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How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Phish


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I don't know how many of you read the NPR music blogs, but I regularly read Bob Boilen's ( All Songs Considered) and Carrie Brownstein's ( Monitor Mix) (If her name sounds familiar, she used to sing and play guitar for Sleater-Kinney). Anyways, she explores some interesting topics and her topic this week is conversion. The first band she's going to explore is Phish. Here is her post (copied below). There are comments to check out on the original site. She has posted one follow-up so far

Thought y'all might want to read or participate. If you submit something to the blog maybe post it here too?

How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Phish

from NPR Blogs: Monitor Mix

Last Friday, I encouraged readers to "justify your love." I asked you to explain how and why you could love the seemingly unlovable. From Celine Dion to Audioslave, The Shaggs to the Spice Girls, people wrote in with their reasons for enjoying the music many of us find unpalatable.

But there was one reader who helped me see the light, or rather, who is going to help steer me down the path to potential enlightenment.

Cameron Norbert, you win!

An excerpt from Cameron's comment:

"I love Phish. Phish embodies what I love about all music: excitement, energy, unpredictability & fun. They play because they love it, and it shows. They do jam, but as a group, feeding each other -- like Jazz instead of Jam. It's not the solo heavy crap that occupies most "jam" music.

They have shared the stage with Neil young, Jay-z, BB King, Alison Krauss, and even Bruce Springsteen - so obviously fellow artists take them seriously. But amongst the public, they still carry such a stigma.

Phish turned me onto My bloody Valentine, Pavement, Django Reinhardt, The Talking heads plus many more. I could recommend any of those bands to you with no trouble, but mention the band that lead me to them, and I'm laughed out of the room."

Not anymore, Cameron. This week, your Monitor Mix host will journey down the path to conversion. But I need your help: if you are a Phish lover--and I know you're out there--please steer me towards the right albums, concert footage, and songs. Keep me sheltered from the bands' musical missteps and anything that might impede this affection, one that has been buried deep for far too long, just waiting to be awakened.

Why Phish, you ask? Well, as far as I'm concerned, Phish occupy a unique space in music: they are extremely popular with a large group of people, yet simultaneously misunderstood, judged and dismissed by another, particularly self-confessed music snobs, indie rockers, and a whole slew of other folks. Unlike other frequently maligned bands that have an equally maligned fan base, such as The Grateful Dead (whom I love) or The Dave Mathews bands (whom I don't love), Phish has never had a radio hit for non-fans to use as fodder or evidence. In fact--and this is the most shocking and what makes the band a rare breed--many Phish-phobes have never even heard Phish's music!

Phish is a band that some people intuitively don't like; they are the liverwurst, the Twilight book series, and the waterbeds of the music industry! And why should they be? This dismissal of Phish by a large portion of us is both unfair and unwarranted. And that's why I'm willing to change.

So, this week the theme is: The Conversion a.k.a How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Phish. All week I'll be updating my blog with photos, video, and writing about my progress. I don't know if it's actually possible to convert to a band in one week, but I'm going to try!

First stop: off to buy Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream. Then, to the record store!

Non-Phish lovers, please join in on the challenge! Phish fans? Help us get there! Leave your advice in the comments section.

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fun stuff.

just added my comment.

"I think the first step to liking phish is to realize that you probably won't like them for a while.

Phish is a lot like walking into an art gallery of artists of whom you know nothing about. Whether you enjoy the peices on the wall, or you don't, the crucial peice that is missing is "context"; or in the much deeper sense, Walter Benjimen's concept of "aura".

Benjamin used the word "aura" to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. According to Benjamin, this aura inheres not in the object itself but rather in external attributes such as its known line of ownership, its restricted exhibition, its publicized authenticity, or its cultural value.

You might enjoy a groove, or a lyric, or a chorus; or you might think it "all sounds the same"

You can stare at a painting for the first time and think its pretty, or ugly. Knowing the artist, knowing the period, knowing the context changes it.

Patience, a good taste in a variety of music, and a healthy love of partying. Learn to enjoy it at home. But you'll never love it till you try it live.

Step 2: buy a ticket. Let go. create your own "aura"."

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C'mon guys, it's fricken music.

If you don't like the sound of what's coming out of the speakers - you don't like it. No amount of context is going to make cough medicine taste any better. I dislike Phish because of the lame Moxy Fruvous/Bareknaked Ladies-esque jokey lyrics and flat soul-less vocals. End of rant.

