The moment is now, is always

“The root, third and fifth of any chord are considered to be very stable tones. This is why this theme makes us feel like we’ve arrived at home; the physics of Trey’s lines give us a big sense of stability. Yet the repetition creates tension and excitement, and makes us feel like the moment could last forever — and, often, we wish it does.”

That comes from @amarguitar’s great “Anatomy of a Jam” series on Youtube, in the Went Gin debut episode. Those words capture a brilliant source of passion for seeing Phish shows. (I just bought my ticket to Phish’s 11th festival, “Curveball,” in upstate New York, so I’ve found myself turning deeply into their music this weekend.)

There’s nothing like a Phish show. In my mind, I compartmentalize those experiences differently than other concerts; there’s Phish, and then there’s everything else. I’m not sure if that’s healthy or not, but for nine years I’ve been unable to shake it. Whenever the band announces a tour, I’ve leapt to Google Maps, a handy Excel spreadsheet and a calculator to determine, with rudimentary math and unbound zeal, which shows I could conceivably hit, how much money I’ll need to set aside, what ancillary attractions I might find in that part of the country, etc. This summer, it’s just Curveball for me. If certain rumors pan out, of course, I wouldn’t mind a road trip this fall to Hampton, Va.; Nashville, Tenn.; or the grand city of Chicago. We’ll see. That’s part of the fun: the anticipation of everything. The psychological tension.

I first began listening to Phish around 2004 or so. But I first saw them at Jones Beach on Long Island on 8/17/10, with my friend Colin. That’s where the moment began, this thematic backdrop of live improvisation, carnival journeys across highways and teeming lawns, buzzing lights — a hypnagogic dance on another plane of consciousness. Things feel different at Phish shows. The moment stretches out eternally. The backdrop bends forward, takes the spotlight of my mind and grips my soul in a determined reality.

Right now, on this cold Sunday morning, I’m writing and listening to the second set of 6/23/12, a delightful summer jaunt on the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. I’m there. I remember the calypso funk of that night, the temporally out-of-bounds trip in that Light jam. It’s an incredible show, the sort of outing that I think anyone of a particular musical taste might enjoy.

And then Trey skips onto the Weekapaug Groove riff, and we’re off, again, again.


The boundless future of cannabinoids in American science

I’m just fascinated by this latest feature I published at Cannabis Business Times. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation devised a “Grand Challenge” to solicit solutions to the multi-billion-dollar problem of zebra mussel and quagga mussel invasions in American waterways. A North Carolina scientist submitted a novel approach that seems to go where no previous answer has gone: a) meet the mussels where they feed, far below the surface and b) hit ’em with a dose of extracted cannabidiol, which, of course, remains a federally banned Schedule-I substance.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has left the door open to CBD as a bioremediation tool.

It remains to be seen how the Grand Challenge will play out, but I like learning about the vast spectrum of uses for cannabinoids. This is only the beginning, folks.

‘Let’s turn off the vocals. Who needs ’em?’

Just thinking this morning of last year’s Dinosaur Jr. show at Beachland Ballroom. They’re one of my favorite bands.

From my review of the March 12, 2017, show:

Onstage, the three incredibly distinct characters work diligently. J, long silver hair gracing past his shoulders, stood tall and stoic. Barlow hopped around frenetically, his mop of brown hair often concealing his face entirely and his salmon-colored button-down soaked thoroughly with sweat. Murph aggressively pounded his drums from behind a pair of glasses and beneath a shaved head that nodded in contrast to his bandmates’ follicular might. Each musician was fun to watch in their own way, and I mostly caught myself watching Murph throw down an absolutely incredible set of percussion. (J himself, who has famously directed the drums in previous incarnations of the band, has even lauded Murph’s personal touches on the band’s most recent material.)

“Turn up the vocals!” one guy cried out a few songs into the show.

J responded in slacker drawl: “Yeah, let’s turn off the vocals. Who needs ’em?”

It was an absolutely hilarious moment. There are fine layers of comedy in that offhand response from J.

The show was tremendous, of course; it’s Dinosaur Jr., wrought as ever with complexity and sludgefeast monolith riffs.

But, honestly, moments like that are the reason that I love going to shows — that feeling of tapping into the unique, the hazard of it all. That moment was pure J Mascis, and it was great to get a glimpse of what he is.

Also, it’s much better to spend some time on a Thursday morning thinking and writing about that, as opposed to the incessant shitstorm of gun-nut/gun-control-nut bric-a-brac on your preferred social media channel.

Two stories

Most weekends, I avoid the news. I may catch up on Sundays, reading some of the longer magazine features I set to the side during the week. But, all in all, I claim as much utter leisure on the weekend as I can.

And so I’ve been diving into two stories that crossed some sort of Rubicon while I was away. As with most things in this extremely dumb era of American politics, I learned about the recent news cycle flare-ups through the exit door: by hearing about the president’s latest temper tantrums on Twitter.

The first story concerns the “big Caravan of People from Honduras.” More than 1,000 people are wending through Mexico right now. They left Honduras in late March, fleeing an impoverished country bent under the will of a corrupt president who’s sown unrest and violence in the wake of his re-election. Adolfo Flores at BuzzFeed has embedded with the group.

