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Published: 2014/12/29
by Danny Steinman

Growing Old with Phish: A Love Story

It was the summer of ’92, and with my interest in the Dead fading about as fast as Jerry’s health, I was hungry for a new musical obsession, something to distract me from my junior year studies, something to take me to higher ground. The cassette my old friend Rachel had mailed to me still lay untouched in my rack of mostly dead bootlegs and sappy love song mix tapes. The cassette was from a band called Phish, and she and her UVM classmates swore by them.

I kicked back in my loft bed and threw the tape in my boombox. Lo-fi as it was, there was something there. Aside from the oodles of noodles and tape hiss, there was something there; an appealing mix of warmth and aggression, buttery licks and confounding transitions, and nerdy vocals and labyrinthine jams that spoke to me. A little ditty called “Run like an Antelope” pulled me deep. “Divided Sky” drowned me. Rachel was onto something. I had to have more.

When the H.O.R.D.E tour came to Syracuse, I had my opportunity to see these fellas live. I called in sick to my job at the bakery, grabbed my roommate Dave and off we went, minds open, feet nimble and ready for anything. When Phish took the stage at Empire Court, the energy and anticipation were indeed palpable. They opened the show with “Bouncing Around the Room,” a song that I have had a long and tumultuous relationship with through my phan tenure. Loved at first, soon enough despised and then loved again for its beautiful simplicity, climactic ending and easy appeal for my toddlers on a road trip. On this night it was the perfect appetizer for this noob getting his bearings. By the end of the song I had jumped on the train and have been riding ever since. When they followed up with the frenetic “Llama,” I was hooked, dancing in the Tank, that far-from-the-rail cluster of the dankest, nugged-out and groovin Caucasian pseudo-rastas and sun-dress-wearing hippie-chicks whose lack of inhibition inspired me to let loose like I have never done so before. They followed with “Reba,” thus beginning a 22 year old love affair with that song’s jam that is still going strong. The joy of “Sparkle,” the evil radar-blip madness of “Maze,” the rock star grandeur of “Golgi Apparatus,” the miracle that is “The Lizards,” the proclamation that is “Cavern” and the masterpiece of rock arrangement that is “Antelope.” An encore of “My Sweet One” sent me on my way itching for more; a lot more.

The following years are a bit of a blur, but a great portion of those years were spent at shows. A particular swing through upstate NY resonates, seeing the boys in college gymnasiums at Potsdam, Geneseo, Colgate and the beautiful Bailey Hall at Cornell. The music was intense, the dancing interplanetary. In the years that followed, I would get backstage through friends, and friends of Phriends. I met the boys many times, even bumping into Trey on the street in Albany, their understated and warm personalities cementing a long standing relationship between Phan and Phish.

These days, like the boys, I am growing old. I have two kids, a full-time profession and often limited energy. I catch a show or two per season if I am lucky, and I confess to fantasizing about my bed at times during the second set, sometimes even leaving during the encore to beat traffic. I have learned to tolerate, understand and at times appreciate the newer phans. The new generation brings with them hope for the future; after all they are at a Phish show! It has also taken some time for me to get into the new material, but slowly, the new material becomes old, and creeps its way into my poor heart. The music of Phish may be jammy, but it is also emotional and moody. And it’s those moods, whether conveyed through lyric, riff or jam that allow the songs of Phish to become part of you, evoking emotion, memories and warmth. Through it all, my love for the music remains tried and true.

Phish is the quintessential American Rock Band, their success founded on pure talent, creativity and hard work; tapping into the needs of an ever-growing market of youthful souls in search of something better and bigger than the offerings of Top 40 radio. Phish is a bullet train. Stand by and watch it pass and you will see little more than a blur. Get on that train, and enjoy the ride of your life.

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