Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Good Day

Well, it's December 2nd again. I feel like it happens every year.

I always look forward to December 2nd, since the final one of the last millenium. The date's a reminder of those carefree college trips, a throwback to the salad days of youthful exuberance and lust for life. Today marks the five-year annversary of the best Phish show these eyes hath ever seen, but more importantly, the anniversary of the night that kicked off the greatest month of my life.

With a planned millenium celebration in Toronto (eh?) just a month away, and the popular rock band Phish kicking off a 16-show holiday run in Detroit, Donnie and I packed up Bart Starbux's red Chevy Blazer and headed east for a three-night stand in both the Motor and Queen Cities. The three of us set out for greener grass and higher times.

Everything seemed to work out for us that day, that weekend, that trip. The Karma Gods smiled down upon three gents looking for fun with the good ol' hippie folk. First order of business was clear: As was typical before extended holiday breaks, Northwestern campus was somewhat dry and little green bags were hard to come by. We made do with what we had on the road, but questioning whether it would be easy to buy in the Shakedown lots -- sometimes it is difficult to score a bag at a Phish show -- we decided to stop off in Ann Arbor to see a guy about a thing.

I called up an acquaintance at the University of Michigan and had him on the lookout for some doje. After about an hour in his place, with time quickly becoming a factor, we cut our losses and decided to depart for the show. Our gracious host, in a truly kind gesture and one not easily forgettable, gave us most of his personals for the ride and the show, just in case. We said thanks, surely did some awkward hand pounds and shoved off towards the Palace.

As soon as we pulled into a spot -- the very second we parked -- we opened the car doors and this tour wook immediately asked, "You guys need headies, brahs?" Suuure, step into our office and let's do some bid'ness, sir. We were having that kind of night, all luck.

We trudged to the venue through frigid Midwestindecember weather, and I thought two things upon our entrance: spacious arena and tour opener. This could be a weak show. Boy, was I wrong.

The building turned out to be rockin', and the acoustics were simply amazing for an arena that size. The three of us found some Page-side seats together in the lower bowl, even though we had maybe three different seats scattered around the 300s. And seeing how the ushers actually did their jobs on this night, the first set was a large crowd of musical chairs, quite literally. People were constantly moving, shuffling to find other seats as the rightful owners got kicked out of their fake seats and had to find their real ones. The chain of events was high comedy, but we were worried we'd lose our dynamite view of the stage. The band played a standard tour opener first set, but they were definitely on. You could feel it.

Setbreak came, the house lights went on, and all of a sudden our good friend TJ in OH stared up at us from the floor. We were only about 10 rows up, so he hopped the boards and joined us for a bit. Always great to see TJ when it's planned, but it's even better to randomly bump into him at shows (UIC '98, Cleveland '00, Chicago '00, Cincy '03, etc). TJ's the Seinfeld to my Banya, my guru and mentor, a guy who just gets it. In a cool move, he decided to give up his floor seats and hang with us for the second set, which was the latest in a string of positive events in our favor. The lights went down for the next phase of the show, and the four of us stood up and waited for the second set's first note.

I have two favorite Phish sets of all time, and the next 80 minutes was certainly one of them (11/19/97 II in Champaign being the other). The Boys opened with kickass versions of Stevie's Boogie On Reggae Woman and Gotta Jibboo, but then the fire really started. The Bathtub Gin that followed was off the charts...I mean, we needed new charts that night. It's my most listened to Gin to this day, the band striding in an all-for-one and one-for-all take-no-prisoners jams. At about the 11-minute mark, Trey lays down something mean and Fishman hits a stellar drum beat, and the house almost came tumbling down. The Palace was seriously rocking harder than at the recent Artest-incited brawl there.

The band faded into an uber-industrial version of 2001, aka Also Sprach Zarathustra, a fantastic bridge to the most unique You Enjoy Myself in history. It may not have been the best YEM ever of the, what, 500 versions?, but there's never been a version quite like this. It's unreal, just awesome. There's a grinding jam after the trampolines section that just builds and builds as if someone were winding them up with a crank. It reminds me of a Jack-in-the-Box, getting wound up 'til the pressure can't build no longer. Perfection, sheer perfection. The band was on, the band was tight, the band was together. The vocal jam even concluded with Fishman singing an a capella Little Drummer Boy, a great finish to an unbelievable set.

This was the night...the Gods smiling, the Boys rocking, Donnie and Bart and TJ in tow...can it get any better than this? Oh yeah, that's right we needed a place to crash. TJ suggested his then-bachelor pad in Dayton, giving us free shelter and getting us closer to the next night's Cincy shows. "OK," Donnie said, "since we don't know where you live, we'll meet at the first Denny's in Ohio." Would it work? Would we be stranded and need a hotel?

