Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Phish: The End of an Era
Down with disease
Up before the dawn
A thousand barefoot children outside dancing on my lawn, and I keep

Waiting for the time when I can finally say
That this has all been wonderful but now I'm on my way
But when I think it’s time to leave it all behind
I try to find a way but there's nothing I can say to make it stop

- Down with Disease, Phish (lyrics by Tom Marshall)
I was playing poker yesterday. I never answer my cell phone when I play poker. It's work for me. No distractions. Just after 1pm, my cell phone started ringing constantly. It was strange. What worried me was the constant call backs... from people. Obviously they left a message, but would call back a few minutes later... repeatedly. This worried me a bit and I was forced to deal with taking a five minute break away from the tables to listen to my messages. From the high volume of calls, I expected the worse... possibly a 9.11 attack or something like that. You must understand, I got thirty-two calls with a two hour period. I'm popular, but not that popular. When I heard the news... that Phish broke up, I logged onto to the Internet as soon as I could. And there it was... on Phish Breaking Up.

I was getting messages from non-Phish heads like my fellow poker bloggers, or random friends. Even my Mother called to tell me that she heard about, "The Puff-Phish breaking up."

Here's the email that Trey sent everyone:
Last Friday night, I got together with Mike, Page and Fish to talk openly about the strong feelings I've been having that Phish has run its course and that we should end it now while it's still on a high note. Once we started talking, it quickly became apparent that the other guys' feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways -- most importantly, that we all love and respect Phish and the Phish audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the point of vibrancy and health. We don't want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. By the end of the meeting, we realized that after almost twenty-one years together we were faced with the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.

So Coventry will be the final Phish show. We are proud and thrilled that it will be in our home state of Vermont. We're also excited for the June and August shows, our last tour together. For the sake of clarity, I should say that this is not like the hiatus, which was our last attempt to revitalize ourselves. We're done. It's been an amazing and incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that you've shown us.

- Trey Anastasio
This was serious. What to do? was my first impulse. I logged on and bought as many lawn seats as I could for shows I didn't have tickets to. I also bought a ticket to Vermont, the two long festival called Coventry. $168 might seem a lot, but since it's the last Phish shows... it was a bargain. Phish had two parts to their summer tour (June leg and a August leg) covering 13 shows in 8 cities. I was going to see 9 of them... but after the news, I was deciding if I could do all 13. Alas, I will skip the 2 shows in Alpine Valley... mostly out of monetary reasons (and also to make sure I get to see some friends of mine in Chicago and Michigan). But I am excited to see 11... and the last show I will see will be.. sadly, my 150th Phish show. I secretly wanted to get to see 200 Phish shows and that will never happen.

Yeah, I've seen The Grateful Dead and Phish almost 200 times combined. That's 600+ hours of some of the best live music I have ever heard. I've been fortunate to see and follow two amazing bands play all over America... and the world. I never would have been to so many parts of the country... if my favorite bands never played there. They played and I followed. It was pretty simple.

Yeah, I was thinking about how Senor and I met up with Beano in Tokyo and followed Phish in Japan for six shows in four cities. That was the greatest trip in my life... and there's not a day that goes by when I don't think about Japan and my time there. Some trips change people, and I was definitely affected by my week in Japan.

I told a few friends who had not heard yet. One female friend started crying when I told her. She knew that she'd never see Phish again. Some other friends were pissed off. They felt cheated and mislead. Indeed, Phish had been working out the logistics of a fall tour. They had MSG in NYC reserved for Halloween. They also had five nights in Miami reserved for another NYE run in December. I was pumped to hang out with Jerry and Sara again, and I was saving up for those shows. I was ready to blow off several summer shows... mainly because I was trying to pick and choose the better shows to see. I prefer to hear Phish at indoor venues than outside. The sound is always better indoors.

How do I feel? As a fan, I'm upset. As an artist I understand. The news through my entire day out of whack. I had to try to nail down plans and tickets and of course I was bombarded by the "Dude, do you have any extras?" email and voicemail message. Now everyone wants to go see Phish, and the lazy and spoiled fucks who assumed they'd still be playing forever, got screwed.

As an artist I can understand what they are going through. I always knew that the day I penned my masterpiece would be the day I stopped writing novels. I would never cease to write, but once you've done something perfect, it's hard to match that same intensity again. I wanted to stop writing after The Blind Kangaroo... but I have a dozen more novels in me... including the masterpiece, which I'll write before I'm 40. I got 8.5 years left to do it. They want to end on a good note and I can respect that. Personally, my website the Tao of Poker has went from posts on this blog that people hated and complained about and urged me to take off this blog (and start the Tao of Poker) and over the last few months has gotten popular to the point of being mentioned in the new issue of All In Magazine. Wow. I've done it. And that was never my intention. I was just sputtering along doing something I love... writing about playing poker... and who knew there was an underground cult-like following of poker writing/blogs... that would make me some money, find me new friends and connections, attract numerous female fans and groupies, and make me a person people wanted to meet in person and watch play online... whenever I showed up, they came. I know exactly how Phish feels... about their passions getting slightly hijacked and finding yourself thrust into a position of greatness, when in the end, that's something you never wanted. It's scary for me sometimes to think how big this has gotten. And it's just me. What does it feel like to be that guy from Phish? It's too much pressure and takes the fun and passion out of making music.

