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Random Shuffle: The Magnetic Fields, Phish & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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"Chicken With Its Head Cut Off" – The Magnetic Fields
From the album 69 Love Songs

When I was younger, and much more single I used to promise myself that when I found love I would do everything in my power to keep it. I understood that relationships needed near constant gestures of romance, no matter how old they were. When I finally found the girl who would become my wife I went a little overboard with those gestures.

At first.

On our very first Valentine's Day as a couple I decided that one day wasn't good enough for my baby and so I dedicated the first 14 days of February to our burgeoning love. Each day I gave my darling a gift. They ranged from the small: a simple Hallmark card, or a mix-CD to the more elaborate: home made cards made out of construction paper and a very involved box of chocolate.

In those days we weren't living in the same state so I brought all 14 of those gifts to her the weekend before February came and made her open only one on the day marked on the gift. Were it my goal to make her fall madly in love, this would have worked big time. It worked so well that I've never heard the end of it. Every Valentine's day since all I get are complaints that we no longer celebrate the 14 days of Valentine, but only one.

I'd like to say I did better this year, but several boxes of chocolate and a fried chicken dinner just don't compare. I still believe that relationships need regular reminders of romance, but I also understand just how difficult that can be. We are in each other’s presence on a nearly constant level. We share most everything. The notion of what a romantic gesture is seems to have changed from when we were dating to now that we're married. While dating anytime I took her to dinner it was a big deal, and now its just getting food because we're too tired to cook. While dating I used to wash her dishes and this got big kudos, while now its just doing one of my many jobs around the house. Romance now means big gestures, and who has the energy for that?

There are many small gestures though, and I think she sees that, from cleaning out the kitty litter to placing a glass of water by her bedside table. These are constant, daily reminders that I love her more than anything else on this earth.

And when I lay my head down in her lap and feel her fingers massaging my scalp, I too know she loves me.

"Prince Caspian" – Phish
From the album Billy Breathes

When Jerry Garcia died there was a lot of talk about what band could possibly replace the Grateful Dead. I mean there were hundreds, if not thousands, of old hippies who made their livelihood from following the Dead around selling pot, t-shirts and kind veggie burritos. What were those people to do, get day jobs?

Phish was the band on top of most people's list as the best band to continue waving the freak flag, but for every convert there were many more naysayers. Try as I might I've never been able to get into them.

I've been trading bootlegs for over a decade now. There are many codes amongst traders and the cardinal rule is that you never, ever pay for a bootleg. These bands that we love allow fans to tape their concerts and trade them for free, paying for these gifts is a huge sin.

When it came to my first Phish listen, I broke that rule. Some trader somewhere had hit some hard times and was offering up a box full of something like 50 Phish shows for a small chunk of change. He said he didn't have time to trade for them all, and the cash was really just to cover the cost of the cassettes and postage. I had wanted to hear some Phish and this seemed like a good opportunity to jump right in, a baptism of fire if you will. Except the baptism never took. I remained a heathen.

Problem 1: All the cassettes were like fourth generation audience recordings and they sounded like crap. Problem 2: Phish are a jam band, and like the Grateful Dead their basic song structures are just jumping off points in a live setting. Each song contained like 10 minutes of improvisational jamming. While I dig the jam, I wanted to understand their songs first and then find the jam, and this just wasn't possible. Problem 3: Their lyrics are terrible. Many people have compared them to Frank Zappa, and that's fair enough but there is nothing, just absolutely nothing I could sink my teeth into. I'm not a huge lyrics person, but I do want something that is comprehensible, that I can understand on an emotional level when I'm screaming them out on a hot summer's night.

I gave most of the tapes a quick listen, held onto them for a long while hoping maybe some day I'd find Phish salvation, and eventually took the whole box to work and placed a sign reading "phree phish" on it and watched them slip into the night.

"I Shall Not Be Moved" – The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
From the album In The Sweet Bye & Bye

I absolutely adore public libraries. What a marvelous use of our tax dollars. Having moved on average every two years of my adult life one of the first things I do when moving into a new town is check out the local library. I am never disappointed. Currently we live in a rather small town which means a rather small library but still, it has a lovely selection of books and a generous amount of DVDs. Where it lacks is in the CD collection. I've found this to be true for most libraries, they just don't seem to stock up on music.

This always makes me miss the Monroe County library in Bloomington, Indiana – quite possible the most wonderful library I've ever known. They had a massive allotment of space over two floors. They had just about every book you could possibly want, and their media selection was out of this world. Rumor had it that they had bought out a failing local video store and their DVD selection was marvelous for it. They had a great collection of obscure, foreign and art-house flicks. Their CD selection was likewise brilliant. The wife and I would go nearly ever week, grab a couple of books, a few movies for the weekend and as many CDs as our hands could hold.

I used to think of the music as a kind of poor man's bit-torrent. Here I could listen to a selection of music I'd never buy, decide if I liked it and then add them to my list of bands I needed to know. Listening now to a band I had never heard of before I picked them up randomly at the library, allowing their swinging jazz covers of old gospel numbers to warm my heart as I watch snow once again fall on west Tennessee, I can't help but think that whoever decided our local communities needed a place such as a library is nothing short of a saint.

I think I'll go see what they've got today.

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About Mat Brewster

  • davidbowieUB40

    i think anyone who thinks that Phish doesn’t have decent lyrics needs to open their mind and listen. Tom Marshall is an amazing lyricist (and so is Frank Zappa). Just because its different from anything else you’re used to doesn’t make it bad.