26 in 26 #24 08/31/2013 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO (Zachary Cohen, @thebabysmouth) #phish
Selection: “Chalk Dust Torture”
From Zachary Cohen
Two years ago I was lost and adrift, and decided to shake up the trajectory of my life with a creative writing project centered around Phish. It was a joint effort with my brother Andy Greenberg as a way to more fully integrate our lives together. Over the years, we had allowed time to get the best of us and yet we wanted each other in our lives.
Phish was always the Sun that we revolved around.
A year ago, that project had born the ripest fruit and was rapidly changing the landscape of my life: the people, places and things that populated my horizon. By the end of this Summer, things will have come full circle and my direction will, once again, be established. This has all happened with Phish foreground of my life. It is a marvelous way to live.
What is a year? What is time? What passes in between these arbitrary metrics we’ve allotted to the passing of our Earth by its neighboring star. Is a year really a year? Each year is technically different. Off by a few seconds. In the end there is no symmetry. Can a year pass more quickly? In only 6 months perhaps? Or 4? Less? Can a human being change as much in a single day as they have in a year? Or only once in a lifetime. Water flowing underground.
We measure time. We sense it, hefting it in our hands. We turn the hourglass over, silicone slipping between our fingers as we sense a feeling of falling away, loose-ing ourselves from a cliff, a phantom faith edging away into the corner of a cloister.
We like to measure and watch time, and estimate its effect on us; “I have precisely this long until I have to walk downstairs, I have this long before that happens. I need this much sleep. And that much time with this person.”
We measure time but it in truth it measures us right back. With a flip of its wrist, it looks right back at us, it considers where we are and how we stand, the posture of our minute and hour hands. What direction we are heading in, clockwise, counter, sometimes both directions at once, or else, outside the hands and timers. We can try to measure time, but time can measure us far more effectively.
We write about jams from the past, we predict and pontificate about jams of the future. We listen and try to feel, recollect, reconvene with earlier versions of ourselves, see if we can inhabit previous skins we have long since shed, when those vibrations first infected our skin. We cannot. But we can try.
I sit here and listen to the “Chalk Dust Torture” from Dick’s 2013 and I can tell you that Saturday night last year at Dick’s was my birthday, that I was celebrating my 33rd year of life on this planet, life, on THIS planet that circles the Sun, that is a fantastic speck in a constellation of similar suns, a single letter in the encyclopedia of our galaxy, and the thousand galaxies that make up the library of the universe, overdue explosions in the sky.
And I can tell you that precisely one year before THAT, I was standing 10 feet from Trey on 8/31/12, and had cemented for me a promise that he and his band called Phish made to me many years ago, with many instances of through the hourglass that I had once stashed away in a closet of my mind, down a distant hallway in my heart.
This I can do. Measuring jams. I’m kind of a big deal on the internet. “A famous Phish blogger” – I said once. I am a master watchmaker when it comes to calibrating Phish jams for others. I get inside them and manage the gears, clocking them for speed and sincerity, evaluating the hitches and rotation of the metal against metal. And when I am done I pass it to others for them to put on their wrist and carry around. They know have a new metric, a new gear, new sensory language, the language of time passing, of gears shifting, of Suns revolving and planets bursting and quasars alighting into the distant sky night.
And I have, many times, done that. Listened, thought, felt. I can sit and listen to a jam that the band called Phish once played and I can report back to you things they did, decisions they made, sonic avenues they traveled across, rhythmic boulevards they paraded down. I can even make it fun. I can use my skill with language and thought to paint a picture, perhaps say a word or two, or combine a phrase, or refer to something odd you might know, and that word will make you see or hear or feel something that you didn’t know you had heard or felt until you read it, and then felt it again and then realized that THAT, oh g-d yes THAT, was the thing I was looking for, the little piece of datum that brought it from pre- or sub-thought upwards into actual physical yes, there it is, thought thing. I can do that.
But I am not going to. I don’t want to do that right now. I want to listen to “Dick’s Dust,” the longest jam of the weekend, the “Saturday Night Special” as it were, and tell you all about it. Tell you the things that I hear. So that you can agree and maybe tell me I am smart, or a good writer, or that I know Phish pretty well and in doing so you’ll be giving me something, a coin, a little bit of social capital. A breath that you offer me. One of our seconds of life that you’ve decided to bequeath me.
“Here, Zac, this is yours.”
You could do it publicly or privately, and either way it’s a little missive, one universe to another, allying themselves, for a brief moment in this lonely, cold space that we are forced to inhabit. That we are blessed to inhabit for too brief a period of time.
In much less than “a year,” my entire experience with the band of musical artists we call Phish has been completed renovated. Restored. Destroyed. Knocked down. Remade. Refunded. Returned to sender.
We are born. We are babies. Some of us grow up. Some of us don’t. Some of us just stop moving. Stop evolving, stop growing and thinking and pushing. And that is ok. It’s far easier, and frankly, sometimes preferable, to just remain in place. Tread. Retire. Resign. Recuse. Remove.
