Monday, September 9, 2013

Phish, The Simpsons, and The Dangers of Looking Backwards

Everyone who's a Phish fan knows of the connections between Phish and the Simpsons.  The Simpsons theme has been included in their secret language since September, '91. Phish appeared and performed on the Weekend at Burnsie's episode from 2002 (on my 18th birthday no less).  In the episode, Homer - as his wont to do - gets into escapades that eventually lead to him being prescribed medicinal marijuana for his eye injuries after they get packed at by crows.  Homer eventually gets hooked, speaks at a pro-pot rally (with Phish in attendance), and then gives it up since Marge asks him to keep a good example for his kids.  Good moral, wrapped up neatly, nothing objectionable.  I remember watching this episode (and many others from season 13) and thinking that The Simpsons has to be the most consistently entertaining show on television.  It had been on since 1989 at that point and didn't show any signs of stopping.  And obviously it still had some legs since it's now about to start it's 25th season and is the longest running sitcom in American television history.

Phish is now in it's thirtieth year as an entity (but with the hiatuses included have only been playing for 25 years) and many people believe that they are at the top of their game both musically and in terms of consistency.  When looking at 2013 as a whole, the amount of high quality jams and moments is staggering: SPAC - Split Open and Melt, SPAC - Carini, PNC - Crosseyed Hood, Jones Beach - Rock and Roll, Alph - Chalkdust, Tahoe - Tweezer, Dicks - Chalkdust.  The list does just go on and on.  Throw in some incredibly silky segues and 2013 so far has been an amazing year, probably the best of 3.0 and is continuing to build steam.  But the question that is continually asked is how does it compare to the rest of the years?

Right now, there's a twelve year old watching his first episode of The Simpsons.  Just flipping through the channels, he'll stop on an episode in syndication and watch a bit, like it, laugh some and leave it on.  This hypothetical kid won't know the elaborate history of all of the characters or what season it's from or even how it ranks in the all-time annals of Simpsons history.  It could be The Bob Next Door from Season 21...which many longtime fans wouldn't put anywhere in their top lists.  But to this kid, it's the bees knees. And he's hooked. 
But the problem is, there are 25 years of Simpsons episodes and, to most fans, there are many that are better than anything that has came out within the past 10 years.  From Season 3 to Season 7, The Simpsons consistently delivered content every Sunday that was unparalleled in television history.  Marge vs. the Monorail, Cape Feare, Treehouse of Horror V, Flaming Moe's, Homer at the Bat, Last Exit to Springfield, etc. And all of the episodes in that run weren't knock outs.  There were plenty of Lisa-centric and other unfunny episodes mixed in that aren't really remembered at all when thinking back on the highlights.  That's the way rose colored glasses work. The best gets highlighted in recollection and the low parts just sort of wash away.  In all honesty, the Phish episode is nowhere near the top 50 Simpsons episodes.  But here's the fun part.  It doesn't matter.  I love that episode because it combined two of my favorite things.  I love that episode because it contains one of my favorite one-liner jokes ever: "They call 'em fingers, but I never see them 'fing'. Oh, there they go." by Otto.  It's not the best quantitatively but it is, for me, qualitatively strong.

I think that gets to the crux of the problem. Is the summer of 2013 the best tour of Phish's long and storied history?  I personally don't think so.  But it is pretty amazing and since Phish doesn't operate in a vacuum, I don't see any reason why it can't be evaluated unto itself both in a contemporary and a historical sense.  My personal opinion for best months for Phish are August 93, June 94, December 95, and November 97 (way to go out on a limb!).  But, when listening through those shows, there are pedestrian moments interspersed with the amazing highlights.  I just choose to go to say, Murat 93 over Miami 93 (and I haven't thought of Miami 93 in quite some time). So, in a quantitative methodology, 2013 might not stack up to the absolute peaks of years past but qualitatively, seeing all that the band has gone through this summer, the increased levels of fan-band interactions, the new methods with which we all communicate, and how they have continued to push the envelope indicates that this tour should not be discounted or short-changed either. 

But when you compare 2013 summer tour of Phish in a contemporary manner it stands out as far and beyond what else is available (honestly, what band can touch Phish on tour?).  And that's what's the most important facet of 2013 Phish is.  2013 shows the evolution of a band that is now in its thirtieth year and is pulling together all styles from its repertoire and making unbelievable music that has not been heard before. Personally, that's enough for me and I can't wait for the fall/winter.