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Boy. Man. God. Fluff: My Life In The Church Of Phish (Part One)

by Jesse Lauter on September 23, 2013

If you’ve been to a Phish concert, then you know that people attend to achieve a heightened sense of self and community. I'm not saying that's not the case with other bands, but there is a certain sense of "highness" that comes with a Phish show. There are times when I’m at a Phish concert, observing hordes of people lost in transcendental dance or meditation and it’s hard not to think that this concert is no different than going to church, specifically one where the goal is to reach some form of the Holy Spirit. “The Phish Sound,” specifically within a jam, is based around tension and release, which is why the comparisons to gospel music are not far-fetched. Tension and release is simpatico with sex. You build and build and drive and drive until you reach an enlightened moment, or the peak or.... the orgasm. For this reason, some may view people who follow Phish as “narcissistic and hedonistic and ultimately empty” (a quote from a horrifying 2002 New York Times article comparing Phish fandom to breaking the Second Commandment), but Phish’s positive and historically-informed music, and the generally joyful nature of the audience, debunk this characterization.

The four members form the wheels of a vehicle and the driver, usually Trey, leads the melodic journey (one could make the argument that Jon Fishman, in the all-too-important drummer’s seat, is actually the driver. A band is only as good as its drummer). To my ears, it is no different than hearing a great minister deliver a sermon, yet the difference being it’s not supposed to be about the solo or monologue, but rather group dialogue. In this respect, I often think Phish is like the John Coltrane Quartet for contemporary rock. When they’re on a roll, they’re completely in tune with each other and in turn, the entire congregation-- from the freaks riding the rails in the front to the blissed-out folks in the back. But this is not a singular religion with any specific creed or dogma. It is whatever you make of it. It is our own religion where we worship our own spirits. And if they ever preached to us, we wouldn’t want to hear it. Can I get an Amen?

This band’s sound forces you to think and feel big things-- majesty, wonder, future possibilities, The Big Picture. A Phish show is therapy for the soul. It reveals and it heals. With the combination of musical diversity, personal histories, community, and a sense of humor, the Church of Phish culminates with a transcendental live experience that really has no equal. It’s a place where you can be comfortable in your own skin, dress in costume even, and no one will judge you for it (dress-up is actually encouraged). I go to Phish concerts to feel good about myself, to experience a higher power that I know I can’t experience anywhere else. We all go to communicate with something buried within ourselves. To break open that big idea that has been brewing inside of us. To realize that your boyfriend or girlfriend is someone you want to be with forever or someone you may need to say goodbye to soon. To say “to hell with this job!” and quit what makes you unhappy. This is why we always go back, time after time, and pay the price of admission. This has been said by many, but Phish is not just a band. It’s a way of life. At this church, the mantra is “sharin in the groove.” The messiah? Fluffhead. The antichrist? Wilson. The story of creation? Boy, Man, God, Shit.

I know comparing a Phish concert to church may be off-putting to some but it’s just the way I see it. I’m also aware of the differences (it’s not like you can go to Trey for moral advice or have Mike officiate your wedding). For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve had a lot experience in houses of worship. I am Jewish and grew up fairly observant in the conservative Jewish movement. I went to a Jewish day school until the 8th grade, where I introduced many classmates to Phish, and went to a Jewish camp for several summers. I am no longer observant but consider myself culturally Jewish. When I moved to New York, one of my first jobs was as a sound engineer at a multi-cultural church in the East Village. This was a very eye-opening experience into the worship service as a production and business. I learned a lot about myself, Jesus, and my feelings about organized religion. I held onto that position for five years, all while I did records and tracks for The Low Anthem, Elvis Perkins, and Marco Benevento, among others. In 2011, I left the church gig for an Audio-Visual job at a synagogue in midtown Manhattan, where I continued to work as a record producer (maybe you’ve heard the record business isn’t the most lucrative these days. The God business is doing just fine).

I quit my job at the synagogue this past May to commit myself to music-production full-time, subsequently clearing my schedule for summer tour. I hit the road with my friends Aaron, Julian, and Trevor, and met up with plenty of others along the way. I first met Aaron and Trevor at Phish’s stand at Bethel Woods in 2011. Julian is Aaron’s brother and we met at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 2012.Our friendships transcend the label of “Phish friends,” as we’ve shared wonderful times together outside of church, but we met for one reason-- Phish.

To be continued...

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