Only a few days ago, in Coventry, VT, Phish played their last show ever. A few days before that, I saw them for the last time, in Camden, NJ. After nine long years, it was time to say goodbye to Phish.
Around the spring of 1995, I was still in high school and feeling more than a little bit blue. I was downright sad, and many mornings I just didn’t want to get out of bed or be even the slightest bit alive. Everyday living was therefore a challenge to me, and then there were classes on top of that and the need to put up what I call the brave face so that people would not be worried about me or think that something was wrong. I think I do it, to a certain extent, subconsciously – or perhaps it is just the societal norm that when a person asks how you are, you do not tell them that you don’t wish to be alive and rather respond, “Great, how are you?” That’s how it seems, anyhow.
Around this time period, I had developed a small group of friends who were huge fans of this band I had never heard of, called Phish. The school I was attending had just recently gotten hardware and software upgrades, and so we could now browse the relatively new world wide web. My friends were not too proficient in using said web, whereas I took a liking to it immediately and therefore explored, experimented, and played with it until it made perfect sense to me. I therefore found myself in front of the computer now and then finding information about the band for them – such as tour dates, album release dates, etc. It wasn’t long before I started getting a little curious about the band. What was it that caused these friends of mine to be so fanatical about this band? How could one band be so good to elicit such excitement?
It was one warm spring day that I was in the computer lab, looking at an early Phish Web Site, put up by fans, and I decided to have a closer look. I started by printing out the lyrics to what was referred to as the guitarist’s senior project in college, a combination of story-telling and music known as The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday. The title was enough to make me wonder what it could possibly be about. After I printed out the lyrics, I went outside and decided to sit by a tree to read it through. It is important to mention the extent to which I was more or less depressed at this time. Though there wasn’t really anything going so horribly wrong in my life, other than I had just been dumped by the person I had been dating, inside I largely felt dead. I had this strong conviction that there wasn’t anything resembling hope in the world, and that there were no more heroes or things that were really beautiful.
This is why, when I finished reading through the senior project, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was laden with images of beauty, and it gave me hope where I had none. It also told the story of a more modern day hero, albeit a hero that ultimately fails in the end. Yet he still was someone I could look to for some inspiration. Knowing that there were recorded copies of this senior project floating around, and knowing what big fans my friends were, I went over to visit one of them in their dorm room – I was a boarding student. I asked if they had a copy of the senior project that I could borrow, and he cheerfully handed over a cassette tape. I don’t think any cassette tape has ever had such an incredibly profound impact on my life as this one had.
The Cassette Tape
I copied The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday onto a type I cassette tape, not exactly the best move on my part but I didn’t know from cassette tapes at the time and they all seemed the same to me. After listening to the tape a handful of times, finding it more beautiful with each listen, I decided that I obviously had to share it with those nearest and dearest to me, such as my brother Michael. I thought that surely if I found it to be so beautiful, others would also be moved by it in a similar manner. Of course, I could not have been more oblivious to the fact that my strong feelings for it did not translate into other people even liking it in the least bit, but that was a hard fact I was going to have to learn over time.
The first tape that I got after this one was a recording of a show from 1989. It had some of the songs from the senior project and some other songs that I had not heard before. I started my collection this way, borrowing tapes from friends and making copies for myself on duel deck tape players. This was before the days of affordable cd burning, when you couldn’t get a spindle of 80 cds for less than a dollar per cd. It was during this time period that I also started trying to reach out to the world to expand my collection of Phish music. I made an appeal for a “blanks and postage” deal, the kind which entails sending blank cassettes and enough postage for the tapes to be sent back to an otherwise perfect stranger. I learned the mistake of using type I tapes (as opposed to the celebrated Maxell XLII-S tapes which were said to be one of the finest for this sort of recording) by sending them to someone in my first blanks and postage deal. I told the person that it didn’t really matter what show I got as I didn’t have too much at the time. He kindly obliged by sending me a copy of the show from the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO – 6/17/94. (To me, it’s amazing how many statistics and information I managed to have gathered in the last nine years – in a lot of ways, it’s like baseball – and in some ways (like here) it is taken even more seriously!
I started trading tapes, copying tapes for other people, even briefly venturing into a volunteer (with the option to leave a tip) blanks and postage organization, which in retrospect was a bad idea. Particularly when I stated there was no limit on the number of tapes that could be sent. Alas. My tape collection continued to grow up until the point at which I decided that I wanted to get shows on cd. My tape collection, for the most part, now sits underneath my former bed in my former room in my mother’s house in NJ. Meanwhile, I now listen to shows on cd that I generally get through bit-torrent and at livephish.com.
My first two shows
The first show I ever attended was on 6/28/95 at the Jones Beach Amphitheatre. I was going with the daughter of a friend of my mother’s since my brother didn’t want to go at all and my mother’s friend lived out on Long Island. I also took along a tiny plush squirrel, the beginning of a tradition wherein I would take plush animals to shows with me. Plushies normally don’t get to go out much, so I have tried to get them out to have a good time, as it were. Though we got there in a fairly timely manner, it was immediately evident that our seats weren’t the best in the world – this wasn’t important. I had been eagerly anticipating this show for what seemed like an eternity, and I was so glad that it delivered all the way through. At one point, the people seated behind me started having a good time playing the plushy squirrel. A good time was had by all.
My second show was supposed to have been on the fifteenth of December (of that year) in Philadelphia, but I knew that some friends of mine were going to the December 9th show, which was to be in Albany. I somehow came across a ticket on the newsgroup, and I asked one of my friends if I could get a ride with him if I had the ticket – he said I could. Arrangements were made, and the ticket was sent by next day delivery – which was to be the day of the show itself. It was only through the kindness of the Post Office that they let me get the package with the letter, as the school I attended didn’t get the mail on Saturday for whatever reason. After I had located the friend who told me he would give me a ride, he sadly told me that his parents weren’t letting him g
o because of the poor weather. I then found some other people who were going, but they said that there wasn’t any room in their vehicle. It seemed as though I was not going to get to the show.
Walking towards one of the parking lots of my school, I happened upon a friend of mine who was heading home. (This was possible as he was one of many students who lived close enough to the school not to have to board there.) I asked him if he passed by the Princeton Junction train station on the way home on a whim, and when he told me that he did, I asked him if he could give me a ride there. At this point, of course, I had nowhere to stay in Albany, or any way of knowing when the trains were running either to New York City or to Albany. Things somehow turned out quite well for me, though the train to Albany was delayed because a bridge was stuck in the open position. While on the train, I managed to meet some fairly interesting Columbia University students with whom I eventually stayed the night at a Ramada Inn. When we eventually got to Albany, we took a cab to the Knickerbocker Arena (which has now taken an entirely different corporate name which I shall not mention) and missed the first five songs. The rest of the show was magnificent, and I was quite happy to see my very first version of “You Enjoy Myself”. I yelled like a little school girl when they started playing the opening notes, and I had the same reaction each time I would see it over the last nine years.
Over forty shows later, and I got to see them one last time in Camden, NJ. They played “You Enjoy Myself” as the second song of the first set, and I squeeled as loudly as I had the first time. As a side note, it turns out that the people who went in the other vehicle from my school, who couldn’t give me a ride, ended up having their car break down en route – they didn’t make it, either. I was therefore the only person from the school to make it to the show. I’m quite thankful for the nine years of great music that I was able to enjoy, and look forward to years of official live show releases to bring back memories of days past.