Thoughts Out on the Page: B-Boys Makin’ With the Phreak

Most Phish fans, when asked the question “what kind of music do you like?”, probably answer, if not exactly this, something close to it: “You know, pretty much everything”.  What this means, or intends to convey, is that the person responding is a lover/connoisseur of music in general, and, as such, does not subscribe to whatever categorizations “The Man” tries to enforce with his iTunes/Walmart/Clear Channel ghettos.  By rejecting labels (even, and certainly including, “jam band”) we are aligning ourselves against the crumbling monolith of the recording industry and asserting that music, as a whole, matters to us.  In other words, we are Phish fans.  And, even if we don’t realize it, we are also emulating another middle-aged musical group, the Beastie Boys.

Let me back up and try to make some sense here.  Since the inception of popular music, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant and successful musicians.  The vast majority of these bands/musicians have been extremely gifted at playing just one type of music.  Even those musicians who are extremely unique– those who history typically describes as “boundary-breaking”, still play basically the same type of music their entire careers.  Phish, on the other hand, does not “break” any boundaries, nor do they shatter or defy them.  They just make music.  Phish fans, as a result, are fans of music.

How many groups are there today that you can really say the same about?  The only one that really works, for me, are the Beastie Boys.  In 1989, just three months separated from one another, Phish released “Junta” and the Beastie Boys dropped “Paul’s Boutique”.  Though both bands had been around for some time—the Beastie Boys had already achieved mainstream success with their frat-rap caricatures on “Liscense to Ill” while Phish had released the “White Tapes” and were touring for years—both albums could been seen as the bands’ true starting lines.  Junta, and the following tours, sees Phish fully embracing the amalgam of large-scale compositions and improvisation that would become their hallmark.  Similarly, Paul’s Boutique finds the Beastie’s shirking their shallow mainstream success and inventing a new style that densely compacted their many influences and allowed them to reveal their true kidding-on-the-square personas.

Since then, each band has taken so many twists and turns that to go through their entire careers and compare them to one another would take many years and an entire monastery of the world’s most diligent Trappist monks (until then, here’s Wikipedia).  Suffice it to say, I cannot think of any other current musician that has covered more territory than these two bands.  Like their fans, they truly defy categorization.  And if that’s not enough, here’s some more ways Phish and the Beastie Boys are similar…

First off, neither group is afraid to get silly:

“Smell my mule, you better watch out where you go
take your laser beams away”

“Yea, you know I’m getting silly.
Got a grandma Hazel and a grandma Tilly”

“This is not a stupid song. THIS IS REDROCKS! THIS IS THE EDGE!”

“I said son, you better listen
stuck in your ass is an electrician”

They’ve both been around for a while and are not afraid to say so:

“My Rhymes age like wine as I get older”

“20 years later, I’m still upside down”

Both share a healthy respect for the Mango:

“Your hands and feet are mangoes, you’re gonna be a genius anyway”

“I’ve got more rhymes than Jamaica’s got mangoes”

And a healthy disrespect for school:

“Can’t this wait till I’m old, can I live while I’m young?”

“I’m the king of the classroom – coolin’ in the back
My teacher had beef so I gave her a smack”

Each have had important collaborates over the years and have no qualms about giving shout outs:

“Next time we saw Karl and Raul
Rodney had taken your place
He played like the wind and the water
But we still missed your smiling face”

“Me and Adam Adam and Mario C
In the studio it’s the place to be
To all party people who are happy and free
With Mix Master Mike, we’re making history”

Both fill their songs with inside jokes:

“My man MCA’s got a beard like a billy goat”

“I’d like to get his autograph
But he looks too much like Dave”

“I go off like nothing can phase me
You think we’ll ever meet Stevie? One of these days, D.”

“The thesis that you’re writing is a load of shit
but I’m glad you finally finished it”

And obscure references:

“Now I’ve got to bust with the Putney Swope sequel”

“Washa uffize drive me to Firenze”

“And when I’m in Holland I eat the pannenkoeken”

“Give the director a serpent deflector
a mudrat detector, a ribbon reflector
a cushion convector, a picture of nectar
a virile dissector, a hormone collector”

And have a lot of nicknames for each other, which only true fans know:

“They call me Mike D, Joe Blow the Lover Man”

“Then the wolfman’s brother came down on me”

“Nickname Shamrock, my name is not Shamus”

“Play it, Leo!”

Finally, both share a similar spirituality that is influenced heavily by Buddhism and focused on humility, gratitude and the connectivity of nature:

“I give thanks for this world as a place to learn
And for this human body that I know I’ve earned”

“If you would stop and notice that we number every day
But allow the many moments left uncounted slip away
You don’t have to count them, just enjoy them one by one
Then things would take a different hue and sparkle in the sun
The winds would lift you up into the sky”

But in the end, there’s really only one comparison that matters.  That’s right, they both love the bowl.

Chris Kuroda, meet Hollywood Bowl. You two play nice.

Both the Beastie Boys in 2009, and Phish this year, booked highly anticipated shows at the world famous Hollywood Bowl. Unfortunately, the Beastie Boys had to cancel their show due to MCA’s throat cancer, which he is now in full recovery from.  How fitting is it then, at least from this writer’s perspective, that Phish should make their long-awaited debut at the Bowl in the same summer that the Beastie Boys make their triumphant comeback and release their first album in seven years?

So summing up, if you’re a Phish fan who discounts the Beastie Boys out of hand, buying the same types of false-labels and stereotypes others apply to Phish, it’s not just ignorant—it’s a sabotage.