A conversation from mid-December…

My brother Brian has absolutely no time for a conversation like this. In no order of significance he has the following things on his plate.
(1) Law school
(2) A six month old baby boy
(3) A full time job
(4) A saint of a wife who also has a full time job and said six month old to take care of while Brian either attends class or is studying, which, outside of work, is 98.2% of his waking time. I make it a point to catch him between the 5 o’clock end of his work day and the 5:15 beginning of his school day.

“What’s happening”
“Nothing earth shattering, just calling to let you know that the greatest form of stress relief known to man is driving to or from work listening to the “McNichols Tweezer” very, very loud. You know, probably louder than should be permissible in a car.”
“‘Huh’ thanks for that advice Tom”
“You know, I’m here for you man. I’ve got it timed perfectly so if I start the “Tweezer” as soon as I pull out of the driveway, I can fit in the jam right after “Johnny B Goode” too if I fast forward to it right after the “Tweezer” ends. Good stuff Bri.”

Talking to people who know what I mean when I say “McNichols ‘Tweezer” without explanation is always comforting because, outside of the pre concert environment, those conversations are few and far between. There is a level of familiarity that comes when two obsessive phish fans get together to chat. If my brother and I had a mutual conversational wheel house that had a name it would read something along the lines of “phish nut.”

At any rate due to my brother’s masochistic schedule, I thought he could use some stress relief and I had been applying the aforementioned technique periodically to some success. The method goes something like this:

I leave the house sometime between 6:37 and 6:40am every Tuesday through Saturday. I used to be a steadfast devotee of morning talk radio in various forms but the acceptable options that are available in eastern Long Island have dwindled. The number one talk show in the area is Boomer and Carton and they leave you feeling like you did in college when you drank a Milwaukee’s Best at 9 in the morning after a hangover, you know, dirty and low rent. I don’t have satellite radio so Stern is out, Imus has devolved into a shill for Fox news and the Republican party and NPR at seven in the morning….I might as well pop an ambien and get in the car. So gradually I have turned more and more to my I-pod for morning background noise on the commute to work. The selections run the gamut from classical music to various podcasts to whatever indie band I happen to be in love with at the time. But every so often, when I really need to blow off some steam before hitting the office, I’ll dial up the “McNichols Tweezer.”

By the time I reach Paquatuck Rd., 50 yards from my driveway, the first strains of the “Tweezer” riff are in full volume on my car speakers. One of the keys to the success of this routine is that by the time the song proper is over I have already driven through East Moriches and am just getting onto the Sunrise Highway on ramp heading east bound as the improvisational portion begins. Now splayed out before my wind shield is the eastern portion of the pine barrens, one of the last vestiges of (mostly) untouched nature in Long Island, framed, at most times of the year, by the sun rising slightly to the right of my windshield (I am heading almost due east on Sunrise Highway.) The endless acres of dwarf pitch pines and their larger cousins form an undulating, monochromatic vista that is as impressive in its small, dense habit as the redwoods of California are for the opposite reasons.(1) It is one of a handful of landscapes locally that refute the stereotypical Long Island vista and it provides a complimentary visual backdrop for the right piece of music. Certain landscapes, seasons and moods lend themselves perfectly to certain music. Just like the Grateful Dead is the perfect band for an 80 degree day with bright sunshine, like “Astral Weeks” is a great album for a mid April, “spring is here” type day or how Wilco is the perfect band for a post rehab analysis of lyrics. I rarely listen to the Grateful Dead in the winter and I rarely listen to the “McNichols Tweezer” unless I am driving through this stretch of the Pine Barrens.
Sunrise Highway cuts right through its heart and for miles I won’t drive by any of the strip malls or compact, aesthetically barren suburb towns and have none of the bumper to bumper traffic that blights the commuters in Nassau county and western Suffolk. A lot of the things that give my home island a bad reputation slowly dissipate as one heads eastward.

“Fall 97 is my time Thomas. I’ll have to take you up on that method one of these days.”
“Dude there really is nothing better than the “McNichols ‘Tweezer”, its just the perfect jam.”
“Point well taken but isn’t that a little extreme for 6:30 in the morning?”

It should tell you all you need to know about my relationship with my brother that this year I called him a day late to wish him a happy birthday but sent him a text message at 5:48 in the morning on December 29th of last year that simply read “Happy Anniversary.”(2)

I’m sure 99% of the population would consider the “McNichols Tweezer” psychedelic too but for my purposes it is the perfect piece of music for my commute. The band picks up steam while the backdrop of the pine barrens, deep green, billions and billons of needles giving way to the rising sun, the monotony of the trees only broken by a lone radar tower that sits atop the highest point near the Westhampton exit.

“Dude, the jam is just so simple, and the beauty is in its simplicity. I mean when Trey changes that funk chord vamp thing up one step it ends up being pretty dramatic even though he’s just really shuffling a chord up the fret board. And his solo, its like he is possessed by Hendrix, Brian.”
“I know Thomas, there is nothing like listening to the same Tweezer 258 times.”

Its not the most dramatic, daring or compelling piece of improvisation that Phish has pulled off by a long shot. What it is though, is a piece of music that is note perfect, a full band improvisation that sounds like it was composed from start to finish that builds patiently and orderly from start to finish.

Imagining what it would be like to fill the shoes of your favorite band is and always will be a schoolboy fantasy. I am 30, jaded, and ridiculously spoiled when it comes to music consumption and yet every time I listen to this, I always wonder what it would have been like to have been behind the guitar, bass, piano or drums for that piece. The buildup that starts around the 13 minute mark on the Live Phish version gets me every time after more listens than can be counted. The swirling piano, the synched up rhythm section and the crescendo of ascending notes from the guitar approach the level of an improvised fugue and makes me slam my steering wheel every time the 15:30 mark slides by.(3) THIS WAS THE OPENER!!

“Is this really the only reason you called Tom?”
“More or less (laughter in the background.) I know I’ve just wasted a few minutes of your life that you’ll never have back. Sorry Bri.”
“No problem.”
“New Year’s Day Brian.”
“New Year’s Day Tom.”(4)


(1)On the surface this may seem like an insane thing to say but I am serious, anyone who wants to take a hike through the Pine Barrens is welcome to e-mail me directly so I can justify this statement.

(2)12/29/97 was his first show.

(3)I’m convinced that when Trey and Page were being interviewed in Europe in “Bittersweet Motel”, wearing ridiculous Sunglasses, and Trey was talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Pumping Iron” this was the 2 ½ minutes he was really talking about even though he said he was, ahem, cumming all the time.

(4)My brother and would celebrate our 10th show attended together at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Day.