21 in 21 of 2017: #20 09/02/2017 Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO (Wally Holland, @waxbanks)
21 in 21 (2018)
Commerce City CO
Why are we doing this.
Here we are: here because we’re here. Because we are – not here to be here but here to be. Am I belaboring.
I only want to talk about what Page does after the small-for-something-so-big ‘Simple jam’ ends. Synth solo. In one frame that’s all: ‘Check out the mildly interesting “Simple” opener for Page’s charming (though brief) synth solo.’
Why are we doing this.
Why criticize. Why dance. Why – bother? And it is a bother, kinda. (If these ligaments could talk…) Next year I’ll be 40 years old. Why bother? You’d think I’ve had enough time to come up with an answer. Why, why, why—
‘You don’t need a reason.’ No I suppose not, but you have many, and it’s valuable to ask what they might be. We might not be able to articulate, certainly not at first – not needing to understand or explain is one of the joys of youth, and being able to do so is one of the joys of aging – but the exercise has value. Shows us who we think we are.
Something brings you back. What brings me back, I now think, is a specific story that Phish’s music has told over and over for 30+ years:
careful order giving way to uncertainty, to play, to joyful wandering – which resolves in turn to a deeper order, less complicated but possessing the colour and contour of human breath and speech and feeling
You might put that another way:
nervous order becomes free play becomes peaceful marvelous order
dusk, midnight, then dawn.
And I am remade along with everything else. With everyone else!
I think of the great Amsterdam “Stash:, you know the one, the way it crouches and creeps and claws the dark until a tiny light appears and Trey’s effortless gorgeous guitar melody sings out. The Bangor “Tweezer”, as big dumb A-major comes roaring back after a sitcom’s worth of one-after-another antagonisms; the Bomb Factory post-“HYHU” jam spraying all over the beery crowd; the 2013 SPAC “Split” finding its way back from madness and disjoint to its closing #dadjoke. Tension, release, over and back, and then synthesis.
Mine is a narrativizing compulsion, which isn’t new or unique to me but which I’ve become comfortable naming and cohabiting with.
It’s nice when things work out, and many of Phish’s best-loved improvisations work out a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that. Well: and that’s what brings me back. ‘Dialectical algebra,’ stop me if I’ve said all this before, giving way to an unself-conscious rendering of (group)mind at peace with its many selves, seeing clearly, bound closely to things as they are. Phish’s music finds great pleasure in the knot and its undoing, it’d have to, but I suspect that the collective outpouring of deep joy at their improvised syntheses is the secret sauce, from their and our perspectives. Anyway, from mine.
But what’s this, then?
‘Anticlimax.’ All that we’re taught to hold dear, negated. I mean it’s right there in the word, as offensive a concept as any human mind has conceived: ‘Against good things, against desire, against arriving with a bang…’ Or worse and closer to the truth, ending without meaning. Not so much against anything but lacking payoff, and (c’mon) we didn’t volunteer for this…
The climax of the story lifts event out of time and into meaning – recasts the temporal order as a network of implication pointing toward a specific end, the moment of reading, of knowing – but it seems to me, and by all means let me know if I’ve missed something here, that life is intrinsically and mercifully meaningless. Accident, hopefully happy. Story is sense-making, imposed order not discovered, and while only madmen hate story it’s important to recognize that story is what we make ourselves out of. It doesn’t reside in the real, it’s the way we constitute the world.
(That’s one of those paragraphs where I wanna capitalize words like Story to make it all seem somehow magical, you know? Let the glyph do the work and all that.)
What makes anticlimax such a bummer, I think, isn’t simply that we don’t get the bang we’re after. That’s the disappointment yeah but for sane adults disappointment fades. I think anticlimax upsets humans, beings of story, because it leaves crucial retroactive meaning-work undone: leaves us on our own to figure out what the hell the time was for. Why were we doing this. Why was this life instead of dark. Why were we instead of void. Why suffer, why wonder, why go if not to get there, to come? Story is/executes a contract between speaker, listener, and ‘text’ however constituted, and anticlimax (generally) violates that contract. Now it falls to us, tiny mortals!, to make up our own minds – in the sense of ‘make it up as we go along.’
You can see, I bet, why that sucks.
Here’s a fan-fiction:
Having discovered principles of sustainable (co)existence in the wake of the slow trainwreck that was ‘Phish 2.0,’ the band members now perform a kind of nightly ritual evocation of a coherent theme, which the lyrics to “Everything’s Right” and “Blaze On” and especially “Light” neatly encapsulate: ‘Finally waiting for nothing at all / …and the light is growing brighter now.’