Part of me feels that "appreciate what you have in your life before it's gone" vibe. I had an amazing run with Phish and at least I won't be bitching about seeing any more subpar shows. It's weird, because I really felt that Phish turned the corner and started playing some of their best stuff since the Japan shows. I know nothing compared to 1998 and the Year of the Funk, when Phish threw down some of their best shit history. I'll put 1998 Phish up against any other band... at any time in their careers and they will give anyone a run. (With the exception of The Grateful Dead in 1977... when in my opinion, they achieved musical perfection.)

When I spoke to Zobo yesterday I explained to him that the Phish breakup was like coming home from work and finding out that your live-in girlfriend of a decade all of a sudden wants to break up. It came out of nowhere. At least when Phish took a hiatus in 2000, there were rumors all over... suggesting that they were going to break up. As early as Japan, I heard from insiders that they were going to take some time off. Trey quickly came out and said, "We're taking a break. We're on hiatus." This time, Trey came out and said... no hiatus. Phish will be no more.

The hard part to deal with for me was the fact that I loved traveling and hitting the road. I don't have a car in NYC, so I only get to drive long distances when I'm on Phish tour. My friends are scattered all over America and it was easy to schedule time with them as soon as Phish tour schedule came out. If Phish was playing in your city, you knew I'd be there to spend some time with you. Phish tours were an easy way to squeeze four or five cities and several groups of partying with friends from different periods of my life.

Some friends I only see on Phish tour. I'll be sad about not seeing them again. Sure we might hang out, but the excitement of "Hey two weeks until Deer Creek... see ya there!" no longer has any relevance.

Some of the happiest moments in my life all revolved around a Phish tour of some sort. I can honestly look back and pick out four week sin my life... that I can say I felt happy, since I'm someone who has battled with a not-so pleasant life at times. Two weeks in 1999... a week in Japan in 2000.... and the last week of 2003 in Miami... are moments where I felt calm, confident, and alive.

I used to follow Phish with a dear friend, Heather. We saw over 30 shows together and one of the best trips I took was the start of fall tour in 1999... which was 26 shows long. We started in Vancouver, Canada (and I saw 23 shows that tour, Heather skipped the second half). Yep... the two week binge included: Vancouver > The Gorge, WA > Portland, OR > Boise, ID > Reno, NV (no Phish show, but we crashed in Reno and I taught Heather how to play blackjack) > San Francisco > Chula Vista, CA > Ensenada, Mexico (no Phish show... we skipped the LA show to go to Mexico for my birthday) > Tucson, AZ > Las Cruces, NM > Austin, TX > Houston, TX > New Orlenas, LA > Pelham, AL > Memphis, TN. Wow... quite a run with 15 shows wedged in that period. But for the first two weeks of that trip, I was in my own personal heaven. I've been chasing that high ever since. I met Page and Mike on tour that year and almost got arrested in Las Cruces. Heather locked the keys to her car in her trunk in Boise, and I saw some kid get the shit beat out of him in the parking lot after the Tucson show because he had been selling bunk acid all tour, and finally got caught. It was an epic run, and some day I'll write up my Phish adventures into a novel.

Then there was the Japan trip. And I can't talk enough about Japan. I've written several short stories and attempted to write a novel about following Phish in Japan. Some of my good friends that I have today... I met in Japan. The phisheads I met there are a unique bunch and we're called Japhamily... a nickname especially for the core group of a hundred Americans who followed Phish half way around the world to hear them play. My Japanese friends are just as crazy. They come to America all the time to see bands. That's loyalty. The week I had in Japan was special... from Tokyo to Nagoya to Fukuoka to Osaka... wow. I can write for hours about Japan. Someday, I'll write that novel.

Miami... well, Miami was insane. Poker, Jerry, Phish... the sun! I had too much fun. I've been writing numerous Miami short stories... all inspired by my jaunt down there to follow Phish. I can and have written for days about that experience. Maybe that could be another novel.

As you can tell, I am rambling with all my thoughts coming and going without any structure. Phish was and is an important aspect of my personality and inspired me as an artist and writer. I cannot imagine all the fun I would have missed out if I skipped so many of the shows I saw. And now, I'm kicking myself in the head because I skipped hundreds of other shows over the years. At least I got to see Phish 139 times... and I'll see them 11 more times. Maybe 13?

I'll be starting this upcoming tour off with the Joker and his new vehicle, Marco. Phish tour starts soon, and I'll be enjoying every second of these shows...

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