It is forever settled. There is no denying that Phish and the Grateful Dead are inextricably linked. And guess what, whether you like it or not, that’s not your decision anyway. The musicians have spoken. No matter what angle you take, be it the jaded old head, the satiated yet forever Grateful convert or a noob that never got to ride or understand the first wave, it’s been clear all along that these two bands identify with each other, they like each other and the strong connection between these two worlds; so different, yet so alike, has come to a head.
Considerable seismic activity has shook the head community with the announcement of the Grateful Dead’s final three shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field, featuring the remaining core members, Trey and those other two guys. I for one am absolutely ecstatic and have a tab open checking flights to Chicago on an hourly basis as I type. But the big news has drawn lines in the sand, and the camps have taken to the airwaves.
But the verdict is in. The converts win. The ride continues for us. We never left Jerry, he left us. And rest assured he has always remained in our hearts. There has never been a rivalry for me, only evolution. The transition for us back in the early nineties made sense. Jerry was fading, and it hurt very much to watch him go. But we refused to let the torch extinguish itself. We helped Phish pick it up and let it burn in a whole new way. I have an old friend, a quality dude who never managed to get on the train with our beloved boys from Burlington. But he does not begrudge me my new love; rather he’s happy for me, commenting how lucky I am “to still be crazy about a band, to still have that thing”. Those jaded old vets, the ones that actually bash Phish, are suffering from a sort of survivor envy, or they are just unhappy people. It’s ok if you don’t get it or just don’t like it, but that’s still your problem. Don’t make it ours. Don’t hate that we found the new shaman. We’re still riding high. The magic never left us. And as far as any new Phish fans who bash Jerry, well that’s just lame. Jerry was the original badass. No one knows that better than Trey.
So, why the hate? Do the old vets think Phish hijacked the Dead’s sound? Are they upset that they didn’t? Or are they like sad and lonely widows, never again able to find a love that measures up? We all know that Phish and the Dead are very different musically. I mean, really. Could you imagine the Dead penning “Stash” or “Fluffhead” or “YEM.” Thank God they didn’t copy the Dead’s sound. There are a lot of band’s that did. And they ring hollow because they are glorified copycats. And personality-wise, the two bands couldn’t be further apart. Phish are a band of nerdy clowns, masters of their craft who stumbled into rock stardom via true grit and uncanny timing. Could you imagine Bill Kreutzmann stripping off his Mumu at a Halloween show, flashing his untucked stack of dimes for all to see? Granted, the personalities that have been the Dead are so complex they cannot even be described, but their music, the sound of sun shining through crystals, can and never will be replicated.
We know what the bands have in common; the scene for one, though I remember the Dead scene being a bit kinder. And to be sure, they paint on the same canvas, with lush improvisation and show structures that give you your money’s worth, seeing something new every night, every time. And of course, they share the warmth; the music that is the soundtrack to your life, the consummate makers of the hippie groove. Everything else is different.
Did Phish fill the huge vacuum left by the Dead? Of course they did. Nice timing boys, as usual. But by that point Phish was already a formidable national touring act, well deserving of taking over the hippie-band helm for the ensuing decades. Any poor schmuck knows that no one will ever fill Jerry’s shoes, but for this moment in time, there is no one better to take his place than Trey. The fact is that those of us who have graciously crossed over are the winners. We are still at the party. For those of you who can’t let go of the past, I hear Foreigner and REO Speedwagon will be headlining Nostalgia-stock at your mama’s house. Don’t forget the brown acid. I for one can’t wait to go to Chicago to reach back into the past, with two feet planted firmly in the present, with Big Red on the shredder.