Remember, this is before anyone had a cell phone and I didn't know how to get in touch with TJ outside of e-mail. Sure enough as the three of us devoured our grand slam breakfasts (one of us may have had a Rooty Tooty Fresh n Fruity) TJ's car pulled up and, sure enough, the whole thing worked out.

We woke up in TJ's then-bachelor pad, watched Bottle Rocket and then began our trek to Cincinnati for two more incredible shows, two additional days of laughter, music and wholesome fun. The inside jokes from those two days still make me chuckle even now, and they're still discussed to this day.

But as Chubbs sings to Happy Gilmore from beyond the grave, "We've only just beguuun." The sickest month of my life was just getting started. Over the course of one month (December 2nd through January 2nd), I was blessed with the time and the Honda CRV to travel nearly 5,000 miles across the upper right quadrant of the United States, driving 3,500 of them and flying 1,250.

Along the way I got to see 11 U.S. states, one Canadian province and the District of Columbia, hung out and slept in random houses and apartments and frat houses and hotels and met up with probably eight or 10 different groups of friends spanning all corners of my past: family, home friends, school friends, camp friends (that's kinda like Gitmo's "unit, core, God, country").

And like any good 20-year-old, I was severely wasted in some capacity just about every single night, often times waking up and having no clue where I was or what I was doing there. A trip that starts in Detroit with some of your best friends seeing your favorite band in the world and ends in Toronto rolling face at the CN Towerwith some of your other best friends as fireworks light up the night sky and the calendar rolls over to 2-0-0-0, with parties and dope and concerts and gooballs and rolls and fake rolls and nitrous and highway bong hits and good friends and close family and seeing the country all sandwiched in between...now that's a great fucking trip, that's a great fucking month. That's not, however, a great fucking sentence. Wow, that's a serious run-on.

These days I'm just another member of the working world who complains too much. Where have you gone December 2nd, 1999?

Epilogue: On New Year's Day 2000, TJ informed everyone he would be a father shortly. A little girl was on the way, a new member of the TJ clan...the then-bachelor pad was gone, but a new era was beginning, and not just on the calendar. It's growns up time.

New Champ
(Many predicted this would happen, but Jeopardy! Ken officially got Buster Douglas-ed. Nancy Zerg, the surprised lady in the red puffy shirt that defeated Ken Jennings, lost in her first defense of the title after beating the unbeatable champ. Maybe now Ken will be become the craziest man in the world of trivia, vowing to stomp on the testicles of Wink Martindale and eat Bob Barker's grandkids.)

20 Comments:

At 9:53 AM, Blogger ethan said...

3 things:

(1) i don't know jack about phish, but that trip sounds like something out of a fucking unbelievable movie/novel, the kind of trip where you can't possibly take enough pictures in an attempt to capture/preserve it all.

(2) rooty tooty fresh n fruity are served at IHOP, not denny's.

(3) bottle rocket! yeah! great flik.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger TJ in OH said...

I found myself pushing a grocery cart through the produce section last night, my four year-old tucked into the cart-seat and making a complete mess of the free cookie from the bakery. For whatever reason, I couldn't get Maze out of my head. And for the first time in a long time, I let myself feel the pain of the loss. I don't let myself think about Phish very often these days.

I'm sure it's next to impossible for people to understand the importance of Phish in the lives of those that were a part of the experience. Musically, I always felt Phish was untouchable. They weren't just the best and most dynamic live band on the planet, they were so far ahead of the band in second place that it was sometimes laughable. But the other side of the Phish experience, for which I grieve on an equal level with the music, was the adventure aspect. Tour was like a parallel universe; you really could find a group of people at the first Denny's in Ohio. I can't recall one of the many Phish shows I saw that doesn't have a side story unrelated to the music that makes the experience that much more valuable. 12/2/99 is certainly one of those nights. And as we near the anniversary of the greatest Phish show that I ever saw - 12/7/97 (come on folks, let's give some love for THE show of THE tour) - I'm not only thinking of The Popular Rock Band Phish, I'm also thinking of all of the outrageous incidents and accidents, hints and allegations that made the entire episode what it was. And thanks to Ace's post, I'm remembering very clearly waking up in my apartment on 12/3/99 and stumbling into my living room to find Ace, Donnie and crew strewn across my couch and floor. Good times indeed.

 
At 10:15 AM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Ethan, yes, I've thought about turning that trip and that entire month into a novel...still might, but I don't wanna write one of those sappy coming-of-age tales, so if I figure out a better angle, look for it on shelves in 2007. And RTF&F is an IHOP dish...and yes, I actually knew that. Bottle Rocket by the way is my favorite comedy of all time, perhaps my favorite movie of all time. I LOVE that movie like Hannibal Smith loves it when a plan comes together.