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Well, it's started; I'm only listening to Phish. From now on--whether in my car or at home--it's all Phish, all the time. (Okay, only for the next five days). You know what made the transition easier? The fact that the last song I heard on the car radio was "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)."

So far, two things that I'm excited about:

1. The outpouring of earnest, well-thought out suggestions from Phish fans (check out the comment sections here and here for proof).

2. The fact that this band inspires such intense loyalty yet their fans seem to be open to new and potential followers.

I hope I can cull through the countless live tracks and shows and find something that sticks!

Thus far, I've watched a bunch of footage on You Tube and am checking out some shows from LivePhish.com. But the best intro so far has been this video montage; it is pretty cool and an excellent starting point for a a naif like me:

Yesterday afternoon, I ventured down to Everyday Music in Portland. My plan was to sell a batch of unwanted CDS in order to cover the cost of my brand new Phish CD and DVD collection.

Watch the adventure unfold:

Alright, even though the effort is greatly appreciated, it's getting difficult to keep track of all of the recommended Phish listening. Not to worry, I'll keep combing through the suggestions, downloading live material, and watching You Tube links, but I think I'd like to take some of you up on your offers to hand over some actual material.

So, here's my idea: if you live in the Portland area and have a moment to burn me some CDs of your favorite live Phish shows, let's meet up! (I'd suggest that out-of-towners mail me music, but time is of the essence.) Please don't bring along anything I need to return. I propose that we pick a coffee shop or bar on the east side of town. Tomorrow perhaps? And be prepared, I'll have my video camera along with me.

Thanks!

Lastly, here is your daily photo update:

All photos taken on July 14, 2009 at approximately 12:15 p.m. PST.

Outfit: yellow v-neck t-shirt, untucked. Jeans. Converse.

Phish status: Owner of three studio albums and one live album. I have now witnessed over twenty YouTube clips of live Phish shows. My favorite clip thus far is 12.09.95 "YEM (You Enjoy Myself)" from Albany, NY.

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I'm halfway through my week of total Phish immersion, and I've yet to talk about the music. That fact itself is interesting to note. I've found it nearly impossible to separate the cult and culture of Phish from the band Phish. And perhaps I shouldn't. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Phish and its fans are thought of as synonymous is why people rarely do simply focus on the songs.

But I digress.

At first listen -- and Monday evening literally marked my first listen -- Phish comes across as a jazzy, jam-based band with leanings toward folk, funk, freak and frivolity (oh, and prog, but that throws off the alliteration). For non-Phish aficionados, here are some base references: Zappa, Beefheart, ELO, Flying Burrito Brothers and Soft Machine. But it's just as easy to be surprised by a Phish song and have it sound like none of the aforementioned; to hear hints of classical music, the grandiosity of a Who rock opera, or the melodic prowess of Lennon/McCartney (or maybe Garcia/Lesh).

And if that sounds like a heap of complimentary BS, I'll add that what I'm struggling with is that sometimes all of those elements take place in a single song. (I'll also admit that the use of trampolines on stage is a little too wacky for my taste.)

If jamming scares you, then Phish's music will be harder to take. But I like the jam, particularly in the live setting. And many of the great live bands playing today incorporate some element of jamming, sometimes to the chagrin of their fans. Stephen Malkmus (whether with Pavement or The Jicks), Yo La Tengo, Arcade Fire and Wilco are but a few of the bands that like to change up their songs on stage. And if you love Television and its wiry, taut albums but never saw the group live, then you wouldn't know that those terse songs were jammed out Dead-style in concert, sometimes stretching well beyond the 10-minute mark.

And, call me crazy, but I hear Phish in Minutemen, Man Man and even Sunset Rubdown.

Thus far, the most daunting element to this Phish endeavor has been that there is almost too much music. And by that, I mean that no one seems to agree on a single seminal studio album. Additionally, many Phish fans have told me point blank that the live show is the only true way to witness this band, and that in lieu of that experience, only the recordings of their live shows (and then only certain shows) exemplify Phish at its best. Compare that process to introducing friends to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Clash, where you tell them a few albums to check out and you don't look back.

I do appreciate the care and thoughtfulness that Phish fans are taking in guiding me through this process. It all seems like further evidence that the band's fans are aware of how greatly misunderstood Phish can be, and that it's easy to get the wrong idea with a single song. Then again, I'd be grateful if there were a single song -- or just a handful -- as opposed to four versions of a song that I should hear. But I'm learning that Phish is about fluidity and caprice, so for right now, I'm just trying to go with the flow.

