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Follow the Phish


I was sitting in Shul (that’s Yiddish for Temple or Synagogue)on Wednesday morning for Rosh Hashana listening to my Rabbi lecture about the concept of time when my cell phone started vibrating. One text message after another for about 15 minutes. After the first one, I ignored it and put my phone back in my pocket. I ignored it because it came from a friend who doesn’t often text me unless it has to do with the Yankees. Since the Yanks are now playing golf, I just let it vibrate until I cleared the message. But as the Rabbi started to deconstruct the notions of how we determine time (something to do with the Sun and our million year old alarm clocks) I received another text from someone else. This time, I decided to read it because I was frustrated that my Rabbi wasn’t hitting any salient points. The news was shocking and in fact, brought me to…wait for it…another time. A time when youth was in control and every day was infinite. All the message was: They’re back. 3.6-9. Hampton.

For those not down with the cryptic code, it was announced that Phish, the band that had the most significant influence in my life, was back. It’s an amazing feat that humans can express themselves in various communication forms — whether it’s verbal or nonverbal; music oriented or through film or painting. I learned about life and most importantly myself while listening and following Phish:
I learned that if you’re going to spend a week or more on the road following a band make sure you a) are with the right people, those who’ll look after you if you’re having a bad trip; b) have enough dry clothes in the event of a torrential downpour; c)know that the cop you’re arguing with is a security guard and not a state trooper; d)have a variety of music to satiate your fellow passengers tastes; e)don’t drive into an 18-wheel gas tank truck going 75 mph — you’ll never win; f)have plenty of Pepto-Bismal and accordingly, plenty of toilet paper; and last for now g) always take care of your shoes.

I first started listening to Phish when I was a junior in High School and my life irrevocably changed. When I was growing up (pre-adolescent years) I listened to classic rock stations in NY like WNEW and K-Rock…The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Grateful Dead, The Doors. My friends at the time listened to Z100 and WPLJ — for those non-NY’ers, those are contemporary/pop music. Needless to say, when you’re the weird kid listening unpopular music, the other kids could be harsh. But it was ok because I would come home from school and listen to Abbey Road.

By the time I got to high school, most of my friends had developed a finer taste in music. In fact, I learned about Phish and Dave Mathews from a close friend’s brother (who was in college). I was initiated with the band’s storytelling work called The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (aka Gamehenge). The archetypal narrative meshed with a brilliant score had me enthralled. The intricate improvisation that threw caution to the wind had me hooked. Music, for the first time in my life, moved me.

In college, I developed a penchant for playing music. I taught myself to play guitar, through the grace of people living with me and actually joined a band. Here’s where my exploration into life took a greater meaning.

Away at school, we tend to learn more out of the classroom than in. The friends I met at college were directly related to two things: they played an instrument and they listened to Phish (whether their comprehension of the band was fanatical or transient, it didn’t matter). Through them I learned about jazz and hip-hop; reggae and blues; Nietzsche and Kafka. I started to build my philosophy in life through the people I associated with — and once again, the common link was always Phish.

I have been to countless Phish shows, each one being a bit special, and unfortunately, any other band just doesn’t compare to the experience I have when seeing Phish. Since they were the band that I latched onto in my late adolescent/young adult years they will always be my prototypical band.

So when I received text messages from people who I haven’t spoken to in a long time because they were thinking of me when Phish announced their re-reunion, I realized that time is relative. I look back at my days following the band and I can never recapture that feeling of eternal youth and naivete. Those that listen to the band have, I’m sure, countless stories that are similar in nature, and that is why many of us are excited for their return. The world is always a better place when you’re at a Phish show. It just is. Even after you almost died after crashing with an 18-wheeler (for a complete story on that, ask me and I’ll send you my notes…about 150 pages of story).

This year has gotten off to a great start and as I look into my crystal ball, I can see myself at a show, dancing with glee and knowingly smiling that it doesn’t get quite better than the roar of the crowd after the lights go down and hearing the opening notes to the first set.

L’shana Tova!

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.

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