Last year at Dick’s I was exhausted. I had been embroiled in intellectual combat for months online and had broken myself over my own keyboard. Had picked one too many fights, had pushed a few too many buttons. My friends were pissed off. I don’t think they even knew if they were my friends anymore. I was just on such a singular mission that it was as if I was completely alone. Despite standing in the center of a large circle of the warmest, friendliest faces that I ever want enveloping me on my birthday. The day that is just a faint echo of my real birthday, that day that I became a thing, a fact, a speck on a speck, an actual living breathing testament to life, reproduction.
To be birthed is to be loved. We are born because at some point, two other, entirely different human beings from ourselves presumably, loved each other. They loved each other enough that they passed through the loneliness of alone-ness, and entered a new state of togetherness. Perhaps they did so consciously and in a well-organized sort of way. The way we are raised to think is the right way. I was born that way. I was born out of love. I think. But my parents don’t love each other anymore. Maybe what they thought was love all along was really just obligation and aesthetics. Or timing. Timing is everything. But then again what is time?
The time that has passed between now, 1:38am, on Wednesday morning, June 25th, and the “Chalkdust Torture” that opened the second set of the second night of the third year of Dick’s that the band that loves each other, and that is called Phish for some reason, is 298 days. This is equal to 9 months and 25 days.
“This does not include the end date, so it’s accurate if you’re measuring your age in days, or the total days between the start and end date. But if you want the duration of an event that includes both the starting date and the ending date, then it would actually be 299 days.”
So then, what is a day? If it doesn’t count.
212 weekdays and 86 weekend days. 298 days is equal to 42 weeks and 4 days. 7,152 hours. 429,120 minutes. 25,747,200 seconds. The gears of time grind down the bits of into seconds of sand.
I like to breathe. And that is a lot of breath there. In that span of time. Each one is its own metric. It’s own universe of feeling, of exhalation and inhalation, of imbibe and purge, of reflex and action, of brain and body and mind all acting in coordination the way doctors want you to when you first emerge and start to breathe. On your birthday. The day of your birth. As of this writing, I have been alive for 1,067,126,400 seconds. But then, what is underneath a second? The list goes on. And so do I. With more breath.
I travelled more extensively during “Dick’s Dust” than I did in my whole teenage years. I saw more of the universe, and therefore myself, in the mirror of that moment. The seconds of that song, that the band Phish has played 417 times thus far in their 31 year career of rubbing skin against instrument and creating noise. That is their breath. Just as this is my breath, what you are reading right now. This is when I am most alive. This is only when I am alive.
I didn’t write much over these past months. Not like this. I was trying to love and be loved. It did not work out. But in a way it did. Another way than it is supposed to perhaps, but everything does eventually, work out. Enough seconds pass, enough new breath installed in the gears of our hearts and the machine starts to function again as it should. Time heals. Steal time. Steal away.
Luckily I was doing other things too. I was building new things, and breathing and learning, all over again, that it’s never wrong to love, despite the fact that I am here again, alone, in the state that I know more than any other state. The state that is the only state we share. The state of being that is our purest.
I am very good at loving and I am very clearly loved, by more people than I even know about. But there is something I do to myself, amidst all this breathing and time passing. Some form of hate that is not love. That is the enemy of love. That is the black hole of love that eats love up and does nothing with it, does not repurpose it, does not convert it into new star dust, that does not spew it out from its event horizon and cast a pall over some new universe that is about to be born and that will then live on for many seconds, or no seconds, because no one will ever measure it.
I want to know why I love like this. I want to know why there is a blank space where my love is supposed to go. I know that I have loved Phish for a very long time. Longer than I’ve ever been loved by the things and people I’ve wanted to be loved by.
The love I feel for Phish, for their music, their meaning as a band, as a symbol of freedom, and creativity, and work and art and dance and all the other things that I connect to them. They are a model for my love that I will one day share with someone, and that will enable me, finally, to step out of the state of aloneness and into a state of togetherness and go forward into the rest of my time, my breath, and inhabit a new space, a new sprinkling of chalk dust down a wide avenue and take another hand in my own and say I do, and break some glass and then, and then. THAT will be the BEST JAM EVER. And that composition will birth more compositions. And then..
Babies mostly. All the babies. Babies upon babies.
Time does not exist. Time isn’t after us. We are masters of time if we want to be. We control those inanimate gears. We are the watchmakers.
In a few months, I’ll be at Dick’s on my birthday. It will be Sunday. It will be Colorado. It will be the end of the Summer in which I commenced the thing that will be my work and passion hopefully for the rest of my life. The thing that will ground my life, enabling me to achieve and accumulate and inspire the things people places and experiences I need in this life, the things I choose to invest my breath into.
That day will recall 8/31/12. And 8/31/13, and will echo out to future birthdays as I celebrate the passing of the thing we call time. Hopefully with, by and for the band that we call Phish, for many slips of sand to come.
From Zachary Cohen:
Zac Cohen is 1/2 of The Baby’s Mouth and the co-founder of Please Me Have No Regrets. He recently launched Blank Space, a collaborative incubator, agency and talent firm, a concept he developed while touring with Phish last year. And somehow an apparel brand called @STFUDANCE. He’s currently finishing a book on his travels with the band.
Zac is one of a kind. Him and I always have differing opinions and our banter is something I look forward to. If either of us tries to bring an argument without a serious basis for it, the other quickly calls the other out. What more can you ask for. Most importantly Zac brings passion and has helped me with my writing and numerous projects. I am forever thankful.