Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Choices We Make

Someone smarter than me once said that the choices we make define who we are. A quick googling doesn't provide its source but it does link to hundreds of derivatives of that idiom and it's clear that there are a whole lot of people that draw inspiration or solace or some other sort of consolation. Which is interesting to me, because it's inherently clear that we all make choices everyday, some large and some small, and the sum of those choices are what make up all of our day to day lives. 

I chose to be a Phish fan. Contrary to what some may say that feel that they have a divine connection with Trey as he solos on a particular version of Harry Hood, Phish did not choose me. I'm ok with this. I had to work hard to become a fan of this band. It was not a digital on/off switch. It was an analog dial. That went to eleven. And just because I may be at eleven now doesn't mean that I've always been there and I always will be there. When I first started listening to Phish, right around 2001, my friends who were fans told me to download (on Napster) Bathtub Gin, Free, Taste, and Down with Disease. I did so and I thought these songs were pretty cool. I had been listened pretty much exclusively to Pink Floyd for years at that point (yay adolescence!) so the cheery lyrics and upbeat tempos were a welcome change to my ears. Burned copies of Hampton Comes Alive came soon after that and I listened to those discs (especially disc 3) for a good long time. But that's when the choices began. I knew enough about myself at the tender age of 17 that this band could be a dangerous thing. An addictive and compulsory thing. I knew enough from wasting time on the internet that was out there and this band had played over 1000 concerts, and all of them were different!  I knew that these shows featured musical costumes occasionally including Dark Side of the Moon (?!?!). I knew enough about myself that if I really started listening to this band I would probably become hopelessly (hopefully?) addicted and they would probably become my personal favorite. After a good friend gave me a burned copy of Slip Stitch and Pass which I promptly wore out in the beginning of my senior year of high school I was ready to take the plunge (again with Pink Floyd being the prevailing theme, I loved those Careful With That Axe Eugene quotes). I remember where I was standing, in a record store Port St Lucie, Florida during the Winter break of my senior year in high school. I was playing in a basketball tournament in the Miami area and I had made my choice. I was going to buy my first Phish CD. 

Now I realize, that in retrospect, this seems kinda strange. Buying a Phish CD. But I was a wide-eyed doe and everything was new to me. I didn't know about the bootleg availability or B&P. And as an extremely broke high schooler, this seemed to be the way to make my fandom official. To make it real. Spending my money on this band. So I was presented with a choice. And it's a choice that I think was integral to me becoming a fan. The first set of Live Phish CDs were recently released and I went into this store ready to start this thing off correctly. Except, again, I didn't really know many songs or what show to pick.  This store I was at only had two selections LivePhish 03 and LivePhish 06.  Staring at the back of these two 3 CD sets I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed. 03 had listed jams in place. 06 had a lot more songs. I didn't know what ">" meant. I thought that it was a sign that the song didn't fit on the CD so it tapered off (which obviously is so beyond wrong it's laughable). I chose LP06 because Wipeout was on it and that seemed cool to me. I don't think I knew any other songs. But there were a lot of songs on that release. And that's what I was looking for; a collection to try to learn as much as I could. For whatever it's worth I did not look at where the shows took place. 03 was at Darien Center, NY and 06 in Worcester, MA. If I had seen that I probably would have chosen 03. Because I spent a lot of time at Darien Lake as a kid in that amusement park. Riding the Predator and the Viper roller coasters. If I saw that I know that I would have thought that was a cool bit of nostalgia and chose that release. But here's the kicker. I think that if I picked 03 to start I might not have became a Phish fan. LP03 has the great and long Suzy Greenberg -> Jam and the extended Drowned -> Jam -> Crosseyed which are amazing versions of those songs. But at that time I wasn't looking for breathtaking improvisation or Type 2 movements. I needed that awesome second set with the transitions through songs that are precise and fast. I needed the happy and loose Phish in my life. I needed that Weekapaug > Wipeout > Really weird Weekapaug that was like nothing I had ever heard before. That's what was amazing for me to listen to. That's what made my jaw drop. That's what really made me become a fan for life. Honestly, 30 minute straight improvisational jams might not have done it for me. It might have turned me off and made me just be a studio Phish fan. Who knows? I spun that CD almost non-stop in the Spring of 2002. And as I prepared to go off to college I began my collection and obsession with this band that hasn't abated in over 13 years. Friends have come and gone. I've moved around the country. I traveled over 1700 miles from my hometown to Austin, TX without knowing anyone that lived in the town I was moving into. But Phish was my constant. 

So the 11/27/98 show is an extremely important concert in Phish history for me. I'm bringing it up now because over the course of the past 2-3 years I've been listening to every Phish show. And some of those early years were a struggle but with the technology that we have now I felt like this was a good choice to make. I just finished Summer 98 and that was what I dove into first when it was released for free, one show at a time, on And Fall 98 is on deck. So this last month or so has been making me think of my beginnings as a fan and where my fandom is headed. To foster a guess, anyone who reads this is probably on Twitter. And if you're reading this on Twitter you've made the choice to devote at least a portion of your social profile to your Phish fandom. To me, being a fan of Phish (or to be honest, Umphrey's McGee, the Dead, any jam band really) isn't like being a fan of anything else. Because we all make choices to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to see concerts in persons. We pay untold amounts of money to try to see that next killer Tweezer or the Whipping Post bustout. We read, and follow, and rumor monger, and talk about this band constantly, yearningly trying to get that communal experience. We design envelopes for mail order. We put up with fluffers and trolls. It's great and I love it. And that's not going to change. What will, in both the short and long term, is my life. With a baby shortly on the way, my days of travelling all around the country to see these concerts is coming to an (ideally, brief) pause. My trips will be short. If Phish plays Austin you're all invited but beyond that, live concerts are going to diminish. That's a choice that I'm easily and comfortably making. But I will be on couch tour as much as I can, on twitter, on phish boards, in and enjoying that experience to its fullest. For now that's good enough for me.