33-1/3 outtakes: Average White Band.
(I wrote this back in September 2014 — in the middle of the first draft — to help me find my way in to the chapter on ‘whiteness,’ which @mikehamad told me might be something of a third rail for the book but which I’d committed to early enough in my mind that I couldn’t imagine the book without it. –wgh.)
Ch4: Average White Band: freewrite
phish come up in the megachurch era, pre-internet renaissance of regional culture when tech of media reproduction enabled any local weirdo to put out hundreds of copies of his rant/mixtape/sermon — High Weirdness, of course.
High Weirdness by Mail comes out in 1988. another country inside this one, and its communications capability is increasing along with everyone else’s, so the kooks can talk to one another — and to the norms — with utter ease. it was before the rise of full-time online life, ubiquitous connectivity, but after email and usenet and easy access to xerox machines made zine culture and peer-to-peer mechanical reproduction accessible to the mainstream. rise of an interesting disaffected strain in the culture.
stang was very much chronicling the world phish came from — that oddball realm where Nancy could be making avant tape collages and trey could be writing rock operas about multibeasts and though there’s no context for it now, there was one at the time — weirdos who found one another in a weird place. goddard college doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?
Remain in Light comes out in late 1980, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1981. part of a moment. tribal/machinic. proto-cyberpunk. Blade Runner in 1982. Neuromancer and Ghostbusters in 1984. The cassette Walkman hit the US in 1980. MTV debuts in 1981 with ‘video killed the radio star.’
virtuosic (‘progressive’) music of the 70s + SF/weirdo culture of the 70s/80s + collagist fragmentation of early 80s (early MTV era, proto-cyberpunk) + strange east-coast take on bay area psychedelia, tinged w/british ironic experimentation — crimson/soft machine/genesis are more forerunners for phish’s overall vibe than the dead, in some way, though phish’s musical language draws a lot on various ‘americanas’
but look, this is very much a white subcultural mix. the black folks who pop up in phish’s history are exceptions — michael ray, p-funk(!), jah roy (late-80s), marshall allen (on SttA)…and of course secondhand influences like the Meters, James Brown, Sly Stone, Funkadelic again, Sun Ra (improv/composition mix w/a Weird vibe)…
initiatory rites — there’s deep suspicion on each side of the black/white cultural divide about the two (broadly, ill-defined) groups’ esoteric codes. ‘black codes from the underground’ and all that. exoteric mixing and sharing is fine, it’s expected, but wanting to preserve esoteric cultural strains is understandable and a little dangerous/complicated…