TJ, nice to see you on here today! That trip was truly special, three shows in three nights, floating around from city to city, seeing old friends, making new ones. And you were always the anchor.

But your thoughts on Phish, and Phil's privately this week, make me pine for the old days. Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio, or something like that? (Actually, now that I realize it, we both quoted Paul Simon in our comments). To be part of this *thing*, to be part of the music and the scene (before the latter sucked)...I just can't find the words right now. I really can't. The band is one of those things in my life that have truly shaped me as a person...sad, but true.

And of course, 12/7/97 is THE show of THE tour, but I have to say 11/19/97 II is THE set of THE tour. That 2001 is also off the charts. We need a whole lotta new charts...

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger ethan said...

here's an idea - combine the sappy coming of age thing with a fear and loathing in las vegas (one of my favorite books) vibe. you do that, and i'll pay the extra $15 for a hardcover of it (signed, of course, by you, face, and murdock).

 
At 12:18 PM, Blogger Snacks said...

Hey Ace - Long time reader, first time writer.

While I certainly have some great stories about my Phish experienecs (unfortunatley, none of them related to a recent journey to VT), I could not do the band and their history justus like you and TJ OH.

But it was a real bright spot of my morning to read you and TJ OH reflect on the days of yesteryear.

Looking forward to the day when July 7, July 17, July 21, August 3, August 17 (or any Sunday night in between) of the wonderful year 1996 means something special to you.

Peace.

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Snacks, those Sundays already mean the world to me...and no matter how much I wax poetic about Phish, those are nights I wouldn't trade in for anything, even some of the better shows I've seen. I bet TJ would agree with that as well.

I'd post about those nights, but there are just waaaay too many inside jokes for a mainstream audience, and it's waaaay too difficult to explain the concept of being a camp counselor in 1996 to some people.

And Ethan, that's definitely the angle I'd go with when all is said and done. Look, when I drop out of the workforce, move up to Canada and write the Great American Novel Written in Canada, that's exactly how I'm gonna present it. I'll dedicate it to you, even though we've never met...

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Well played, Bullet. Couple of other details from that trip that stand out in my mind:

1. Darrell defecating on Frankfurter's mom's cleavage.
2. Skyline chilli.
3. The coining of the now-famous phrase: "Badder than hot."
4. The greatest thank you note of all-time: "You guys are ridiculous."
5. THE song of THE set of THE show: Two Bathtubs in One.

Just off the chizzy.

-bux

 
At 1:28 PM, Blogger TJ in OH said...

Wow, Snacks even makes an appearance! Must be old school day here at Slack. Ahhh, the Sunday nights of summer '96. Perfection realized.

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger ethan said...

are those the nights you slept with Baby?

(holding breath...waiting to get pummeled...for what i just ref'd)

as for the book dedication, im down. as long as it includes the phrase "sleepless nites" or something rad like that.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Band name: First Denny's in Ohio.

 
At 2:09 PM, Blogger The Ambiguously Gay Uno said...

Dirty Hippies- How bout a shower?

For serious, though- how about we get a topic going for the large majority of Slack's Audience- you know, the Corporate Sell-outs (sounds like Trey)... the washed up yuppies... those that have never seen a Phish show, but LOVE that song "bouncin round the room..."

How about a little something making fun of the misfortunes of others? Jerry Orbach? (Too Soon?)

WIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLSSSSOOOONN

 
At 2:21 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Was that a Dirty Dancing reference, Ethan? Excellent.

I'm going to see First Denny's in Ohio at the Bowery tomorrow night...anyone in? Actually, Del McCoury is playing tonight at Irving if anyone's interested in some kickass bluegrass.

UNO, eat it, ya turdlicker. "You don't like it, there's the door, Shelly." OK, relax, just quoting a little D-Mamet. Want another topic? How bout Giambino and the roids? Craisins. Cashman, void that focker's contract!

Orbach, I had to look up why you mentioned him and too sonn in the same sentence -- cancer? That shit is not cool. NU's own Jerry Orbach (second Dirty Dancing bit in this post) is a man among boys. Guy rocks. For serious.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Don Fiedler said...

Man, in the midst of all this grown-up crap I'm doing, it sure was nice to relive one of the greatest stretches in my life. Thanks, Ace.

Remember how cool it was when you were fucked up and Phish was just mean? Like they were throwing nails at you from the stage and if you closed your eyes you would see a big menacing smile staring at you? This YEM went beyond mean and into another Phish emotion. I like to think of it as desperate, the howling, the continual building of tension. It all sounds very much to me like a wolf caught in a trap, howling and struggling. That's right, Phish chewed off its own foot that night.

