Phish

This is one of the strips that got me hate mail, back in the Mike The Pod days. I used to make it so that you could e-mail me, and if you were nasty, I’d just post your missive on my site. In the beginning, I’d labor over a lengthy reply. Now I don’t care. There’s no reason to even acknowledge that sort of thing. It once was a fun holdover from the letters column of magazines like MAD and CRAZY, where readers would playfully insult the periodical or its writers. In the Internet age, it just morphed into harassment and libel. There’s a world of difference between an angry letter in print and an e-mail complaint. And no cartoonist worth their salt pays any attention to negative comments.

I hear it again and again on social media: someone in comics or movies is being harassed because of their association with something. Listen to me very carefully. That is harassment. Not criticism. The two must never be confused or conflated. Harassment is not only illegal, and a matter for law enforcement, but it’s emotional terrorism. As a rule, I do not negotiate with terrorists. If another person is screaming insults at me, I am under no obligation to acknowledge that person. They have broken protocol. If I do address that person, I set the standard that I am now willing to endure harassment. Emphatically, I am not. I have enough friends and acquaintances that I can cut someone out of my life completely, if they disrespect me. They get the silent treatment. I never speak to or of them again, excepting any closing explanations I make here, or in comics.

If someone disrespects me enough, they are dead to me. They don’t get bad energy, or good energy, from me. They get nothing. They lose. Good day sir.

Think of any Marvel or Disney properties you might currently enjoy, or just about any major movie. Is there an ongoing “flame war” about it, on Reddit, or Twitter? Is there a “radicalized fandom”? That’s the fault of the studio’s Standards & Practices Department. They should know by now that there is no “winning” an Internet argument. The only way to win is not to play. Not to do anything but ignore the nastier aspects of fan groups. When you ignore things, they stop being news. The world does not end, and your life is in no way affected. Try it, you’ll see. Do you think Bjork feels responsible for that psycho-stalker she had a few years ago? Does Jodie Foster feel responsible for attracting the affections of an assassin? I can’t say for certain, but I’d guess no, and no.

You ignore behaviors that you find truly abhorrent. You don’t memorialize them in any form unless you’re reciting testimony in court, or to a law enforcement officer. If someone hates you because of something you created; fuck ’em. Letting them get to you will only weaken your position.

In any case, the part of the above strip that deserves hate mail is me saying “What up wit dat” in panel three. God damn, what the fuck was I thinking. Thankfully it doesn’t even look like me, with that awning for a nose. I left my copy of Billy Breathes with a former acquaintance who did a heel turn on me. Otherwise I could scan the liners and show you how hilariously shitty the album packaging looks.

Trey Anastasio recalled in a 1997 interview that the cover came together very quickly on the last day of recording.

“We finished Billy Breathes and our manager kept saying, ‘What are you going to do about the cover?’ So, finally, it was the LAST day, and it was, like three in the morning. They (management) said, ‘We NEED a cover tomorrow.’ You know all those pictures on the back? We cut them out and stuck them on with scotch tape. Mike was on the cover he just shot a picture of himself. The whole thing took like five minutes!”

In a 2007 interview, Tom Marshall said that Trey Anastasio thought the album cover of Mike Gordon’s face ruined the entire album, a feeling Marshall himself shared as well. [Wikipedia]

Mike Gordon- now there’s a shnoz. He’s a terrific bass player, too. What confuses me about the story above, is that in the liners of Billy Breathes, there is a photo of a dog, being pointed at by a hand coming from off-camera. The hand seems to be Anastasio’s, owing to its cock-like finger, from playing acoustic guitar. On the wall behind them is a painting based on the grainy photo Gordon took for the cover, in bold blue and indigo. The painting looks more like a typical Phish album cover than the photo does. How could a painting of a photo taken in the last five minutes of production, be rendered, hung and photographed for the inside of the same album, in time?!

Who knows. Look at Trey Anastasio on the back cover. The photos, in succession, look like Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman and Paige McConnell were goofing about, then Trey lurched in like a weird monster, forcing Mike to get serious. Trey’s like “BLEEAAAAGGGHHH”. The more I look at it the funnier it gets.

Credit where it is due: I still like songs from Billy Breathes more than other Phish offerings. I understand that this makes me a “superficial” Phish listener, in the eyes of their fans. The first track on the album is their highest-charting single. This is what got me into it.

The musical talent of each band member is on full display there. Mike Gordon is also an accomplished banjo player, as evidenced on track four, the tremendous “Taste”. Listen to how deftly the song moves into McConnell’s piano, on counterpoint after the first stanza. This is one of the true highlights of Billy Breathes.

Paige McConnell follows this up with a Hammond-organ instrumental, exhibiting enviable chops before and after he’s joined by the other players. “Cars Trucks Buses” is a considerable show of keyboard skill, an uptempo jazz-funk fusion that evokes the chaos of crosstown traffic.

This was a welcome relief in 1996:

Two tracks later comes “Theme From The Bottom”, the subject of a glowing fan letter reprinted in the album liners. The chord changes are unique and vibrant, and the vocal harmony highlights how well these dudes work together. You don’t even have to be stoned to really enjoy it. This album smokes itself.

Would you like more evidence? Check out track nine, another rare instrumental called “Bliss”. You could spend an entire afternoon with this on repeat. Maybe Phish rushed the cover, but the music is without a doubt among their finest, in my opinion.

“Billy Breathes”, the titular track, is the type of soft-rock I wouldn’t typically enjoy, and yet something about it keeps pulling me back. If you listen closely to the bridge, there’s a wonderful moment where it sounds like a banjo player randomly strolls by and joins in (2:15). Then he tips his hat and saunters on before the next chorus.

The album’s remainder stumbles a bit; “Swept Away” jerks out of a warm snooze into a harsher arrangement, as “Steep”. The closer is a perfect bookend to the opener, in an ode to a relatively obscure Narnia character; “Prince Caspian”. Trey has always been a fantasy geek; one of his earliest bands was called Frodo.

In 2004, Ernest “Trey” Anastasio and Dave Matthews starred in a documentary television show, called Inside Out: Trey and Dave Go to Africa. Dave Matthews sucks. His music is all terrible. He is the quintessential douche-bag. His politics are as deep and thought-out as his songs. Also in 2004, his tour bus dumped almost 100 gallons of the band’s shit in liquid form onto a riverboat and its passengers, from a bridge. I feel like those ill-fated sightseers any time I have to hear Dave Matthews Band.

Evergreen State College is the college “without walls” that’s a punchline in many recent news articles. Their reputation is well earned.

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