Like most people, I don’t believe taste has objective value, and like most people, that doesn’t stop me from behaving as if it does. I guess it’s got to do with status seeking and tribalism. Spending some time in the Phishbowl was a good opportunity to interrogate that, to ask whether the things that keep me from joining the ranks of the Phishheads really matter, to ask if we’re even all that different in the first place. As Carl Wilson puts it in the aforementioned Let’s Talk About Love, “A few people have asked me, isn’t life too short to waste time on art you dislike? But lately I feel like life is too short not to.” Besides, it’s worth remembering that my scorn is best reserved for art and culture that actively perpetuates harmful, regressive attitudes. Some of my own favorite musicians have some pretty shitty things to answer for. As far as I can tell, Phish doesn’t.
My own relationship with Phish is complicated. It was late high school for me, and most of the way through college that I was deeply obsessed. I have maybe a few dozen shows under my belt and many, many binders of burned CDs of live shows (I really need to get rid of those). I genuinely liked the music. It’s sweeping and nerdy and intricate (at times). It’s friendly but in an adult sort of way. That scene helped me build some really strong friendships and set me on a life path of caring about the right sort of stuff for me.
But then I just kinda go over it. Well, more like overdosed. My brain kinda rejected it for a long time after that. Not in a total role-reversal way where I thought all Phishheads were idiots and the music sucked and what-was-I-thinking kinda way, but more that I just actively pushed it aside and changed. It’s the same reason I can’t watch Seinfeld or The Big Lebowski anymore. They are amazing, I just OD’d and gotta move on.
My music passion since then, and for a much longer stretch of life, has been folk whatnot. First bluegrass, then a widening into really any sort of traditional acoustic folk, then a narrowing into largely old time.
These days, Phish is just light nostalgia. I can absolutely tolerate their music. I might even get a little into it if I hear an old favorite and I’m two beers deep. But it fades as quickly as it arrives, and I don’t seek out any new releases.
It’s left me in a weird spot. When I meet someone super into Phish, I kinda squint a little in a really? kinda way, but more likely than not try to reminisce with them as best I can. (I do have the official PHISH book signed by all of them I bought at a show in Minneapolis which also got me backstage access, which is fun to share. But that’s a story for another time.) Likewise, when I meet someone who really hates Phish, I also kinda squint in a really? kinda way. Like, why bother? It’s weird fun music and a lot of people like it. I guess it’s just an awkward spot to be kinda skeptical of both people that like and dislike a band.