Friday, April 13, 2007

Phish food

Sitting Indian-style by a muddy media trailer in Coventry, Vt., was a young man in his 20s, his hair knotted with filthy dreadlocks, his bare feet caked with drying grey mud; tracks running up his wiry arms. A stream of blood flowed gradually from his nose and crusted to the corners of his mouth in a grotesque fashion; the ebbing sunlight illuminated crimson droplets that sputtered from his lips every time he exhaled a shriek into the throngs of drunken and doped up fans moving unwittingly around him.

Just a short distance away amid the ringing sound of anarchy stood this faceless man’s famed doppelganger, Trey Anastasio, a guitar clutched in his grip and an almost vapid gape entrenched deep into his countenance as he stared blankly into the eyes of the more than 70,000 people surrounding him. It was a warm Sunday evening among the rolling hills of Brad Maxwell’s dairy farm and the last moments of the massive cascading wave the lead singer of Phish had ridden from the backroom bars of Burlington to superstardom. Now was time to duck into the relative anonymity of his solo career, he told a haphazard collection of journalists and fanatics in May 2004.

“We don’t want to become caricatures of ourselves or worse yet a nostalgia act,” he said in his farewell note to Phish fans.

Nearly three years to the day since Anastasio posted his statement, he strolled out of the Washington County Court a sober man; that is, as sober as one can be after running their body’s odometer well past the redline. Eluding him was what he had sought in prompting the dissolution of the band that fans once considered more of a movement than anything else: solitude to reflect. With cameras fixated on his bespectacled face and a frenzied pack of reporters shouting questions, he looked to be exactly what he had stuck out to avoid: a nostalgic spectacle of a talent poisoned by his own vices; a caricature of himself.

Take a look at any picture or video clip of any Phish concert and it’s not hard to see how intricately interlaced drugs were with the band. Many diehard fans –the ones who followed the band from its northern Vermont roots back in the 1980s –knew the ride was coming to an end because the music just wasn’t that good anymore. And many of these followers speculated that the main root of this precipitous decline lay with the warm, brown liquid at the tip of a hypodermic needle.

On a cool August night in 2004, Anastasio’s tour bus sped out of Coventry and away from his fans to forge a union with the needle and wander down a path of self-destruction that didn’t stop until one cold night in Whitehall. His December arrest with more than 60 pills varying sizes, shapes and colors, along with a smear of smack was enough to finally affirm what both his fans and critics knew all along: he had become a function of his drug use, a sort of freakish sideshow for the pills and liquid that had consumed him.

Since that day, Anastasio has served as a sideshow for the various media mongrels that have exploited every moment of the case to keep the addled look he sported for his mug shots on the evening news. It’s the sort of hypocrisy the fickle news networks are known for, plastering photos of besmirched celebrities on the air at any possible time, following their every footstep through the court system, every indictment, every status conference, every negotiation, just to get the perfect shot. Anastasio's plea deal Friday was no excpetion.

Perhaps this sort of humiliation is what Anastasio really needs to get clean and stay clean, kind of a public flogging in center square just so he and people of his ilk know not to mess with drugs. Maybe each time he’s referred to as a “rocker” or a “rock star” instead of a musician or an artist, he’ll contemplate how his talents were both tarnished and squandered by his habit. And maybe, just maybe, some of his dwindling legions of drugged-out fans, those who haven’t already turned to sobriety after the days of so-called touring ended, will follow his lead.

But from the unabashed exploitation of this man by the television media in specific, there lays a sort of cheapening of this dire message. This is especially when similar drug arrests hardly garner as much, if any attention. And if they do, the cases are summarily dropped by the camera-toting courtesans of network television, long before they’re ever adjudicated.

Hopefully, Anastasio’s heart-felt apologies and pledges of sobriety are true for his sake, as there’s nothing more gratifying than to see a person buried in the depths of addiction rise from the ashes of their life only to shine brighter than they did before. But if he doesn’t, there will certainly be the omnipresent news camera lens to gleefully follow him into ruin with the rest of the junkies.


Blogger Les Clutter said...

Excellent post, the courts are giving him a big chance, more then others get, the ball is in his court.

I also did a post on this, but nowhere as in-depth as yours.

4:48 PM  

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