21 in 21 of 2018: #21 09/02/2018 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO (Wally Holland, @waxbanks)
This is what they do.
This is what we do.
Why is it always ‘Tweezer’?
Why are the words stupid?
Why is the climax of ‘46 Days’ the same sort of thing they’ve played for 35 years?
Why modes? Why midtempo 4/4?
Why those pandering bass bombs?
Why does ‘Golden Age’ drag a little more each time?
Why so much midrange?
Why so many major 10ths to kick off a phrase?
Why that insipid tower metaphor?
Why not real rock?
Why not practice the ‘Ocean’ backup vocals?
Why fuck around with the wah pedal?
Why end with a dumb dance tune and a dumb dance tune and a dumb ‘rock’ tune?
Why not practice the ‘Horse’ guitar?
Why not practice ‘Silent’ – all of it?
Why is it always ‘Tweezer Reprise’?
What they say about them is correct.
What they say about us is correct.
Why a sonnet?
Why oil paint?
Why not shave?
Why that silly cap?
Why that silly cross?
Why that book?
Why those words?
There are better words.
There are better books.
There are other signs, other clothes, other ways, other styles, other forms, other bands, other rock bands, other middle-aged guitar rock bands, other holes for throwing money into, other hours weeks seasons lives.
There’s probably another you, I bet, probably a million times happier with cleaner feet and more attractive friends and a boss who actually means it when he says ‘unlimited time off’ and how would you even know?
This is what they do.
This is what we do.
I used to think – worse, to proclaim – that church was bad and that the Bad Thing about church was that God’s not real.
And that the phrase ‘God’s not real’ meant what I thought it meant, or anything at all.
And that the wrong kind of people obsessed about church.
And that there were kinds of people.
A sonnet needs to have fourteen lines in order to be a sonnet, but there’s no other reason in the world for that arrangement. A sonnet might matter but sonnets, the idea of them, the fact of them in the world, just…don’t. Nothing that can be said, can only be said in fourteen lines. On the other hand, you don’t usually end up with a sonnet after setting out to write a haiku, or an epic: rather, you intend and begin to write fourteen lines, and the things that happen there at the desk can only have happened in that writing. You enter into a certain spirit and the work – by which I mean the writing, not what’s written – can only emerge in that spirit.
I’m sure there’re hardcore villanelle fans who take one look at a sonnet and literally spit, just like some fans of the red team think it’s OK to beat fans of the blue team to death and some young people think it’s important to argue over which band is The Best and Most Authentic Band. ‘Fourteen lines? You absolute fucking loser.’ But poets and lovers know that the song begins with acceptance, and the song is as close as we’ll come to living forever.
For a couple bars or a few seconds – for as long as it takes to sever a nerve – I heard the music as if I were outside the temple. ‘46 Days,’ about three minutes in, after Mike and Page have legislated that minor > major key change and Trey signs it into law. For just a moment I was illiterate, symbols no longer resolving instantly into letters and words (imagine that), and I knew nothing at all about Phish or improvised music. They were just a rock band. And for my life I couldn’t figure out how anyone could connect with this kind of music.
Inside the temple, you do a thing: clasp hands, bow heads, close eyes, seek silence, whisper words, beg forgiveness, grant forgiveness. The thing you do, that’s what the temple is for. It’s the choir holds the church together, it’s the Word makes a people. Prayer makes the house a temple, same way love makes a house a home.
Outside the temple they look in and they don’t see that thing, see? They see: that kind of thing. Patchouli, patchwork, tarps, midrange, midtempo, dumb dance tunes, dumb rock tunes. A tower, like a solitary flower. Look who’s in the freezer: Uncle Ebeneezer. Everyone knows who we are and what we do because they know precisely what kind of thing this is.
You tell your coworkers you’re going on tour with. You tell your dad we should watch this episode of. You tell your lover you’re strangely sad about. You tell yourself you just need to hear one more of.
There you are, resting transparently, absolutely in the spirit: singing words, begging release, dancing a way beyond yourself. Minor > major, 4/4, Wilson, Lizards, all of it.
I think the music, ultimately, leads us to encounter one another, ourselves, the world, in a spirit of generosity and acceptance. And then it fades, to be sure! – obligations creep back in – but some trace remains, a memory that might again be real, maybe at tomorrow night’s show when the lights go down, maybe some morning in the mundane world, maybe in a simple kindness or kiss or kept promise. It was only ever music and we organize ourselves around it in figures visible only from within. No messages or statements of fact.
No need to be coy about it: a middle-aged rock band helps us get there. And we can take them at they word when they profess that the reverse is true too. We help one another. All of us, we’re the show.
I grew up praying ‘We believe in one God’ etc., and I used to think the most important thing about that profession of faith was its metaphysics: dude named God made the planet. Which in turn I came to hate simply because it’s false. Stupid. But that was never the thing itself. Never the spirit. No one was ever lifted out of the prison of flesh into cosmic ecstasy by goddamn metaphysics, and escape and ecstasy were always the message, the way. The truth is the profession, that collective private opening-up. It’s a correct statement, banally – we believe – but more importantly the place we make by professing faith is true, is real. ‘In this place we learn to wait.’ It can’t exist any other way.
Someone listened to the 9/2/18 46 Days > Tweezer > Golden Age > Steam > ASIHTOS and heard, for the thousandth time or very first, the first notes of a better world – not because the music was good (Jesus Christ it’s so good) but because in body or spirit we all went together and made a temple.
You must never apologize for devotion.
Or for just going to a rock show and having a good time. Good times are good, right? Sure they are. Doesn’t have to be a big thing.
But sometimes it is.
To the more than twenty contributors to this year’s event:
Mike, thank you for bringing a bit of Tahoe alive.
Mike, thank you for getting the grain of it right.
Jesse, thank you for excitement and candor.
Pauly, thank you for grand Technicolor bullshit.
Miner, thank you for always trying to be true to your experience of this music.
Matt, thank you for perspective.
RJ, thank you for always being right there, right then.
Zack, thank you for ‘…but distance can only separate you so much.’
Jacqui, thank you for taking the leap.
Brian, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Myke, thank you for making this house a home.
Josh, thank you for simple truth.
John, thank you for capturing it elegantly.
Diskin, thank you for being both crass and correct.
Mike, thank you for really really liking Jesse from Breaking Bad.
Jake, thank you for your ear and your heart.
Scott, thank you for giving yourself so intensely to this music.
Dianna, thank you for absolutely glowing.
Matt, thank you for hearing in so many ways.
Andrew, thank you for a post I haven’t actually read yet. 🙂
Eamonn, thank you for helping keep this carnival going.
To everyone who breathed in this music and shared these stories –
– and of course to you, for reading:
Thank you so much for being (a part of) something unpredictable and honest and silly and finicky and earnest and difficult and loud and peaceful and frustrating and uncool and ironic and sacred and sloppy and faithful and welcoming and generous and beautiful and beautiful and beautiful.
This is what they do.
This is what we do.
Wally Holland (@waxbanks) lives in Cambridge MA. He recently helped his Dad write and self-publish his memoir, Dear God, What’s on the Second Floor?; he’s also written a couple of books about Phish, including the 33-1/3 volume on A Live One. His favorite version of ‘Ghost’ changes from moment to moment. Wally is deeply grateful for the chance to participate every year in this outpouring of fond memories and weird spirits.