Last year, at age 28, I began following baseball for the first time. Specifically, it was the Cubs, and it was a new relationship which had a lot to do with getting me interested. Romantic considerations aside, it was an exciting time to get involved with the team, and it generated many weeks of positivity and thrills right up to the final heartbreak. (I can remember where I was the moment of the Bartman incident partway through dinner in my kitchen, since you asked.)
Neither baseball nor any other sport hooked me as a kid. One problem is that almost every time I decided to care about a game, my favored team lost. Another is that I didn’t recognize that there was strategy involved. In any case, I never invested the time and energy to figure it out. Now, though, it is a pleasure to watch a season unfold from the beginning for the first time. It’s also humbling to realize that folks who couldn’t name three people who’d played with Miles Davis have 100 times the knowledge I do of this new interest.
I’ve read at least one essay likening Grateful Dead shows to ballgames, and the experience of starting to figure out the Cubs reminds me of my early days with the Dead and Phish. I remember how bland and lazy the Dead sounded before I got accustomed to them, and how Phish seemed like a combo of Berklee School fusion and Steve Miller rock with an equally unappealing goofy streak when I first put Rift on the tape deck. I also remember finding my first Dead zines with setlists (these being the days when I somehow lived without Usenet, let along the Web) and being thoroughly confused by the Mike’s jam when I first saw Phish on 6/22/94.
I also remember the moments when I first realized that there were things in both bands’ music that I could dig in a serious way, and when I started finding nuggets of gold as I dug deeper into those mines. I keep that in mind whenever I question why I find myself tuning into at least a few bits of each Cubs game (neither my girlfriend nor I own a TV) this year.
A few weeks ago, I read someone’s rec.music.phish post stating "Phish are practicing right now so they can blow us away this summer," and then I read follow-ups reminding the guy that the Phish members were doing solo shows at the time and smirked to myself about this poster’s naivete. Then I remembered a post I’d made to rec.music.gdead in early ’94, writing that "if ’94 is half as good as ’93, I’ll be happy." Not much less na, in the scheme of things.
When Jerry died, I had already lost much of that naivete, and one of my first thoughts was that at last the other guys could put the faltering beast known as the Grateful Dead out of its misery. Phish had yet to deteriorate that much by May of this year, but when I got a forwarded e-mail from a friend with the heading "AN ANNOUNCEMENT FROM TREY," I had a strong hunch about what it was going to be, and I wasn’t sad, for similar reasons.
Still, I must acknowledge that although there were only 2 years between when I got into the Dead and when they packed it in, it was a nice 11 year run that I got to have with Phish, and I remind myself of that whenever I’m tempted to be hard on the "why, Trey, why???" crowd. I hope, and expect, that another musical force with just as much of a power of absorption will come along for these lost souls.
If not, there’s always baseball.