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Time Turns Elastic

Photo by Michael Copeland

Traveling down Highway 64, midway through Old and in the Way, the Hampton Coliseum hovered on my right, and it occurred to me I’d be slicing through the Blue Ridge Mountains on the way to Nashville. It also occurred to me there was a pattern to the universe, and it wasn’t complicated. If I met a guy at a Phish concert, who, according to the static laws of probability, I should have never seen again, and that guy moved directly above my apartment in Chicago several months later, there was a pattern. If the same guy could become one of my best friends, then plan his wedding for the exact day of my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary without foreknowledge of it, there was a pattern, and there was meaning. There was meaning so simple and elegant trying to stuff it into the English language was ludicrous.

As I spun Bill Frisell’s Nashville and penetrated Bristol, VA, time and space expanded and contracted, and I began to think: Bristol Palin’s story was my story. Except when I played hockey and went to crunktastic parties and had consexual intercourse with other minors, we used condoms. The last time Trey Anastasio dragged me to Nashville was in 1999. After the show, it was raining. It felt like a soft down comforter of pouring water. When you are on LSD, you will perceive naked women in one of two ways: as beautiful Eves with bodies that sing meaning into the air, or as harpies. (I wish I was kidding. I once walked thirty-seven blocks after returning home from a Medeski, Martin & Wood concert and finding my girlfriend naked.) That night in Nashville in a muddy parking lot full of rain-clean hippies, the naked women were not just the visions poems are written about. They were the symbols that spawned the invention of poetry.

This time the odds were against me seeing two-hundred Eves dancing naked in the rain. This time there would be no parking lot, no danky-phat veggie burritos, no heady posters, no [insert tired hippie adjective] beer, and no smelly wookies shedding head lice like so much glitter. This time I would sit in a church pew in the temple of country and western music where so long ago Bill Monroe founded the Grand Ole Opry. This time I would be a gentleman in a button down shirt attending an orchestra concert. This time I’d be staying in an expensive hotel with Professor Kleinman work to do most of the day. Why, exactly, was I driving 1400 miles in seventy-two hours to do this?

If you truly like Trey Anastasio, if you truly like to listen to him play the guitar, and don’t just like the drugs and loose women and freak show, then you want to see him in this setting: quiet, peaceful, Jon Fishman in a suit sitting three rows behind you. You want to hear him with a sensitive, finely-tuned, lyrical orchestra led by a brilliant conductor. You want to hear him without the bank of foot pedals, without the feedback loop, without the incessant demand of the crowd to rock their faces to the back of the auditorium. If you truly like Trey Anastasio, you do not want to hear him play “You Enjoy Myself” five times a night. You do not want to time his songs or breathe down his neck making sure he doesn’t make even the slightest hint of an error while playing “Reba.”

You do not want to go see him as an excuse to party.

If you truly like Trey Anastasio, then you would have noticed the grin as you heard the opening chords of “The Divided Sky.” The grin that was swept away in 1999, but came back when he dug into TAB, but then kind of went away again. This night in Nashville the magical grin was blooming. Trey played with clarity, grace, and precision. As the last chord was rung and the last words were sung, “In and out of focus, time turns elastic, time turns,” he was greeted with a bellow of joy. We’ve missed these things, no? Grins and ringing chords and bellows of joy and such?

Photo by Michael Copeland

Of course Phish flourished in the late nineties: a time of personal freedom and financial growth. Of course they had to break up as C-student policies slung us down a path of sloppy mediocrity. Phish has never been a C-student band. They are an elitist, New England, prep-school-hippie-A-student band with a slight discipline problem. Is it a coincidence Phish announced their reunion just as Obama’s lead became undeniable to everyone? I think not. Is it a mere coincidence a company called Rooms To Go purchased my father’s employer in 2002, and when the new owners turned out to be total douche nozzles, a headhunter found him a job in Hampton, VA, and after a financial and psychological breakdown, I, too, would move to Hampton, VA and obtain my first real job, car, house? No. Is it a coincidence the Chicago Cubs choked like a Democrat on a chunk of arugula? No. There is a pattern. There is meaning, and time cannot be thought of in the absence of space.

On the road back, I went for Bill Frisell’s Nashville again, but I stopped the disc and didn’t listen to any more music until I was home eleven hours later. There was no reason to listen to more music after hearing “One of These Days.” The simple words were prophetic considering the news we would hear three days later: One of these days, I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I’ve known. One of these days.

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