Songs I like so far: "You Enjoy Myself," "Esther," "David Bowie," "Dinner and a Movie," "The Divided Sky."

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How would y'all rank their non live studio releases excluding siket, slip stitch, wendel, a live one, hampton and white album.

For me.

1. Junta

2. Lawn Boy

3. Story of a Ghost

4. Picture of Nectar

5. Farmhouse

6. Hoist

7. Rift

8. Billy Breathes

9. Round Room

10. Undermind

Edited by Guest
oops
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It's Friday, and my experiment with Phish is coming to an end. I wrote about their music on Wednesday, and I'll do that again today. But it would be both unfair and untrue to say that I'll ever be able to fully divorce Phish's music from their fans and from their community. And, frankly, I wouldn't want to.

From Wednesday's music post:

At first listen, Phish comes across as a jazzy, jam-based band with leanings toward folk, funk, freak and frivolity (oh, and prog, but that throws off the alliteration). For non-Phish aficionados, here are some base references: Zappa, Beefheart, ELO, Flying Burrito Brothers and Soft Machine. But it's just as easy to be surprised by a Phish song and have it sound like none of the aforementioned; to hear hints of classical music, the grandiosity of a Who rock opera, or the melodic prowess of Lennon/McCartney (or maybe Garcia/Lesh). If jamming scares you, then Phish's music will be harder to take. But I like the jam, particularly in the live setting. And many of the great live bands playing today incorporate some element of jamming, sometimes to the chagrin of their fans. Stephen Malkmus (whether with Pavement or The Jicks), Yo La Tengo, Arcade Fire and Wilco are but a few of the bands that like to change up their songs on stage. And if you love Television and its wiry, taut albums but never saw the group live, then you wouldn't know that those terse songs were jammed out Dead-style in concert, sometimes stretching well beyond the 10-minute mark.

On Monday, I embarked on an earnest experiment driven by a fundamental question: Could I learn to love Phish -- a band that occupies the unique position of being criticized and shunned without further, if any, inspection -- in the course of a single week?

And here is my answer: Yes and no. If that's disappointing, then I apologize, but let me explain.

There are some bands whose music grips you immediately. And whether or not you're overtaken by a band and fall instantly in love depends on context, age and a number of other factors. For example, I didn't need to spend a week figuring out that I loved The Jam. A teacher game me All Mod Cons my sophomore year of high school, which was, frankly, the exact right time for me to hear Paul Weller and his cohorts. Then there was Nirvana, a band I took to the first time I heard a Cobain howl; they made sense because they were singing about a landscape I'd grown up in and with which I was familiar.

With Sonic Youth, on the other hand, I needed to see a live show, to witness a lightning bolt of image, sound, coolness and experimentation that I'd never quite understood on record. I'm always willing to sit with an album or an artist for a spell, to see if they have anything to reveal or if there is something for me to unearth. From Captain Beefheart to Miles Davis to The Pretty Things, some musicans speak louder and clearer the longer you keep them around; and then, well, the sound is deafening, and you don't know how you ever lived without it.

With Phish, as I pointed out earlier this week, the only consensus I could glean was that their genius lay somewhere in the interstices, between the studio and the stage and between the songs and the songs' subsequent deconstructions and transformations. Therefore, I often doubted whether I was ever hearing the "best" version of any given tune; if I didn't love it, I wondered if it was partially due to this fact.

Compared to my usual means of musical exploration -- put the album on the turntable, let the songs play, see how I feel -- searching for the quintessential version of a Phish song often felt like an impossible and frustrating way to proceed. So, instead, I found the Phish songs to which I was drawn and then sought out their different incarnations. I listened to multiple versions of "Tweezer," of "Harry Hood," of "Free" and of countless others. And only then could I get a sense of whether any of the music was sinking in. In the end, I found that it was more about harnessing the essence of a Phish song -- of experiencing it -- than about trying to put a boundary on it.

Listening to the live recordings, which I did following my Phish meet-up, I gained a greater appreciation for the band's playing. Though I only listened to about four studio albums -- Junta, Hoist, Rift and A Picture of Nectar -- I found none of them to contain anything particularly gritty or forceful. But on the live CDs, the guitars buzz and sing, notes float out into the ether and get sucked in again, and there are moments of beautiful and exhilarating chaos (particularly in the mid- and late-'90s sets). I do wish in these wilder moments that things could get messier, not just weirder.

