Featured Column:Live and Let Live: Give the Guy A Break
It’s been a tough couple of months for the public persona that is Trey Anastasio. Once the darling of the jamband world, the seemingly permanent split of Phish has forced Trey to stand on his own, and while the throngs of fans who once followed his every move are continuing to do so, their reactions these days are remarkably and noticeably different.
Whereas you would think fans would enjoy seeing their hero vary his musical horizons through experimentation that has been the hallmark of his entire musical life, sometimes with exhilarating highs and other times with unimaginable lows (as we all experience in our personal lives), the complete opposite is true. Take Zooma for example. As soon as it happened, the inevitable backlash began. The announcement of the Zooma Tour led to such utter contempt from so many people, one had to wonder if they were ever fans of Trey Anastasio to begin with. And then compounding the problem, the tour was cancelled, widely credited to extremely lackluster ticket sales. The result? People rejoiced at the tour’s failure and in many cases, celebrated their perceived role in its demise.
Now, I wasn’t at Bonnaroo, but as soon as word hit the internet that Bo Bice had taken to the stage with 70 Volt Parade, I could hear the groans as loudly as if I was front row. I could see the looks of disbelief on people’s faces as the American Idol runner up belted out Van Halen’s ‘Panama.’ People took to chat rooms, message boards and made phone calls roundly denouncing the appearance as yet another attempt by Trey to break into the mainstream crowd at the expense of the fanbase that put him in this position in the first place. They, not surprisingly, ignored the fact that Bo Bice himself wants even less to do with the mainstream crowd than anyone.
But there was never a moment that better exemplifies people’s ridiculous and out of control sense of entitlement than when word began to filter out that Trey Anastasio might be opening for The Rolling Stones. Eventually, such rumors were confirmed as he is indeed opening for ‘The greatest rock and roll band of all time’ in Virginia. Surely being asked to open for a band as large and as important as The Rolling Stones, the second greatest band of all time on any number of lists and a band with infinitely more worldwide name recognition than Trey, would elicit joy from Trey’s fans, as they shared in his excitement. Not so. Instead, criticism hit a fever pitch as the dreaded ‘nostalgia act’ argument was brought, yet again, back into play. Ironically, I imagine that if Trey had turned it down, people would’ve been screaming about his ego being out of control.
Why am I rehashing what we all know? Because it’s been a rough period of time for Trey Anastasio and its time someone stuck up for him.
For what it’s worth, I was far more devastated than I thought I’d be when Phish walked off the stage at Coventry. Yes the music wasn’t what it once was, the energy wasn’t what it once was, and the tours weren’t what they once were. Everyone knows, and knew, this. But we went to shows anyway. We loved Trey even though he botched songs significantly more often than he nailed them. We did this because Phish and all four members in the band were special to us. The music was still special to us, even if it wasn’t perfectly performed. And some people feel that Trey took that away from us.
You know what?
He did. Now get over it.
It is worth mentioning that Trey isn’t blameless in fostering the current climate. One surely can criticize a man who rose to prominence on the heels of his ability to push musical boundaries, for falling back on, relatively speaking, musical simplicity. As well, conflicting and contradictory statements and actions have become par for the course, as one has to wonder if Trey himself has any idea what he actually wanted to accomplish in the post-Phish era. In addition, as I first mentioned in my review of the Hammerstein shows, and has now been echoed in other articles around the net, his current group is essentially a cover band, leading to further confusion as to its purpose. But Phish isn’t gone so each member can achieve a higher musical level, but rather just a different musical level. Whatever the reason, it was clear that he felt he needed to move on without Phish and so that’s what he did. But this is hardly the first time such a thing has happened.
The Beatles broke up and that was nothing short of an earth shattering event at the time. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of fans of The Beatles who couldn’t stand Wings. So you know what they did? They didn’t go to Wings concerts or buy their albums. And you know what else? Wings played Beatles songs and they still didn’t go because it wasn’t The Beatles.
Cream broke up and this was a band that named itself after the fact that they were, literally, the cream of the crop of musicians around and NO ONE objected to that. They sold 35 million records in two and a half years and they were one of the first bands to ever have a platinum album. They had legions of fans (Clapton is God) that went to multiple shows to be part of a spectacular live experience not unlike modern day jambands, only on an exponentially grander scale. When Eric went on to perform in Blind Faith and Delaney and Bonnie fans followed in droves because they just loved to hear Clapton play the guitar and as much as they loved and missed Cream, they still wanted to hear Clapton play. And you know what else? Clapton has continued to perform Cream songs to this very day.
Pink Floyd broke up and this band has, arguably, four of the top 20 albums of all time in its repertoire. They redefined so much about popular music that it would take an entire thesis to even scratch the surface. And, more importantly, few would argue that they had, and have, as many devout fans as any band in history with the exception of The Beatles and The Stones. When they went their separate ways, fans were shocked and saddened, and rightfully so. But fans, as saddened as they were, understood that differences such as those that existed in the band necessitated such an act. And while neither Roger Waters nor David Gilmour went on to achieve Pink Floyd’s success as solo artists, they both attract thousands of Floyd fans and they both continue to perform Pink Floyd songs in their solo acts.
The Eagles. Black Sabbath. Guns and Roses. The Talking Heads. The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Since man first started pounding on rocks in the cave, bands have broken up. If you’ve never been in a band then you’ll never understand the difficulty of maintaining one. And then, take it a step further, the difficulties are multiplied infinitely when talking about a band at the center of so many people’s lives, with so many expectations placed up it and who’s decisions about such minutiae as where to play their instruments or where to spend Halloween lead others on cross country excursions for days and weeks at a time.
Is Trey going to do everything perfectly? No, but neither are you. Is he going to make all the right choices, both personally and professionally? Not a chance. Is everything he does going to please all his friends, family and fans? Of course not, but you aren’t either. So why not give the guy a break? You don’t like 70 Volt Parade? Who cares? Stop seeing them. It’s not Phish and it never will be. I have older friends who love Pink Floyd, but they didn’t see one single Roger Waters solo show because they didn’t like ‘Pros and Cons.’ They didn’t go to the show and then complain about it. Eric Clapton’s album with Babyface was roundly considered a failure in several respects. But he tried something different and in that regard Clapton should be credited.
I fail to see how Trey’s situation varies that widely from anything listed above. Clapton, Waters and Trey have all earned the right to play the music they want to play, in the environment they want to play it in. If Phish never returns, I will forever appreciate what I once had and will remember those days with a fondness that will always bring a smile to my face, and you should feel the same.
However, if and when Phish returns, all the critics, all the cynics and all the haters will be right there in the arena with everyone else, whether they have to drive twenty minutes, or twenty hours. You know it and I know it.
So until that day happens, why not take a break from the Trey hating, go see Umphrey’s McGee, Radiohead, Coldplay, The Arcade Fire, The Strokes or whomever gets you off, and direct your hate where it belongs:
At Tom Delay, Rick Santorum and Bill Frist.