On The Record: I Am A Phish Fan. I Am Relatively Unashamed
I don't really want to admit this, but there was a little piece of me that stirred when the news of 's reunion broke last week. It's a bit of me that I don't really use all that much anymore, a vestigial organ from a previous lifetime that really serves no purpose any more — call it my musical appendix.
Anyway, when I learned that Phish were getting back together, my musical appendix practically burst. Not in the appendicitis kind of way, mind you, but rather in this warm, really sort of joyous manner. And that sort of terrified me. After all, I thought that part of me was dead and dormant ... or at least, I had hoped it was. I am, by all accounts, an unapologetic music snob, and if there is one rule of Music Snobbery, it is that you must never — under any circumstances whatsoever — express admiration for so-called "jam bands," especially Phish (though, surprisingly, it is OK to admit to liking the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead and American Beauty albums). This is just not done, and it can result in expulsion from our very exclusive glass house.
And yet, knowing all that, here I was, still somewhat ... excited by the possibilities of seeing Phish one last time. It was as if my inner 15-year-old — the skinny, never-sexed kid with the terrible long hair and the baggy corduroy pants — had suddenly taken control of my brain. I found myself on Phish's Web site, repeatedly watching the video piece that announced their three-night stint at the Hampton Coliseum, huge goose bumps coursing up and down my arms. My brain on autopilot, my fingers then guided me to the official ticket-request form for the shows, and — somewhere between a blackout and an embolism — I dutifully submitted mine.
What would my friends and colleagues think?!? What about my wife?!? Would I ever be allowed inside Sound Fix Records again?!? My mind boggled. My palms poured sweat. And then, in a proactive bit of damage control, I decided to write this column. Head 'em off at the pass, you know?
So here it is: My name is James Montgomery, and I am a Phish fan. I am not (totally) ashamed to admit it, either. This might get my membership revoked from certain establishments and might cause me to be ridiculed ad infinitum by those closest to me — but so be it. Phish's reunion stirred within me a great awakening. From here, there is no looking back. And I think I am OK with this.
See, back before I was cool, or before I knew any better, I positively, absolutely loved Phish. I have seen them no less than five times (possibly six, the memories are a bit hazy), and those were some of the best shows I've ever attended, if not so much for the music as for the extracurriculars that went along with them. During a February 1993 show at the (long gone) Edge Concert Field in Orlando, Florida, I smoked too many funny cigarettes and spent most of the evening wandering around looking for the dudes who drove me to the show. (I do remember Phish's Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon trading solos while bouncing on trampolines, though.) Later that night I threw up and then passed out underneath a dry-docked boat at a lake by my friend's house.
In 1995, I saw them at the UCF Arena with my friend Hot Rod. We drove my banged-up Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera there, the bumper tied on with a length of rope. They opened with "Chalkdust Torture" and during intermission, they moved a chess piece on a giant board hanging behind them. (That was the theme of that fall tour: an ongoing chess match between the audience and the band. Seriously.) We shimmied like idiots and drank underage and then — I think — drove home. This was bad. But good.
There were other shows, and I have other amazing stories — their Y2K shows on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation, where my then-girlfriend and I spent 14 hours stuck in traffic on Florida's Alligator Alley, waiting to get in and worried because the dudes 10 cars up were telling everyone that the cops were searching everyone's cars — but the point is, none of mine are particularly unique, which is what's beautiful and amazing about Phish shows in the first place. Every single gig is special to someone somewhere, and if you ask anyone who's seen them live, I can assure you they'll tell you the same thing. Phish shows were where you went to take too many, um, illicit substances or make some bad decisions and to feel like you were part of some sort of community. Phish shows are where kids grew up. They are universal in that regard.
And while I'll freely admit to having lost all connection to the band soon after those Y2K shows, I'll always have my memories, and as such, I continue to hold a bizarrely warm place in my heart for Phish. I will defend their musical output from 1990 to 1994 (everything from Lawn Boy to Hoist) to anyone. I still have my old issues of their "Doniac Schvice" newsletter at my parents' house. I even own that album they did with the Dude of Life, even though it's terrible (cue the angry letters). I have been told by my so-called "cool" friends that all of this makes me some sort of hippie — I'm more likely to call myself nostalgic.
And that's probably why I'm so excited about the Phish reunion. I realize that on many levels, Phish are uncool, slightly goofy and rather embarrassing, but in my mind, none of that matters. To me, their Hampton shows are events on par with the recent Pixies and My Bloody Valentine tours, if not even more important. This probably says a lot about me — hippie, idiot, embarrassment — but I'm willing to say the hell with all that. I am a Phish fan, and coolness be damned, I'll be there in March at the Hampton Coliseum, running like an antelope, laughing as 15-year-old versions of me wander around looking for the dudes who drove them there. That seems strangely perfect.
Questions? Comments? Hit me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.