of that is really important.
I reach back in my mind to August 6, 1996, to standing in Red Rocks, "the edge", Morrison, Colorado, a place so sacred its very name should be revered, whispered, given proper respect. And I reach back before that, to when I was sitting alone in my car yelling "HUH!" at every possible break, in every possible song. I recall the exact moment I first yelled, "Hood," after Phish sang, "Harry." I remember how I laughed, how it made sense, how it worked, how it fit. How it seemed to want to be there.
I go back and listen to pre-1996 Harry Hoods, before the crowd picked up my chant, before anyone knew to sing it. I can still hear it! It's still there! It is in there years before I discovered it. It's just silent, that's all, waiting to be sung. It's as if I didn't come up with it after all I was just the first person to stumble across it. I pulled a note out of the air and this one time it happened to be THE RIGHT NOTE.
That must be what Phish does when they have an "on" night. When they have IT. When they're wagging the golden hose. We all create the experience. We all live the adventure. It takes thousands of us to create the visuals, and thousands of us to create the dialogs and the plots and the subplots. And there is a soundtrack to all of this, because all of it combined is what pushes music into the air, and Phish are lucky enough to be able to reach out and pull out the notes that we leave lingering there and put them in the right order, and the jams are as much ours as they are theirs. We're making the music as much as they are. And it belongs to the night, to the moment, to the air.
And we belong to all of it.