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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.

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