In the U.S., our president is using this micro-exodus as the latest stand-in for the xenophobia he’s exhibited for decades. Blending the interminable talk of “the Wall,” DACA legislation, NAFTA, international aid and Mexico-U.S. relations, this story is one to watch in April.

The official presidential statement: “The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our “Weak Laws” Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”

The president’s Twitter presence is a specter in daily life. The crooked cadence cascades like coffin nails across our eyes. It’s a persistent reminder of the absolute idiocy in this country, a national id on a meth bender.

The kicker is that his shameful administration “backed the re-election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez despite widespread misgivings about the vote count, as Reuters reports, prompting the opposition candidate to describe his bid for the presidency as a ‘lost cause.'”

The second story is one that I’ve been following for about year, ever since Sinclair Broadcasting announced its plan to purchase Tribune Media for just about $4 billion. Over the weekend, this incredible video montage seared across social media. It’s alarming.

Sinclair news anchors apparently repeated the same lines on-air, essentially parroting Trump’s “fake news” horseshit. It strikes most as another example of a sprawling corporate behemoth exerting its will through downward pressure and paranoia.

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.”

“Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias.”

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

As Annenberg School professor Victor Pickard writes, “This is yet another pathology in the US media system that could get much, much worse.”

Part of the problem with the Tribune Media deal is that it’s being synced with a cozy relationship with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. In recent months, Pai has systemically deregulated core tenets of broadcast media ownership in the U.S.

Once the deal is formally complete, Sinclair would expand its reach from 39 percent of American households to 70 percent. (Consider for a moment the 63 million voters who cast their lot with Trump/Pence in 2016.)

This brings us around to the idea of “regulatory capture,” referenced by Pickard in past news stories, in which “a government regulatory body begins to internalize the logic and value systems of the industries it purportedly regulates. Over time it begins to harmonize its actions with the commercial imperatives of the corporations it’s meant to oversee.”

I haven’t the time to survey Sinclair’s hundreds of stations that aired the “false news” PSA, but it’s not hard to imagine how the Honduran “caravan” news might play — if indeed it does at all.

The view

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”


Zen trajectory

Here’s a great piece of Sunday reading on the new Yo La Tengo album. It’s written by Steven Hyden, one of my favorite music journalists, who strikes at the heart of what it means to enjoy those rare bands that paint murals across decades.

I first saw Yo La Tengo in 2010. They were playing a one-off show with Wilco in a Minor League baseball park in South Bend, Indiana. (Wilco is another band that has achieved this Zen trajectory.) Yo La Tengo opened with Autumn Sweater. I was working as a caddie at Westwood Country Club at the time, strung out and aimless in the wake of graduating college. It was one of the greatest nights of live music I’ve experienced, and it could have only happened that summer.

A few years later, when I was working at Scene, I interviewed James McNew, and, looking back at that article today, we talked about this very theme, this idea of mindful growth.

“Widespread validation does not improve this music; what allows Yo La Tengo to endure derives entirely from the band members’ ability to be great in a way that could only happen at a specific moment in their lives. There’s A Riot Going On is a great Yo La Tengo album that could’ve only been made by Yo La Tengo 32 years into its recording career, just as 1993’s Painful is great because it sounds like a band seven years into its career.

“At every moment, Yo La Tengo sounds familiar and new simultaneously, as all humans should.”

The culture is the key

I’m at SFO, waiting on an aeroplane back to Cleveland. I’ve been in Oakland all week with the Cannabis Business Times crew. Our annual cultivation conference was a big hit, and honestly I feel more in tune with the plant and with the culture than ever before. It was a great learning experience, and it was really just fun and fascinating as hell to be able to buy weed legally (and then enjoy it prolifically).

Two of my favorite takeaways from this trip come from Casey Rivero, cultivation manager at Yerba Buena in Oregon. I wasn’t recording that session, so I’ll have to paraphrase here.

Rivero offered what I think is the linchpin of the legal cannabis scene right now: Cannabis was a community before it was an industry. Now, it is an industry. But it needs to remain a community. (Again, paraphrasing.)

This is part of what has always enticed me to cannabis. It’s the same thing that interests me about craft brewing (although I just can’t muster up the intense curiosity needed to really drive a passion in the thing). Cannabis cannot be separated from the culture. And what was once underground is now coming into the light. We are in this together, and we welcome all who are earnestly willing to take the ride with us. From recreational use to medical research and local economic development, cannabis is communal at its heart. This is important.

At another point in his session on indoor facility design, Rivero said that the cannabis industry is uniquely positioned as an agricultural influence in the U.S., almost directly because it started as a community. Best practices and SOPs in cannabis cultivation have tended to steer toward the sustainable, the organic, the ecologically and socially conscious (soaring electric bills of 2018 notwithstanding). Rivero said that the cannabis industry can become a standard-bearer and a national leader in renewable energy use and sustainable infrastructure development. Businesses across a spectrum of domestic industries could draw lessons from cannabis cultivation and distribution operations.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the legalization of cannabis will be a revolution for American society and business.