Wednesday 06/16/2004 by Lemuria

PHISH WAS HARD WORK

Written by Dan Hantman 6/16/04; posted with his permission 11/5/12...

So, I've obviously been thinking a lot about The End of Phish. I realized today that the last show will be almost exactly 10 years after I first heard Phish -- a moment that itself will end up marking roughly the midpoint of the Phish timeline. In that vein, I've been thinking about the portion of Phish's career I've watched unfold in real-time...and all the "big thoughts about music and bands" that Phish has put into my head. I always tell people that Phish taught me how to listen to music. And they certainly taught me what music could mean.

I knew from the moment I heard it that the Announcement was okay, even good. It just felt right in my gut. As I said on this list before, I don't mean to say at *all* that I knew this decision was *coming*, but I definitely was wondering where the band was *going*... and in that context, it all made sense.

So intuitively, on the "heart" level, I was with Trey as soon as I got the news. But I've been trying to put it together on a "head" level. And I think I just got it:

If "Phish" (the idea, the phenomenon) was about one thing... it wasn't about intricate fugues or key changes. It wasn't about sick jamming. It wasn't about drugs or dreadlocks. It wasn't about wacky covers or about cultivating a new Grateful Dead for the suburban-scape. It certainly wasn't about "songwriting." All those things helped shape the band's personality, but they weren't at the core of it.

Rather, Phish was about hard work.

Phish proved, more than any other band, that rock and roll greatness can be archived through sheer, unflinching effort. Phish won because they practiced. Because Trey spend weeks on end writing up the score for crazy wacked-out sonic gymnastics. Because they brought *teachers* out on tour with them to school them in new genres. Because they were constantly forcing themselves to invent: 'Hey' exercises, Oh Kee Pa ceremonies, Big Ball Jams, secret language, hot dogs, musical costumes, macaroni maracas, playing through the night... They never stopped.

Aside perhaps from Fish (who I suspect was born pounding out a rhythm on his round little tummy), I don't think any of the boys is a raw, natural musical genius. There was no Dylan, Hendrix, or Garcia here. They just wanted this so bad, they saw the possibilities, and they went out and fucking did it. That's why when you see Phish at their best on stage, you can see each band member looking around going "holy shit, this is actually fucking happening to me"... no sense of entitlement or expectation, just the joy of somebody who hauls ass and watches it pay off.

And that's why, with the hiatus, and the waning of the desire to bust ass, Phish just had to end.

All bands "stray" from their original genius (use the word "decline" if you want). The Stones are still rocking, but it's just not possible for them to convey the blues-soaked sex romps that defined their glory days. In that way, to the extent that all rock and roll bands are about youth, decline is inevitable. But that's not the point with Phish. Phish *could* have gone on forever, if the impulse to work were still there. If Trey were still calling the other 3 to hop out of bed on a Friday morning and hustle down at 10:15am to work through a set of needlessly difficult exercises -- Phish could go on like that forever. But once they stepped back, took the hiatus, dramatically scaled back the number of shows... it was a foregone conclusion. Phish can't exist at 20, 50 or 75%.

Phish was a 110% operation. The minute it went to 99%, it might as well have been 0%. And I can only say one thing to Trey for having the foresight to see that: Thanks, man.

two cents

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