I’m a longtime supporter of the troubadours, the bards, even the rakish mountebanks who proffer wisdom and humor for the people. To quote one of the great beacons of my more writerly habits, Tom Robbins, “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
The reason I like ’em all is because they tend to be virulently anti-fascist and anti-imperialist in their creative work and public character. And they’re often very funny. This matters quite a lot to me. A keen wit and an incisive humanitarian commentary are how I arm myself and revel in life with my loved ones.
(Why am I writing this? Why is any of this happening?)
Take Raffi Cavoukian, for instance. He helped kick-start my interest in music back when I was knee-high to a scruffy mutt, and I haven’t stopped listening to whatever sonic innovation and good-time grooves I can find. It’s how I spend my time, collecting perspectives and knowledge and jokes. Music is a terrific vehicle for all of the above, as are things like “books.” I’m not sure if that word means what I think it means in your modern tongue, but “books” convey ideas and narratives and fantastical visions of what once was and what might one day be again. Selah.
Shout out to Phish’s 12/7/97 show, one of the finest examples of pure setlist flow and groovy, you-can’t-do-that-on-TV cow funk you’re bound to find out there in this world. Unless I’m mistaken, this is the sort of thing that soothes souls in trying times.
The opening suite is just marvelous stuff here. AC/DC Bag segues smoothly into the kinetic vamp of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, which glides effortlessly into ZZ’s Jesus Just Left Chicago. It’s a masterful opener, and it sets the tone for everything that comes later. (This is one of those shows, too, where I’d argue that the first set is *even better* than the deep kaleidoscope of sound in the second set.) It’s Ice -> Swept Away -> Steep -> It’s Ice is blissful insanity., for example.
Of course, like you, I come back to this show for the Tube -> Tube Jam. It’s one of the great funk jams in Phish’s live canon–and it came during the almighty Fall ’97 tour, that crystallization period in the band’s history when they shifted deftly from hyper-manic alien-geek prog improv to the aforementioned cow funk. To paraphrase one of my favorite writers on the matter: After climbing to the peak of New Year’s Eve run in 1995 and laying down cultural touchstones like the Clifford Ball and the Great Went, the band had nothing else to do but dance.
I had this quote written on a piece of paper and taped to my closet door through college, through two dorm rooms and a wonderful apartment on Court Street in Athens, Ohio: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”
It’s from Yasutani Roshi, Japanese Zen master and the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan.
As time buzzes onward, I think about this idea more often.
“Maybe it was all about delusions of integrity. In his own twenties he had thought overmuch about not compromising when no one was asking him to compromise. At that age a specific rigidity seemed necessary to isolate yourself from your own confusion and to invent the person you were to become.”
Jim Harrison, The Land of Unlikeness
It’s one of two novellas in Harrison’s The River Swimmer (the other novella being the title track). I first read it probably four years ago, shortly after it was published, I think? A lot of things were different then.
At the end of the year, I like to reread books. Revisit things. Revisit perceptions. It’s a good way to keep up my reading habit while also tending to the calendric spiral of December.
I reread Don DeLillo’s White Noise recently. It’s incredible.
But the Harrison novella—and I’m only 20 pages in or so—is fascinating already in how different I feel about it. The protagonist is 60, weighed down by failed dreams and abandoned bonds, and he’s returning home to the rural stretches of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Now, I don’t feel the haunting specter so much these days, but, having emerged from a hazy decade of glimmer and grim, I carry a renewed zeal for things like dreams and bonds. I see it all from a new vantage point. I see the fragility of the gambit, the assertion, the leap of actual and unspoken integrity.
It’s a very important thing, and I lose sight often enough. Reading refocuses the lens. Frames the picture once again.
What a weird decade that was! What a blob of triumph and error! I drank cocktails at a westside bar the other night with my dad, and he pointed out: Whatever happened, it got me to the present moment. It brought me to my fiancée. It brought me to a rising line of self-actualization. Everything that rises must converge.
“Delusions of integrity.” Sure!
This is the only piece of Scripture I’ve bothered to memorize. I’m not sure if there will be another, though I’ve toyed with the idea of reading the Bible in 2019 (a year I’m setting aside for “bigger” works of fiction).
Anyway. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
You are your thoughts, your words, your exchanges, your glances, your mirrored idiosyncrasies, your haphazard lollygagging, your mindless tyrannies, your aching heart, your brutish nostalgias, your seasick futures; you are me, and I am you. The point of all of this isn’t to be seen, it is simply to practice quietly and, perhaps most importantly, to listen to everything that feeds your head. Then let it be.
“If they didn’t understand the Beatles and the Sixties then, what the fuck could we do for them now? Do we have to divide the fish and the loaves for the multitudes again? Do we have to get crucified again? Do we have to do the walking on water again because a whole pile of dummies didn’t see it the first time, or didn’t believe it when they saw it? You know, that’s what they’re asking: ‘Get off the cross. I didn’t understand the first bit yet. Can you do that again?’ No way. You can never go home. It doesn’t exist.”
John Lennon, Playboy interview, September 1980