Yellow clouds of drug smoke hang heavy in the air. A sheen of ripe human sweat covers the half-naked bodies in every direction. The lights suddenly go dark. From one side of the stadium piercing animal screams echo. Sinister cackles of laughter erupt even closer. An angelic-faced girl with dungy dreadlocks lets a threadbare shirt slip off her shoulder. A single drop of perspiration hangs from the nipple of her exposed, youthful breast. She smiles a toothless grin and makes no move to cover her indecency. With ritual precision, a thousand glass pipes of ganja, hashish and opium are ignited simultaneously. Any second now the four members of the Phish will take to the stage. Somewhere out there in the night a fleet of ambulances idle as paramedics pace anxiously amidst exhaust fumes. The overdoses could reach into the dozens or maybe the hundreds. Teams of police officers are stationed even farther off. Their job is to keep this mess from spilling out into the surrounding neighborhoods. From time to time they are called upon to enter this hellish scene, but it’s only to remove the victims of the most egregious crimes. This they do as discreetly as possible. They have no desire to trigger a riot of deranged, drug-addled Phish fans.
This tragic canvas has been painted night after night over the course of the summer. Yet America’s bedraggled youths still come and they come in droves. What drives so many to sacrifice their spirit to such a cruel chimera of waste of suffering?
The Phish is a rock band unlike any other. Their music is vaguely defined as “jam” and “freakout” and “psychedelic.” It combines ear-splitting guitar battles with pompous drum improvisations. This cacophony of instrumental insurgency is overlaid with lyrics that provocatively defy common sense. Yet the fans are here for much more than a set of songs. It is the whole grungy, messy, sexualized catastrophe that thrills them. They delight in the destruction, the drugs and the denial of all that is decent in the world outside. They look at you and me as “squares” and “straights,” and fear the rules we live and work by.
Yet the Phish represents something different than the generic 60s radicalism of a generation ago. That was a more ambitious, more polyglot movement. Most of today’s new age hippies are college-educated and from a middle to upper middle class background. They are almost exclusively white and cherish their Caucasian heritage. It gives them license to misbehave, to drop out of the workingman’s rat race and tune in to weekend-long drug kicks without fear of the police surveillance common to minority groups. In their exclusive and secretive confines, they let their “freak flags fly” and fly they do. But make no mistake, they’ve replaced the agitation of the Nixon generation with something equally ruinous.
Today’s Phish heads are more likely to be Libertariansthan Democrats. You won’t see them at an Occupy riot or an Obama rally. They’ve inherited houses and money from their hardworking parents. They want lower taxes and less government oversight. It goes without saying that this subculture has no need for any God or Faith that you or I would understand. They may have been raised secular Jews or failed Catholics but the only evidence of this is their unpredictable histrionics. In many ways, it is the Phish’s disdain for Christianity that keeps followers from fully embracing the Republican Party.
While the Phish cult is a veritable leech on the body of society, radical socialism poses too much of a threat to their individual trust funds and summer homes. Indeed, members of this community are rather fond of their elevated social status. They fear that the implied equality of communism would actually force them to pare down their Kennedy-esque endeavors. Even the less financially fortunate support this agenda, for they aspire to the achieve a gilded lifestyle some day. For now, the poorer ones adorn themselves in the affections of their peers so as not to appear arriviste and outré. Despite all the trappings of affluence, however, all members of the Phish cult will work tirelessly to maintain a charade of multicultural sensitivity. Their “feel good” groovy hippie wisdom insulates them from the harshness of the real world and keeps them from being truly noticed by the ethnic classes. It all is part of complex agenda to protect their property while maintaining access to the aristocratic narcotics they worship so religiously.
Cannabis is the next element added to the noxious concoction. Most “phans” are “pot” addicts who spend much of their free time pursuing a catatonic dope high. Weed even bleeds into their political discourse. If a candidate running for office supports marijuana legalization, as many Libertarians do, he has the Phish head’s impassioned support. No other social issue is as energizing in this world. Indeed, many spend a disproportionate amount of their time on the internetdiscussing marijuana-related issues. When it comes to decisions about where and how to live, weed is again a crucial factor. Some cities are known as drug utopias, others are not. An apartment building with a bunch of “squares” is a bad idea, while a flophouse with other “heads” is highly sought after. Even better is moving to a pot farm. When this idyllic option is out of reach, an ethnic neighborhood suffices. Often the only black or Latino a Phish head knows is his weed dealer. It’s rather shocking to learn that addiction determines so many of the daily decisions in this criminal world.
But why the Phish music? For the signature acts of the 1960s– the Beatles, Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead– music was about liberal protest and social change. It was an angry call to arms for those who felt disenfranchized by society. Yet the songs that the Phish play have nothing to do with politics or injustice, and everything to do with an elitist foray into the surreal. Hits with names like “Kung,” “Guelah Papyrus,” “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or “Character Zero” essentially celebrate nothing at all. They are intentionally opaque, spiritually empty and intellectually vapid. This jaded nihilism is an “inside joke” for the liberal arts educated. Others such as “Weekapaug Groove,” “You Enjoy Myself” and “Possum” defend that soft comfortable world of white status. Weekend beach holidays, casual sex and pet hobbies are about the most profound subjects this group is willing to delve into. Thus, we see that cannabis, atheism and privilege bond with an incredible narcissism to define the curiously entitled countercultural scene of the Phish.
In many ways, the Phish worldview is a strange combination of old-fashioned communalism and futuristic dystopian selfishness. As a group, they have broken off from the rest of us. They could care less if their music is mocked for its atonal absurdity and complete inability to crack the Billboard charts. Nor do these people desire to be part of the grand experiment of American democracy. These are not activists or thinkers, innovators or even leaders. No, they are cave dwellers, happy to hide away with their gruesome Neanderthalic lusts, grinding their sweaty bodies to primal beats and bare-breasted desires. They only ask that we avoid them and that our culture move on without the benefit of their grotesque creativity.
Most of us would consider it a grand idea to ignore the Phish scene entirely. But think for a moment of your children, or maybe all the blushing, hopeful children of America. What happens when they make the mistake of tuning into the Phish? Do we not all share a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves? What sort of civilization would we be if we blindly sacrificed our innocents to keep this voracious Phishic subculture at bay? It’s not enough that we ignore them for there will come a day when the Phish will come for one of our own. When that happens, you’ll need more than bravery and faith at your call.