Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The parallel popularity of a rock band and a politician

In the midst of the presidential primary and caucuses one cannot easily ignore the extravagant political fervor occuring across America. It's damn near impossible to turn on a radio, walk past a T.V., or scroll through a social media feed without experiencing a deluge of campaign promises, systemic disputes, and basically just a whole lot of finger pointing.

Now there are certain candidates (who must not be named) that engage in rather extreme rhetoric resulting in an onslaught of media coverage. Promoting hate, inciting violence, and, well, flagrant disregard for accuracy are among a few of the tactics.

That's one way to do it.  If I were making comparisons to popular musicians of today, this particular candidate may be commensurate with, say, Justin Bieber. You're never quite sure what will come out of his mouth-though you can bet it will be despicable; he is wildly popular-though you aren't exactly sure why; and he is obnoxiously ubiquitous-though I can't name a single goddamn song of his, newscasts are disrupted when he gets arrested.

Yes, that's one way to gain followers.

And then, there is the other side of the political spectrum.

Since the day he announced his bid for president, Bernie Sanders has been persistently undermined by essentially every mainstream media outlet.in the U.S. Despite thousands of supporters consistently overcrowding arenas and auditoriums across the nation to hear Sanders speak, and hundreds more congregating outside his rallies due to capacity limitations, large media outlets in our country don't seem to think this warrants equal coverage.

It's obvious that the energy and momentum are there, but for some reason the folks in charge don't want to acknowledge it because, clearly, this movement is a phase wrapped up in ideals that "will never work".  In the same political/musical comparison as above, Bernie Sanders far away parallels Phish.

Aside from the obvious congruency of hailing from Vermont, the grassroots popularity of the two is unassailable. One of the most prominent, and astounding, aspects of Sanders campaign is his refusal to accept support from super PAC and corporate money.  Now this would seem like a nail in the political coffin, a variance so far from the politics as usual model many assumed this approach would naturally leave his message fruitless. However, much to the contrary, nearly a year after his announcement his campaign has over one million individual contributors who continue to shatter political donation records. Nobody, I imagine even Bernie Sanders himself, thought he would make it this far, but he choose to blaze on down his own trail, unrestricted by the financial motivations of special interest groups.

Phish formed when members Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, and Jon Fishman were still in college. They were not suddenly thrust into the limelight with a number one hit. Alternatively, their climb to popularity was slow and methodical, spread mostly by word of mouth.  Now, I suppose the word popular is subjective because by music industry standards the band would be considered quite the contrary.  A flop, if you will. Of their robust catalog-calculated at somewhere near 900 songs-zero have topped the charts or even been incorporated into radio circulation.  Only one Phish album has ever appeared on the Billboard Top 10 (Billy Breaths, 1996). From the beginning, rather than seeking support from record labels or talent agencies, Phish choose the vastly unconventional route of-gasp!-giving their music away for free. Eager to share their art with the world, the guys encouraged people to record shows for free. Those early pioneering phans would make copies to give to friends, or hand out in the lot at shows. While most bands were pushing to sell records, Phish focused booking gigs, Because every show was unique, fans couldn't get enough,

Much to the surprise of music industry big wigs, this method worked. By the time the internet and file-sharing hit the scene, and people predicted the fall of the music industry, Phish was wholly unaffected and continued to be quite profitable. They began bundling digital downloads with tickets, and live-streaming shows from their website. While technology advancements made it harder for some bands to make a profit, it was only beneficial for Phish; They sold experiences, not albums.

At a Phish show, the excitement is palpable. It's almost as if everyone becomes one collective unit, literally being moved by the sound waves emanating from the stage. The band, in turn, is motivated by the energy of the crowd to push each song to the next level. Every show is an anomalous painting in which everyone present is the artist.

The same "we not I" mentality serves as the foundation of Bernie's campaign. We are all in this together. People are tired of listening to what the record label wants them to buy, and what will, ultimately, fill the pockets of those at the top. They want to be part of an all-inclusive movement, focused on collaboration and unity, not corruption and deceit. A place in which we are all sharin' in the groove.

Ultimately, when it comes down to showtime, who knows what tickets will be available. I don't know about you, but I'd MUCH rather be dancing at a Phish show with a group of jovial gyrators, than experience the torture that would be every minute of a Justin Bieber concert spent fighting off screaming tweens witnessing life through a smartphone screen just waiting for the perfect Instagram photo.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The music never stopped

Sauntering through the sea of people at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara I noticed a common denominator between each; ear to ear grins.  Nostalgia. Anticipation. Intoxication. Whatever the impetus, it didn't matter. This crowd-more than any amalgamation of people I have been among-represented every walk of life, there, together, as one community, created by the sights, sounds, ideals, and antics of one of the most influential bands of the last half century; The Grateful Dead.

The  roars of the crowd brought a rush of adrenaline through me as I scrambled to find a seat, any seat, so as to catch a glimpse of this historic moment. Billy, Bobby, Phil, and Mickey stepping out onto stage for the beginning of the end of their long, strange musical trip together.

I can still feel the electricity of that audience as the opening notes to Truckin' rang out into the evening. An apt choice, with lyrics recounting tales of the band's adventures together, and a metaphor for anyone persevering after simply being shit out of luck.

Sometimes the light's all shining on me. Other times, I can barely see.

