We met at a gloomy little diner off the interstate. His gray eyes betrayed a world of experience I couldn’t begin to fathom. He looked uncomfortable in his sharkskin suit and quickly gulped a mug of black coffee.
I knew he had a story to tell. He knew it, too. The two of us sat there for several minutes just waiting for it to spill out.
“First of all,” he began, “I just want people to understand there is hope.” His addiction had started with marijuana but had steadily advanced to, “LSD, nitrous oxide, you name it…”
For the sake of this article, we’ll call him “Zane” but that’s not his real name. Today he has a career and a community to protect. “I have to be very careful,” he warned me, clutching a pack of menthol cigarettes, “you see, I used to be a lot wookie…”
I had encountered this fascinating young man during my investigative work into the global warming conspiracy but his history was so compelling, I knew it deserved its own safe space. Hopefully this column can offer a modicum of solace to others who have suffered like the brave hero of the incredible tale that follows.
Zane’s downfall followed an all too predictable pattern in our nation today. In early 2007, a female acquaintance at his college emailed him a link to The Pirate Bay, an illegal European website. He was directed to an album by a heavy metal music group he had never listened to before, The Phish.
The music that played on his iPod was lush and confusing, but Zane was at a confusing time in his life. The angry lack of rhythm, the frustrating lyrics, the utterly hopeless mystery of it all appealed to his tortured soul.
He searched Yahoo and found a cult of devoted followers in an underground message board. They spoke to each other using an elaborate code. He was able to glean hints of extravagant festivals where the wine and narcotics flowed freely. The women, according to numerous firsthand accounts, were even more willing to surrender to that flow.
Yet the bar for entry to the internet fraternity of the Phish was held high for new converts (n00bs in Phish slang) and they bitterly harassed Zane’s naiveté. This only made him redouble his efforts.
He purchased an electronic “vaping” marijuana smoker. He ordered psychedelic t-shirts and graphic posters for his dorm room. Eventually, he attended the Phish’s impromptu music jams held in public forums across the country. He traveled from city to city with likeminded fans of the Phish, or phans as they prefer to be called.
“It was the summer of 2008 and the financial markets were all over the map,” he told me. “I wish I knew then what I know now about credit default swaps. But the markets, the economy, none of it meant anything to me. I didn’t care if America burned to the ground. All I wanted was Phish, Phish and more Phish!”
Zane ended up seeing so many concerts that he was invited backstage. There, he became a confidant of two of the group’s central figures, Trey Anastasia and John Fishman. They sought out his critiques after performances. He gave them advice about future musical numbers. Soon, he grew to be a trusted member of the inner circle.
Together with John and Trey, Zane drank the very best cognacs in crystal tumblers until dawn. The musicians would play tunes from their hit album, Lawn Boy, while smoking hand-rolled marijuana “blunts.” The band had their own private blend of reefer flown in daily from the finest fields in Jamaica. Women literally threw themselves at their feet– fashion models and farm girls and an endless stream of movie stars.
There was one memorable evening, Zane recalls, when a gorgeous young celebrity– a name we would all recognize– beckoned him into an orgy with drummer Fishman. In that cloud of opium smoke, she introduced the men to secret tantric sex maneuvers that prolonged their ecstasy for hours and hours. The night was so significant that the Phish later memorialized it in the song, “Time Turns Elastic.”
It was a heady life for a young man from a simple gated suburb of Connecticut. He thought he was at the top of his game. Deep within the occult sanctum of the Phish, Zane learned some incredible things about the creation of this rock band and their real purpose in the American cultural scene. The truths Zane revealed to this journalist are so severe and shocking, they are best left to a later column. Suffice it to say, there’s far more to this conspiracy than meets the eye!
Passions ran deep in the gilded cage of the tour bus and one day Zane found himself pressed against the bars. He was arguing with keyboardist Page McConnell about the chords to the song, “Chalkdust Torture” when bassist Mike Gordon grabbed him from behind without provocation and wrestled him to the ground. The musician was in a fit of jealousy over his liaison with the aforementioned celebrity actress even though the threesome had happened nearly a month earlier.
On the floor of the tour bus, surrounded by discarded lingerie and empty magnums of Veuve Clicquot, Zane almost broke Mike’s fingers. The thought of never hearing, “You Enjoy Myself” again was the only thing that held him back. At the front, drummer Fishman had been lost in reverie as he navigated the twists and turns of their mountain path. When he noticed the commotion, he begged for the two men to stop fighting. But it was to no avail. McConnell began clapping for more in that discordant way of his. Exasperated, John finally slammed on the brakes in the hot midday sun.
Zane was smart enough to sense this moment was inevitable. His rucksack had been hidden by the door with three bottles of the finest cognac and a pound of Fishman’s Jamaican reserve for over a week now. With tears in his eyes, the drummer gave him a long, deep hug before lumbering back into the bus. Trey’s forlorn face was pressed against a back window. The guitarist tried to muster a wave but instead made a fist. He banged it against the window, silently mouthing the word “Why?” over and over again.
The summer of Zane’s innocence was over in a gust of exhaust fumes. He stood alone on the side of that desolate Colorado highway.
Some time later– it may have been days or months, who can tell in the fog of addiction?– the hero of our narrative woke up behind a dumpster in some hardscrabble mining town. He went to wipe the vomit from his chin with a piece of newspaper when something caught his eye. Staring at him from page 8 of the Wall Street Journal was an old friend from his lacrosse days. The two of them had once dreamed of getting MBAs, working at Goldman and marrying supermodels together. Here the lacrosse-playing lout was, being fêted as an activist shareholder who broke up a sprawling mineral concern and making investors millions in the process.
In the bathroom mirror of a nearby Kmart, Zane took stock of his own life. Dreadlocks, urine-drenched Tevas and a $500-a-month marijuana habit. No, the face of a lot wookie would never be stippled on the front page of the Journal.
Recovery was a long and rocky road, but the collapse of the economy in the Fall of 2008 made everyone in New Canaan a bit more willing to help out an angel who had looked homeward. With the assistance of a vigorous prep school alumni organization, Zane did eventually deprogram from the Phish cult. He returned to Bard to complete his B.A. in Comparative Literature and just last year landed a management position in the call center of his father’s nanocap arbitrage business.
“I want to show you one last thing,” he said as our interview wound down. Leaning across that grimy diner tabletop, he rolled up the sleeve of his crisp Brooks Brothers shirt. “I work out three times a week and always catch myself staring at this in the mirror.” On his left bicep was a rainbow-colored tattoo of a fish. “Sometimes when I’m working on my glutes, the Nautilus machine makes this strange noise, like the hiss of a nitrous tank. That brings it all right back.”
The 27-year old looked wistful beyond his years and all of the sudden the tsunami of his bitter tale washed over me. I reached for my valise, hoping, praying, there was a packet of tissues buried there somewhere.