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Letters to the Editor

Night of the Living Heads
What's it like to ring in the new millennium with 80,000 drug-addled Phish fans? Expensive. Noisy. Crowded. Uninspiring.
By Bob Whitby, January 13, 2000

Rage Against the Phish Machine
Mark Koenig
via the Internet

I just wanted to compliment you on your article regarding the Phish concert for New Year's rockin' eve ("Night of the Living Heads," Bob Whitby, January 13). My brother attended the event as a true Phish head and came back amazed at what a sweet experience it was. I once went to a show just so he could stop saying, "If you haven't seen it, you can't critique it."

Being a fan of just what is described in the article as the "four-minute pop song," I was left bored to the nostrils watching these "fine" musicians play scale after scale on their guitars. I'm sure they're fine musicians and schooled musicians at that, but does that matter if the music they play drones ad infinitum with no shape, form, or resolution?

The way Whitby described the scene was right-on. It seems as though the whole place is all about peace and love and community when actually they are being sucked in by capitalism playing on their wish for that sort of utopia to be true, if even for one show, or for three days. I for one buy organic food when I can get my hands on it at a farmer's market, and I believe that living happily is about loving thy neighbor, but I don't need to place myself in a false utopia to reassure myself I believe these things.

And it is so different from the Woodstock scene. The drug use and lack of cleanliness are the same, but this group is too painfully unmotivated to take action against the problems they find offensive with our political system. They would much rather expound to each other on who knows more set lists by memory, and who can tell [guitarist] Trey's story about growing up in Vermont faster and in more sensational detail.

I really have no problem with the guys in the band. Like Whitby said, they have turned plucking scales on a guitar into a multimillion-dollar paycheck. That's smart business. I just wonder how all those people who attend can live in such a false realm. It just doesn't make sense to me, even after I've actually attended.

The Phish Folk Respond
Jim Coyle
via the Internet

Although it contained some compelling content, overall I found "Night of the Living Heads" to be a lazy and irresponsible piece of writing.

If it's fair to evaluate a concert experience after admittedly catching only 20 minutes (out of a total of 14 hours) of music, and if it's fair to use "Crash" and "Burn" to disproportionately represent 75,000 concertgoers, then I think it's OK to evaluate the piece by pointing out some egregious problems in the following excerpt: "According to Amusement Business magazine, Phish will pocket $11.6 million for two days' work. Despite guitarist Trey Anastasio's peace-and-love message beamed round the world via ABC-TV, this show is all about the bread."

Where to begin? I'll start by saying that Trey's "peace-and-love message" was actually a tongue-in-cheek attempt to inform drivers worldwide that the left lane is the passing lane and that slower drivers should stay in the right lane. Further, "Phish will pocket $11.6 million" is a huge oversimplification. I can't be sure where that figure came from, but I suspect it represents gross receipts, since 75,000 (tickets sold) times $150 (price of most tickets) equals $11.2 million. (About 10,000 tickets sold for $175 each; factor this in, and the math comes out to $11.5 million.) This leaves out a much-higher-than-usual overhead for a concert. Consider the fees paid to the reservation, the costs to build a supporting infrastructure (including roads and other facilities) that did not exist before the shows, payroll for security and other staff, and the other usual costs. Phish will "pocket" significantly less than what Mr. Whitby (and now, his readers) thinks. The article reveals not Phish's supposed hypocrisy but some rather simplistic thinking on the reporter's part.

As for "all about the bread": I could list many examples illustrating otherwise, but here are two. (1) Phish is one of a handful of major bands that allow their fans to tape their concerts. (2) The band offered fans unable to attend the shows the opportunity to download free digital recordings of significant portions of the concerts a few hours afterward. Phish actually spent money to offer this free service. If Phish is "all about the bread," then all bands are.

It's somewhat true that the scene at Big Cypress lacked the spirit of activism that earlier, comparable gatherings exhibited. (I for one am thankful for this.) But I'd like to think the world does get a little bit better after Phish shows; instead of helping others, people are afforded the opportunity to help themselves, by shelving their cynicism, self-seriousness, and overuse of irony.

