In middle school I took a music appreciation class. It was actually pretty fun and covered an extremely diverse set of music. I was at just the right stage in developing my own musical tastes to really be open to all of it. Traditional symphonic, avant-garde, musicals, it was all over the place and all very interesting.
I remember being able to take a cassette home of the music from the class. I can't remember if this was required homework, or if we were only expected to listen to stuff in class. It's not like there were real tests or anything… this was a middle school elective. It's funny, because now all I can think of is how much of a mess distributing copywrited material is. Supposedly there are allowances for educational use, but I can just see poor Mr. Pew getting thrown in prison for trying to “pirate” music for the children. The music business is such an ugly misguided place.
Anyway, there were lots of songs in that class. But I definitely remember "Roundabout", and feeling that it was cool to have a class where it was my homework to listen to rock music.
My first real concert was Phish at the Evergreen State College. I was young, so I went with my dad. And my brother, I think? And Kevin? How do I not remember these details? It doesn't matter, I was going to see a real live band that I was interested in. And apparently I would see them with a whole bunch of hippies, who were getting totally baked. I was completely oblivious to all of this; my dad was not, but gets points for not freaking out.
I had no concept of what this concert would be like. Before going to the show I actually thought there was a chance that I would meet the band. I thought I might be put on the spot and I was anxious about not having anything to say. I had learned how to play some parts of their songs on the guitar, but I was worried about performing them in front of, you know, the whole crowd. Really, my imagination went wild. The reality of course was far less intimidating, as I could just hang out on the bleachers and enjoy watching.
I specifically remember "Silent in the Morning" from the encore. The song has this part where there are four beats at the end of each round of the chorus. Performed live this was combined with a spot light that cycled over the four musicians in time with the beat. It was so cool to see subtle visuals like that tied to the music in small but impactful ways. It wasn't just watching the music being performed live; there was an effort to somehow enhance the experience in the process.
This song wasn't played at the concert I was at, but it was released on the live album that came out shortly thereafter. For me it is one of the best recorded examples of how live Phish felt to me.
It's a long track, and it's barely even a song. There are movements through a rough structure, and at points some words are tied in there. But it's not about being a song; it's about going on a journey. Around four minutes in the music gets real quiet and turns into something entirely different, and quite beautiful. Towards the end (yes, ten minutes in), it's built to a glorious climax that feels appropriate and rewarding.
The band isn't recreating a heavily rehearsed combination of verse and chorus; it's more like they're rediscovering the music again for the first time. They're listening and watching to each other, playing off each other's ideas, and trying to move in the same direction. Sometimes it doesn't work out well; sometimes wonderful unexpected things come out. But it's always very real.
I'm not an angry person. I've never needed music as an outlet for my aggression against The Man. But I totally got into my brother's Rage album. I liked the way it sounded, and I didn't really care what they were actually saying. Maybe I did find something liberating about someone yelling "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me" over and over again. I didn't personally have problems with people telling me to do stuff, but maybe this guy did, and yelling about it seemed to help him. I had no problem with that.
But really I can't listen to this album and not remember myself playing Earthworm Jim. I think it was a weekend rental, and I sat down and played it with this Rage album as a soundtrack. At some point during this my brother's friends came by unexpectedly and froshed me by throwing me into the bay. It must have been the summer between 8th grade and 9th grade, where I would become a Freshman. It was close enough for them. I was pretty relaxed about the whole experience - and in turn they were nice enough to let me take my shoes off first. Afterwards I came back in the house, dried off, and played more Earthworm Jim. Apparently Rage didn't make me angry, even in the face of being hazed and powerless.
Ah, MMW, a trio of musicians on a path between two places, and another musical gift from Kevin. On one hand they have this jazzy abstract background. On the other hand they're able to produce something like this, a groovy song that just felt so… cool. It was impossible for me to listen to this and not fall in love with the bite of that organ.
I explored the band deeper after experiencing this song. A lot of their older stuff was pretty unhinged, sometimes feeling more like an avant-garde mess. But at times it would manifest into Music, and when it did it was powerful. As time moved forward you could see the band harness a more modern sound, unafraid of incorporating new music elements. In general this also corresponded with an increase in listenability.
Overall I found MMW to be extremely uneven. But as with Phish I appreciated their experimental spirit and how their chaos made the order that formed out of it all the more beautiful.