I won't lie; some of the songs sound too noodly, wacky and benign for my taste. And, lyrically, I have to almost be in complete denial. In fact, I prefer when the songs move away from the lyrics and the singing all together, or when the voices are merely another instrument in the mix.

But I think that my biggest disappointment with Phish stems from the fact that I want the band to be more of a musical force; not just the cultural one that it so clearly is. I feel like the strength and the passion is coming from the fans -- not just the ones I met in Portland, but also the ones who've been commenting on this blog all week. Phish's members keep losing me with how diffuse their music seems to be a little here, a little there and a lot (A LOT) everywhere. But where is the fiery center, the core? I'd argue that the Phish fire is in the fans; they're the ones who cohered the band for me, and gave the music a context and a platform.

(This is where someone says I need to see them live.)

I love the dedication that the fans show to Phish -- their loyalty and thoroughness, their carefulness and, yes, the way they protect the band. And I may never again have so many people reading my blog. (Or caring how many times a day I post. I should add that I've never done 12 posts, let alone three, about a single band. Ever!)

But maybe I chose a band that I can't learn to love in a week. Or perhaps a week is too arbitrary a time frame for love. I'd argue that it is. After all, what if my love for Phish blossoms in the eighth minute of a 20-minute jam I've yet to even hear?

So, in conclusion, do I love Phish? No, or not yet. But I might after seeing the band live. Do I like Phish? Yes, I think I do. Was it was worth it to immerse myself in one band's world for a week? Of course. And I certainly think I was able to let go of a lot of the fan stereotypes. You know, the seaweed-dancing, dogs-on-ropes, acid-in-burrito assumptions that I used to make. Along the way, I met some great people, and I'm the owner of about 30 Phish CDs, some of which I'll continue to listen to after taking a break from Phish's music for a while.

A week ago, all I could tell you is that I didn't like Phish, and that I'd never heard an entire song. Today, I can tell you that I like the Phish fans I've met in person, and that my current favorite Phish song is this: "Bathtub Gin" from 8.17.97. After only one week, I'd say I'm off to a good start.

But, I'll be honest: I'm ready for some punk rock.

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Guest Low Roller

Shockingly I agree with Booche in that the author gave more than a fair attempt at getting to understand the music of Phish. That fact alone has to be recognized. Phish is not easy music to 'get'. Some people will understand it, others will tolerate it, and others will outright reject it and never give it a second listen.

The author did her best to approach the music subjectively, and determined that it was difficult to determine what determines the determination of the determinants. And that's putting it simply.

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Can't say nothin' 'round here....

Anyways, if you ask me the whole experiment was a little asinine. You can't make yourself like something; especially when it comes to music. Sure some things grow on you. And yes, you can learn to understand why others might, and I can respect that she tried, but the whole thing seemed like a bit of a stretch.

I mean really, day one she's wearing jeans, a t-shirt and converse. Congrats. What did she expect? A torn up hippy dress, dreads, hemptastically bedazzled and sporting a full pit bush by day 5? Please...

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I mean really, day one she's wearing jeans, a t-shirt and converse. Congrats. What did she expect? A torn up hippy dress, dreads, hemptastically bedazzled and sporting a full pit bush by day 5? Please...

It's not what she expected. It's what others expect. That was the point, or how I took it anyways. Kinda like the Cake lyrics:

How much did you pay for your rock'n'roll t-shirt, that proves you were there and that you heard of them first?

Can't say nothin' 'round here....

Oh, please. Opinions differ and no one is attacking you personally.

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i bet there was a point in your life where you didn't 'get it' or like phish. how did you learn to like them? did you listen to them? take advice from others of what to listen to or experience?

I always liked phish. Sure, I didn't get it 100% at first. At first I just liked the songs. I didn't even get it 100% the first time I saw them. The first time I saw them I was probably more impressed by the nomadic and free-spirited culture that resembled what I saw in the Dead lots than the fact that they played an epic tweezer. I probably didn't get it 100% until I was standing towards the back of the field at The Great Went, jaw dropped, staring at the spectacle that was 10's of thousands of people being hosed down and soaked in lights during some silly-ass song called Bathtub Gin...

I guess my point is, when I heard about phish, I didn't start a blog and didn't give myself a time frame to gain appreciation for them in. I guess my point is that I don't have a point, I just found the experiment pointless. Especially the fact that she knows they're a live band and didn't bother to go see them as part of the experiment...

And Booche, I know no one's attacking me and it wouldn't feel like home around here if you weren't...

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