Maybe the light’s within us, between us and our (group)mind, and but maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you move toward it like a moth, and will end as moths tend to. Maybe it’s a train. Definitely it’s a train. ‘It is the sound of inevitability.’ It grows brighter until, if I had to guess, there’s only light, and then there’s nothing.
Phish’s music, nowadays, is about getting on with it and simply living together. Trey told us, what, 15 years ago:
‘Some of the grand ideas are mellowing, in exchange for the grandest idea, which is communication.’
Milch says that medicine isn’t a curative but rather a pastoral profession, and the physician’s true oath is: ‘I will walk with you into darkness.’
The lights go down. The show begins. A few moments of whirling around. Why are we doing this. ‘You don’t need a reason,’ no I suppose not, but we might be the reason. And the light is growing brighter.
‘It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.’
I miss you. I miss you so much. Whoever you are when you dream your way into this body, this family, this world we make together (‘the grandest idea’) – whoever you become and I become in the evening and midnight and dawn of this shared work, I miss us. When we are together bound by carefree chords and in every heart you hear dawn breaking, when we return endlessly to the moment we make free of fear, when we breathe as one and dance with one another’s bodies, I love you.
How are you?
The 2017 Dick’s “Simple” has no meaning and no climax. At such-and-so moment, after this-or-that formal adjustment, something-and-other gives way to yadda-yadda and he-and-him act this way, or that way. Makes no difference, the names make no difference. But Page takes up his synthesizer and begins to play.
He plays. It’s meaningless.
He plays more. Faster. So what.
He seems to dance. He mixes modes for a sec, whatever. Mike, whatever. He to the fore and him to the rear. And Page plays, plays, because the story has ended but the moment continues to be goddamn reborn and what they have handy, to fill it, to entertain us and give us our dollarworth, is play. Timeless time, birdsong. Light!
This is absolute, catastrophic, terrible anticlimax. We didn’t get anywhere, we just went, we kept going, they just keep going. They don’t even move (ugh) toward anything they just dance! Can you imagine? The jam ‘peters out’ and it’s ‘perfectly fine’ and it’s fifty-year-olds playing like fifty-year-olds. Nightmare, madness, Mere Warmup.
The grandest idea. Your trip is short. It’s always night.
A few moments. It takes a few moments of—
No. Yes: We give a few moments. We make it up as we go along.
I like this show. It doesn’t matter. There they were. Here we are because we are, lifted out of meaning and into time, our one body. Dance. Are you there? How are you? Do you hear? Time isn’t for anything, that’s what ‘God is dead’ and ‘Finally waiting for nothing at all’ mean, it’s just time, it’s fine. ‘The old man knows…’
‘If I am a drone then where is my queen?’ The music has always been the answering question. Are you here, not why. How are you. Here we are because we are. Gotta be somewhere, gotta go, go, limb by limb by limb by limb by limb by…
I mean it, you know: I’m listening now and have lost any answer and I’ll always love this music, not because We Want You To Be Happy but because these open questions asked in our one voice are joy and love and that’s all. Not the solution but the freedom in asking. ‘The life I love is making music with my friends.’ Not the music; the beloved life is this making.
Chriiiiiiist, is this all hippie nonsense? Sister-brother, I don’t know and can’t care. Why are we doing this? Why not: I love you, out of the object that is story into the moment of surrender, of all together, of anything you’d like to try, of whirling around, of flocking outside, of souls joined. Beginning and end two points with infinity between. I think we are after the climax, the story, and so simply ongoing. (‘We’ve got it simple…’) After the Baker’s Dozen “Simple,” after the Dozen, after 30 years and Hampton, after Coventry, after ‘Let It Be’ and Big Cypress and so on backwards down the line, always afterward. Why bother. And it is a bother, kinda – why play these notes, why take this form, why speak, why wait? Why be?
If you’d rather live than relive then the moment needs no meaning, no climax.
Page begins anticlimactically to play, to dance, and the music for a second or minute is endless possibility. They play. All any of it or us is.
We are here.
Wally Holland is the author of two books about Phish (PHISH’S A LIVE ONE and A TINY SPACE TO MOVE AND BREATHE). His favorite version of ‘Ghost’ is the sound of his family all laughing together.