The din of Joe Cocker’s bass growl fills the beat-up old truck as we pull into Patriarch Park, a nondescript playground where little kids frolic on swings and suburbanite teens come because they don’t have anywhere else to trip. Next to me, enjoying a smoke above the roar of an old muffler, is the stuff of legend. His name is Trey Anastasio, and he is the cohesive mad hatter and guitar virtuoso behind the world’s most revered jam band, Phish.
“You know, I’ve never been to an interview quite like this,” he says, reclining with feet on the dashboard. “In Michigan, no less.” And yet, somehow it all makes perfect sense. This is the park where I spent my collegiate summers: tossing the Frisbee, exploring, experimenting, basking in my own particular brand of sweet, intoxicated apathy. What better place to share with Trey Anastasio than the very place where I discovered his music?
Trey’s cashed cigarette smolders on the asphalt as we grab the Frisbee from the truck bed and head out to the field.
… At least, that’s the way it plays out in my mind.
It’s been the dream of each and every 16- to 20-something rock ’n’ roll enthusiast since he or she saw Almost Famous four times: the dream of becoming personally acquainted with one’s musical heroes.
Trey tosses the disc with the flair, if not the finesse, of a professional. Each satisfying thwip of a catch gives way to a smile, and each subtly exaggerated throw springs Trey back to the ready position. He mutters a quick, “Sorry, man,” as a throw lopes off into the tall grass. He’s only been at it for 20 minutes now, but he pants heavily and the sweat stands out above his quizzical red brow. Maybe you don’t get a whole lot of exercise when you’re a deity. “You mind if we take a sit?”
And it seems, from the world outside the daydream, that this is where the actual interview is supposed to go. This is what the magazine enthusiast spent his or her three bucks for; the part where we bust out the magnifying glass and find out what Trey is really like. Or, at least, what he says he’s like.
But what is it that we’re really after when we tap into a Rolling Stone or crack open a Spin mag? Can we figure out what our heroes are really like, or even get a taste? And if we do, what does it matter anyway?
In the interview, Trey tells me lots of things. We talk about his new solo live disc, the upcoming summer tour, the rumors of the band’s appearances at bazillions of jam festivals across the country. And as exhilarating as it is to be here, now, conversing with this masterful jazz-rock alchemist, his words are a little disappointing. Come on, Trey, we’re looking for something more here, something extra, something to enhance or deepen or play upon our love of the amazing and soulful aesthetic experiences that you’ve given us for so long and, damn it, we spent $3.25 on this magazine and ...
The truth of it is that we never really needed that to begin with. Enhancing appreciation of music through journalism, all that other stuff, amounts to a placebo. In an alternate reality — the real one — I’m doing what every other Phishhead does: driving in my car alone on a sunny spring day, volume cranked as shiny music descends from overhead; lying face-up in the dark, stoned to the eyeballs while the chainsaw organ solo of “Maze” adds a mystical, murky hue to an otherwise gray day; romping barefoot through the morning dew outside a 118-degrees-inside tent, shaking off the slept-outside willies and remembering what it felt like to watch the band wail on last night’s encore of “You Enjoy Myself.” And it’s there, in these kinds of experiences, that the magic happens. It is the experience that makes us yearn for more understanding. We read the articles because we seek to build upon our knowledge, but we can never enhance the experience.
And if you haven’t already, you ought to go and experience these kinds of things for yourself, in your own particular frame of reference. Because if you’re like a lot of people I know, you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to that hippie crap.
Fred Mills comments: Superbly written in classic elliptical style, and it additionally captures the essence of what writing about music is supposed to do: how it makes you feel, and that ephemeral sense of “How do I tell the world how it makes me feel?” Nary a stylistic issue either, not even when he deviates somewhat with a few choppy/fragmentary sentences for effect. I would go to see Phish on the basis of this commentary, and I’m not even a huge Phish fan. But can he write outside the jamband/psych genre?
Back to Amateurs write, like, proseDan Apczynski lives in East Lansing. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org