But this was just an unimaginably fun experience, one of those things where it kind of makes you jealous of your former self. I mean, I was in such a ridiculous stupor that I just screamed out "Two Thousand and One". And then Bux turns to me and says, "Two Bathtub's in One?" Phenomenal.

And it was a "Moon Over Mi-hammy" that I was eating at Denny's. Plus I saw that guy's balls in those little shorts. And Uno's would have been better, dicks! And man did I shit on some tits. Forgive me for the yearbook-signing-esque comment here. But it's my blog too.

Alright, back to reality.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger poophopanonymous22 said...

sorry to interupt this phish ball licking, as i am sure i would do the same had i had the pleasure of seeing them live, saw this little nugget on "the ten spot", funny stuff

Bill Walton has signed with Sirius Satellite Radio to do a weekly music program titled One More Saturday Night With Bill Walton. The show will feature Walton's favorite performers, especially The Grateful Dead. The early buzz is that the show will be horrrrrible.

 
At 4:14 PM, Blogger The Ambiguously Gay Uno said...

Ace- aren't you boys with Walton?

 
At 4:14 PM, Blogger TJ in OH said...

Nobody puts Baby in a corner, Ethan. Nobody.

Donald, how right you are sir. You just nailed the element of Phish that bands like the Dead could never bring to the table. In any number of tunes, Phish could get dark. Not in the "it's time for bed" way, but in the all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy, heeere's Johnny, axe-through-the-fucking-bathroom-door kind of way. I'm making devil horns and imagining the rockout part from Guyute right now.

 
At 5:21 PM, Blogger Jason Mulgrew said...

What a bunch of hippies you guys are. Christ. Nostalgia is a glorious thing, and I don't mean to crap on your parade, but this is why a lot of people could not get into Phish (and I like Phish, and have seen them).

I remember I went to my first show with Handstand's older brother and some dude who was a 25 year-old 1st grade teacher who did more drugs in one hour than my father has in 49 years (seriously, I think this guy was eating urinal cakes by the end of the first set just to get a high). I stood between the older Handstand and this guy as they were dancing around (cool), bonked out of their minds (cooler), saying things like,

Stoner: [in the middle of "Antelope"] "Shit - did you hear that rift! That was the best since 11/1/96, possibly even better than 1/14/00!"
Older Handstand: "Awesome! If the songs stops right now, I have this as my #3 'Antelope' of all-time. My top seven are:
1 - 11/1/96
2 - 2/20/99
3 - tonight's
4 - 1/14/00
5 - 4/15/94
6 - 9/8/02
7 - 12/31/01
So we'll see how the rest of this song goes."
Stoner: "I'm so fucking high dude."
OH: "Me too."
Stoner: "Mind if I chew on your keys a little? I have some fillings that might cause a spark, and, I don't know, it might fuck me up."
OH: "Awesome dude. Do it."

Repeat this all night long, all the next day, all the next show. I'm surprised I was able to even listen to Phish again after that.

And if you wanna bring it, then bring it, but I am essentially beyond reproach because I saw the Dead live when you all were still listening to Bobby Brown and Nelson.

One.

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Donnie, he's alive! Chikaka...welcome back. Wow, a little Ace Ventura 2 reference, that's weird. Post all you want in yearbook form, we love that here. Hope you have a good summer, glad we became friends this year. You're my BFFAEAEAE, have a great time at camp.

UNO, if by friends with Bill Walton you mean I e-mail him a long-winded rant about the Dead and hoops and he e-mails me back something like: "Jerry was the greatest. Aiko Aiko, BW," then yes, we're boys. We're BFFAEAEAEAE.

Actually, he's the best celebrity I've ever known in terms of emailing back (wait, he's the only celebrity I've ever emailed (wait, did I just call Bill Walton a celebrity?)). I've sent him three emails and he got back to me within three days each time, tops. Increddddible. I used to despise Walton, but over the past five years, there's nobody on TV I'd rather listen to.

Nothing I can add as to the darkness of Phish...you boys said it all. Oh how I'd love to be getting ready for a show or bunch of shows right now. I'm Jonesing man, and it's only been three and a half months since they left! But I'm Jonesing for a pre-hiatus show, a rockin' Frankenstein to kick it off, maybe go into Cars Trucks Buses...I gotta go, I just came in my shorts.

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Little pot/kettle action from our favorite superstar...

"Repeat this all night long, all the next day, all the next show. I'm surprised I was able to even listen to Phish again after that."

Replace Phish with stories about lunchmeat and beating off...I'm surprised anyone's able to even read your blog again.

 
At 12:24 AM, Blogger Army Archerd said...

So, um, did anything happen in baseball today?

 

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