17,999 Prep School Hippies, 4 Musicians, and Me
by (a superhero named) tony
Let's get one thing straight: I don't like arena rock. For years I avoided arena concerts because I think the sound is bad and I find lightshows distracting. It's just been an unwritten rule of mine: if you need a ticket or bracelet to return from the restroom, it's not worth it. Recently, however, in an act of sheer sociological curiosity and musical curiosity, I took my roommate up on an offer to see those phine phellows they repher to as Phish.
I don't know what I was getting in to here, purchasing a $25 ticket to not only an arena show, but a haven phor the enemy: the Gap-shopping, prep school trained, neo-hippie youth that wished to recreate what they've misunderstood to be the only cool thing their parents ever did. What I did know was that I might be able to answer a question plaguing my mind: What's worse? A hippie or a neo-hippie? A Phish concert is not just a show or a concert, it's an event. The parking lots open around 4:20 (a phavorite number), the doors at 6:30, and the music runs 8:30 till around midnight, long after everybody's let it all hang out (though most peak during the second set). I was soon introduced to the Phish "lot scene," a dizzyingly postmodern recreation of the hippie bartering associated with some other band whose name slips my mind. Beads, hemp products (wearable, smokable, or both), beer, tapes, etc. are sold or traded, and there's always someone trying to find an extra ticket or two. Not dressed for the chilly Long Island spring night, though, I grew cold and bored and headed in to the arena where I had general admission-- the phloor. Cool, that's phamiliar.
But then the lights go down. And the smoke rises up. And the music starts. At this point I'm either being nudged by smelly dancing kids or listening to music played by phour talented musicians who are not rock stars but plain old dorks who could easily be jamming in some basement in hometown Vermont(yes, I view Vermont as a town). Then there's a second set. And an encore. It's a long night. As the evening progressed, I phound my mind wandering with the music. Thoughts like, "I really liked how that one song I don't know blended into that other song I don't know" almost convinced me I might be a phan. In a strange turn of events, my girlphriend (a real phan) started thinking about my original ideas about all these kids buying into something that really doesn't mean anything anymore, all this counterculture sold through Ticketmaster, the free thinkers who look and act alike. She phreaked out and stopped talking to me for the rest of the set. But in all my wicked analysis, I realized one thing: everybody I locked eyes with smiled at me (except for my girlphriend). Maybe it was just kids comfortable with the commodiphication of a generation (or two), maybe it was the music, maybe it was the drugs, but these people were enjoying themselves. I looked up into the seats above the GA phloor and saw the match-and-lighter phire phly effect that can only be associated with an arena show, and relaxed. I was not infiltrating the enemy, I was at a Phish show in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York in the USA in North America in the Western Hemisphere yadda yadda yadda... Some tripster girl told me I had to dance (she had to shave), and although I didnít, I actually managed to relax and get over myself phor a couple hours. A particularly memorable part of the night included some kids breaking a glowstick to empty its glowing juice onto their skin as warpaint while assuring other genuinely concerned phans that "It's okay, itís nontoxic," as they tripped, passed a bowl, and lit a cigarette all in one phell swoop. Such love in the crowd.
But I am still not sold on the phenomenon of Phish. I am not sold on it because I don't understand the phenomenon beyond it being our generation's attempt to keep the Dead alive. Those so readily labeled "Gen X" in America have no wars to protest or crises to counter with the overdoses of peace that may have been necessary decades ago. What I do know now is that Phish is a talented band with one-third the songwriting ability of the Dead, one-tenth their soul, all their low cost marketing potential (no need for music videos or fog machines to sell records-- a major labelís wet dream), and the remainder of their phollowing. But Phish doesn't need that legacy. They don't need tens of thousands of unshowered youths bootlegging their tapes to make them an event. Lot scene or not, drugs or not, Ben & Jerry's or not, Phish can play. And as for the hippie vs. neo-hippie question: I like hygiene and donít really like hippies at all. But it's good to know that a few can still rock out.