It made me realize how life is kind of just one big concert. At times the tallest guy in the crowd is standing right in front of you and others your riding the rail. There are so-so setlists and the kind of runs that leave you spinning. You can overpay scalpers and get miracled in.  But really, it's all what you make of it. There is always room to move your way to the front if you want it badly enough, it just takes patience, kindness, and time...and if you play it right you might make some friends along the way.

The cards ain't worth a dime if you don't lay em' down.

One of most impressive aspects of the Dead's music for me is how it can evoke both the ethereal and the everyday. In lyrics and tonality. A single tune can have you mindlessly gyrating one minute and pondering your place in the universe the next.

As the night, and weekend, continued I was continuously catapulted to each of these mindsets, and drug through every emotion in between. Pinballing between ecstatic and emotional, introspect and angst; the gamut of sentiments experienced through a show is almost exhausting. But exhausting in an exhilarating way; a way that makes you feel alive.

Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

That, my friends, is why the Grateful Dead are one of the most influential, and quintessential American bands. They embody the essence of the American dream. A quirky group of misfits, refusing to fit neatly into a specific genre and instead created their own genre, and with it a subculture. Who knew that by embarking on this musical adventure they would inspire generations of musicians and fans alike. Rather than submit to the demands of financially driven record labels they chose to focus on the heart of the music; the live show. The first truly independent musicians.

Maybe Jerry knew.

It only seems suiting that these 50th anniversary shows not only coincided (nearly) with the dates of their last show together in 1995, but also America's birthday and in 2015 the observance of a landmark Supreme Court case which legalized love, and freed so many oppressed by an antiquated and narrow-minded law.

And now, reminiscing on these shows, with the recordings ringing through my headphones, I feel that electricity all over again. I will forever be able to close my eyes and see that rainbow shining over the stadium in Santa Clara and feel the power of what it represented. Musically. Politically. Socially.

A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Unplug and Reconnect

Even though we are more than a week into 2015 it's been very hard for me to grasp.  It might be because in my head it is still the turn of the century.  Or maybe it's just denial that my 20s are gone.

Either way, over this past week, as I've been struggling with the idea that it is really the year all the discounted new year's paraphernalia says it is, I've been thinking; what does a new year really mean anyway?  Yes, it's widely viewed as a time to start anew; wipe the slate clean of all the things you screwed up on last year and return to a fresh beginning.  But really, doesn't it all just boil down to numbers put in place that organize units of time to appease the demands and preoccupations of society?

Now, it's possible that this is just me grasping onto the "age is just a number" mentality as I come to terms with the fact that I have, indeed, entered my 30s, but too often I think people cling to numerical values in their lives that end up skewing what it is really all about.  As a society, we get fixated on quantities and forget what a moment is really worth.  

How much money should I be making? How many likes did I get?  How much weight should I lose? How many drinks have I had...YES away with numbers!

My goal for 2015 is to shift away from quantifying things in my life and focus more on qualifying them.  To realize the value in the time I am spending here on this earth not by minutes, or dollars, or days but by the quality of how it is spend.  I am going to measure my time in smiles, laughs, hugs. I am going to give as much as I can.  Not money, but appreciation. Gratitude. Company. A willing soul, attentive to the magnitude of a common shared experience.  Whether it's a mind-expanding concert shared with tens of thousands of people, or that simple moment you lock eyes with a stranger whom you've just held the door for.


This past fall, in a humorous, yet ardent delivery, I was reminded of a valuable face of life; our trip is short.  It is so simple, but so significant.  It is not worth wasting energy worrying about all the frivolous and inconsequential things that the media, or society, tells us "should be" important. Get real.

Honestly.  Let's all get real.

Don't get me wrong technology is fantastic, and I appreciate the opportunity to remain connected with friends and family around the world. But I fear we are breaking the connections with the people sitting right next to us.  When the only words exchanged between two strangers is one asking the other to move so you they can get a good Instagram shot, I think there is a problem. We need to make technology a privilege again.  Bring it back to a secondary form of communication in which we control it, rather than it controlling us.

My mother has always had this innate ability to chat with anyone she comes in contact with. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone.  The gas station attendant; her airplane row neighbors; telephone sales clerks.  When I was making the move from Montana to Northern California she accompanied me on part of the road trip that took us through Reno.  She mentioned she'd like to meet up with a friend. Of course, I thought, a great opportunity to catch up with and old friend.  Unbeknownst to me, she had never actually MET this friend.  This friend was a saleswoman from one of the medical supply companies in which mom had ordered from for years.  They were on the phone frequently for business and actually took the time to ask about each others lives and develop an honest to goodness friendship.  When we met up with her (remember prior to this they didn't even know what each other looked like) it was like watching old friends catch up, and it was beautiful.  

I guess what I am getting at is, I challenge everyone to take a moment out of your week to set the phone/computer/tablet down.  Even when you desperately want to know what is happening on your friends Facebook page.  Put the phone down and just take in your surroundings.  Just BE.  Reflect. Take time to connect with yourself so that you will be able to ACTUALLY connect with others. Because I honestly believe that is what can make this world a better place.

So, I guess what I'm saying is take the steps to make it all worthwhile. It's true, our trip IS short.  We are all swimming through this real thing we call life, and we DO have companions on this ride.  Let's not take that for granted.