I am not going to do the obvious. I’m not going to stand up here going on about the Grateful Dead and synchronicity and LSD and bare feat and the sky, and how the sky looks moment by second when you’re dancing barefoot in the grass with a head full of acid.
I already beat that horse dead enough.
This is totally different. Not about the Dead. At all.
This, this is about Phish.
And bare feet,
And the sky.
And how the sky looks when you are dancing barefoot in the grass.
And Ok, maybe a wee tiny little bit of Grateful Dead. But Phish, the Dead, the acid. They’re even not what this story is really about. This about live music.
This is a story of how you find your way home if you are me and home is the bones inside you skin.
It’s still about synchronicity, though. And the sky.
Because everything, every fucking thing, is about synchronicity and the sky.
Sky’s grey when I leave Portland, just enough mist to finally burn the heat off. It’s a Tuesday morning, two Phish shows waiting over the mountains in Bend. The drive’s a only few hours, not far, but God damn it’s been a long road getting back to here, this place where I can take two nights in the middle of the week to dance out in the desert.
And my soul needs live music the way my lungs need air.
I’m riding shotgun, my housemate in the back seat and the woman behind the wheel is one of my oldest, dearest, bestest friends on this earth. We’ve seen a lot of life together her and me, marriages and divorces, and kids and Cancer, Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs. Burying our dads. She watched both my daughters come into the world.
All that life hasn’t left me much room for music. I was forever too busy and too broke for a show. There were stretches I didn’t have three bucks for toilet paper let alone three hundred to go play like this. I got too far down to even remember how it feels when you’re wrapped up inside a song, how good good can be.
I was so far from me.
When Phish announced Bend, I wrote it off. I was already booked all week with a teaching gig. Didn’t even try for tickets.
I’d only seen Phish five times, four of them back in the early 90s. Before all that life came at me. My one current show, Eugene last fall, it was fun but it didn’t take me out of myself, into myself, the way music can, the way Dead did, the way Phish used to way back when.
So I was bummed about skipping Bend, but it wasn’t killing me. I told myself the time for going to another show would be right when the time was right.
Like say, low enrollment blows out my teaching gig, and two tickets for these sold out shows line up like nothing and there is still an open bed my friends’ rental with not a vacancy town. Something like that. It would just fall together.
A little synchronicity showing up right there where it always is.
And us, we’re in the car, rolling down the backside of Mt. Hood, blue desert sky breaking open to the East. I’m quiet with nerves.
Nowhere else I want to spend this midweek weekend, but 10 people are staying in our house. Ten. Three of my close friends, five acquaintances and one guy a total unknown who jumped in even later than me, The Dude of Life. But that’s another story.
I am awkward with humans I don’t know well. Actually, I’m pretty awkward with humans I do know. Mostly people terrify me a little. Not the people themselves, just talking to them.
And I’m careful to not expect too much from these shows. I go in cautious. I know what I want. I want catharsis, note by note.
It’s heavy order and expectation is the quickest way to kill it.
I promise myself to walk in expecting nothing.
An hour pre-show I lick a small drop of liquid off my shaking right thumbnail. When I say shaking I mean trembling so hard the woman with the vile has to hold my hand steady to get it on there. Last time I dosed Clinton was in the White House and my age began with the number 2.
I don’t know if I’m more nervous about where this acid is about to take me or the possibility whatever it is I keep telling myself I’m not searching for in the music actually will not be there.
And what I’m searching for is me.
At first it’s Eugene all over again when I want the Cincinnati Zoo, circa 1993. The music is good. The music is great. The band is tight. And, their energy is way up. But I’m restless. I can’t settle. Every time I start to I climb all the way inside a song, start feeling the notes tendril around me, something bumps me back and I’m just high in a field in the desert on Tuesday in July.
Some of these tunes I know pretty well, others not at all. When they launch into a brand new one, I have no clue it’s a debut. All I know is the opening riff sounds vaguely like the Dead and up along the bottom edge of one fluffy white cloud in a blue, blue perfect sky there’s an impossible rainbow. A full spectrum turned up bright by my polarized lenses. And it doesn’t have a thing to do with acid.
Just like that, I’m in. I wish I had words. I can say it had a Little Feat feel. The rhythm and melody and keyboards rolling off like New Orleans. None of that much matters though. All that matters is this: I am deeply, madly, instantly in love with this new one. Blaze On. And note by note, I am gone. Total ego annihilation. Space dust.
My bare feet in the grass and my head in the sky. The harder I shake my bones the better my skin starts to fit. I got nothing but love for everything and everyone. I got nothing but love for this music. I got nothing but love for me.
There’s no place like home.
And I remember all through my body what comfort feels like.
I wish I could live for a single moment inside a book the way I feel inside this song. Where music’s not a sound I hear, it’s the perfect place I go. All my awkward melts away.
And it stays gone through the second set and the second night and back at the house and all the way to Portland. There’s pieces of me in these songs I haven’t seen for years, decades. All of them just waiting for me to come around.
Sometimes the only path forward is back, gather up what you’ve spilled along the way.
All week I’ve been dancing down the street. Pumping those Bend shows thru my earbuds, singing thank the Gods for Phish and the Grateful Dead before them.
For all the music makers everywhere and the tunes that build my bones back solid.
Note by note.
Thank the gods for synchronicity and psychedelics and blue, blue desert skies.