Time to show my age. I thought the five CD changer was one of the greatest inventions ever. I remember working at a cafe that had one and then finally getting my own Sony 5-CD player. By the time I had my own, it was possible to get a 100-CD player, but I thought that was excessive. I couldn’t nor would I want to figure out 1-100 artists that would go well together. Five discs was perfect. I could do all Beatles (very popular at the cafe) I could do five different jazz CDs (also popular at the cafe) or I could do my favorite mix, Zappa, Genesis and Pink Floyd (not all that popular at the cafe, but more popular than you might think.*) Then one day a co-worker brought in a CD from this relatively new band, Phish.
*One of the coolest memories I have from that job: A woman came in and was listening to a Zappa song and asked if the trombone player was Bruce Fowler. Indeed it was. Turns out she was a music major and a big fan of Bruce Fowler but never listened to his Zappa recordings.
He loved this band, had seen them a year or so before. He even met them back stage. I was (and still am) open to new music, so he put it on. He said I needed to hear it all the way through. This was the fall of 1993 and the latest album by Phish was a concept album called Rift. Jayson showed me the album cover and how every song on the album was pictured. I remember my initial reaction was really enjoying the record, especially because the guitar playing reminded me a lot of Steve Hackett and the early days of Genesis. Hearing the piano and keyboards so prominently added a Genesis kind of vibe too and the lyrics, well, the lyrics were just kind of weird, but I liked that too.
It wasn’t long before I got my own copy of Rift, then A Picture of Nectar, then Junta, then Lawnboy (the only one I had to buy new.) After I had all of the studio recordings Pink Floyd lost their place in my 5 disc rotation, listening to Zappa, Genesis and Phish all at once became the new favorite. I soon found out that people traveled all over to see this band and a lot of folks were making the trip to New England, Worchester, MA to be exact to see them over New Year’s Eve. I didn’t quite get that yet.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Ann Arbor 1994 is where I got it when it came to Phish. But if I didn’t hear Rift, I don’t know if I would have travelled to Ann Arbor to see them. It was a perfect album for the music I was into at that moment, a concept piece that wasn’t dealing with huge personal or political issues (like The Wall or Animals) or with social issues, especially from a teenage perspective (like The Who.) No, Rift is a personal record about a relationship and the intricacies of navigating all of the ins and outs that entails. It also isn’t bleak at the end, again like Pink Floyd records, and as much as I love the concept record of Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Rift takes place in a very real place, unlike the journey of Rael.
At the time I was also into REM and Peter Gabriel, both producing two of my favorite records of all time, Automatic for the People and Us, respectively. But I was looking for something else, something in that place that Pink Floyd, Genesis and the other Prog rockers filled. I never really gravitated toward Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer or any many of the other Progressive acts. I kinda sorta liked Rush, but they always seemed a little too earnest, too dour. Rush and many of the Prog bands just seemed to take themselves way too seriously. I don’t think anyone would say that Phish took or takes themselves seriously.
More importantly, at least to me, Rift was new. It had just come out earlier that year and the guys in the band were basically my age. Phish was band that, at least in the studio, was making music that I would want to make if I had any musical talent whatsoever. I was sure that more was to come. I just didn’t know how much nor what it would be like. I finally felt like I was pretty close to the ground floor of following a band.* I couldn’t wait for the next step. Almost twenty years on, I’m still anxious and excited for that next stop.
*I found out later that I was part of the cohort of fans, coming in with the release and tour for Hoist, that was going to ruin the band and the scene. That is a different story for a different time.