Phishy Opinion From Responsible Drug-Taker
Nicole Berard
via the Internet

I would like to begin by thanking Bob Whitby for the Phish article. While I did not agree with it in substance, I appreciate that New Times sent someone to cover Big Cypress. It shows, at the very least, a desire to be progressive.

As a Phish fan, it's often hard to understand why nonfans don't enjoy the band. I find it to be a positive experience when someone presents an articulate, if dissenting, opinion. My only wish is that he had been a bit more encompassing of the scene around him.

As a 25-year-old multimedia developer (read: someone with a steady job and limited vacation time to follow a band), I certainly don't like everything I see on the lots. People like "Crash" and "Burn" are only a small faction of an enormous fan population. My campground neighbors and I (all professionals on a sorely needed vacation) spent a lot of time listening to NPR on our camp radio and discussing politics. We also spent a lot of time dancing, drinking, consuming drugs responsibly, and just generally enjoying a party atmosphere that closed the millennium with a bang.

I don't disagree that fans like "Crash" and "Burn" exist, but they are about as far from my lifestyle as they are from yours. The diversity of the people at Phish shows (freaks included) reminds me that my opinion is not the only one worth considering. When we share space with people unlike ourselves, we can either criticize or learn what we can from them. If nothing else, "Crash" and "Burn" exhibit an amusing laissez-faire attitude. Must be nice to be that free, huh?

I once again thank Bob for his article. It takes guts to move beyond your frame of reference. However, next time I encourage him to represent more accurately a cross section of the people around him. We can all learn a lot from each other!

Bob Whitby Is a Britney Spears Fan
Ethan Schwartz
via the Internet

Hey Bob, I'm real sorry you didn't get it -- New Year's that is. For some of us, it was more than a big drug fest. At one time I, too, was like you. Well, I don't think I was that bad. At least my brother raised me on Led Zeppelin and the Doors.

I thank God every day that I'm not one of those automatons stuck listening to the mindless dribble that MTV pushes upon the masses. "There's something to be said for a catchy, four-minute pop tune." That's what you said. Well I do feel sorry for you. Instead of taking up space at Big Cypress, maybe you should have been with that guy from the Sun-Sentinel, what's his face, [Sean] Piccoli, who has nothing better to do than rip on a band who've had the luxury to play what they want and not have to give in to corporate pressure. So they made 12 million bucks. Good for them. I don't see you criticizing Barbra Streisand or Gloria Estefan, who charged way more for tickets for their New Year's gigs. And you fail to mention that the Gloria gig had more problems with 20,000 supposed society folk than the Phish show did with 80,000 "drug-addled heads."

As for myself, well, I'm 25 years old, have a college degree, own my own business, and have seen close to 75 shows in the past three-and-a-half years. I've traveled all over the U.S., been to Europe, and met scores and scores of people, people who I'll have lasting relationships with for the rest of my life. I wouldn't give it up for anything.

Oh, and one other point: the music. Like I said before, Bob, I feel sorry for you. Like 79,999 other people, give or take a bitter journalist like yourself, I get it. I get it and I get it, and then you know what? I get it again.

So maybe in April, when you go and do a story on the majestic pageantry that is the Britney Spears tour, you can do an interview with some 12-year-olds, only don't touch them Bob -- that's called pedophilia. There is something to be said for a four-minute, catchy pop song.

Hollywood's True Colors
Districting in Hollywood was supposed to ensure at least one minority candidate on the commission. Think again.
By Julie Kay, January 13, 2000

Giving Every Part of Hollywood a Voice
Gary Tortora, Cofounder
Reform Hollywood Political Committee
via the Internet

Thanks for your coverage of districting in Hollywood ("Hollywood's True Colors," Julie Kay, January 13). The crop of [year] 2000 candidates is truly more diverse than ever before, but of course no minority candidate is ever assured of election.

Our goal always was better representation of Hollywood's diverse neighborhoods. Better minority representation usually comes as a byproduct of districting. Candidates this year are much more grassroots and probably could not have run under the old at-large method due to the high cost of campaigning. No matter who wins in February, districting has revitalized and reformed Hollywood's old power broker elections system, which was what we had in mind for the city.


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