Sunday, August 4, 2019

Phish Tacos

            I gotta talk to you about tacos.

            Let’s get a few things outta the way first: Tacos are awesome. So are cheeseburgers and pizza. And a nice wedge salad or seared steak that’s been done solid justice. Taco, though, initially meant “snack.” It just happened to involve the ingredients with which we’ve become familiar because those ingredients have always been cultural staples of the people that, um, invented tacos.

            You sharing your tacos on a social-media platform or mentioning that you like them on dating app is, uh…Let’s just say you’re getting put in a folder.

            Tacos have ridden this bizarre wave, though: the ones we made with our parents for dinner became <Special Agent Johnny Utah voice> Baja fish tacos (bruh) became authentic/street tacos became, well, girls talking online about how much they love tacos.

            It’s become annoying enough that I kinda dislike the fact that I kinda dislike reading my kids Dragons Love Tacos at bedtime. And I actually like the book. I just can’t dig on the fad part of it.

            Anyway, I’ve experienced this weird culinary retrograde wherein I’ve gone from learning about fresh, premium ingredients and utilizing them as part of my profession to just pulling over and letting the rush hour of the world whiz past me for long enough on the shoulder that I’ve come back to enjoying the tacos for which I’d help prep for childhood dinnertime (Side note: You ever find yourself wishing you’d grown up in a “supper” home? Just curious.).

            I’m talking pre-fried, kept-from-staling, yellow corn tortillas, ground beef (or turkey) with your choice of seasoning, fresh-shredded iceberg, fresh-shredded cheese, thinned sour cream, and taco sauce. Not salsa. Taco sauce. If I’m feeling randy I’ll break out the sliced black olives, but those’re the basics. My son nixes the sour and prefers the sauce; my daughter’s the opposite. And we’ll easily slay a dozen on a tacos-for-dinner evening. And we’re all stupidly stoked about it.

            I didn’t mind the fish-taco phase. I dabbled. I enjoyed. I’m not down with the authentic/street craze that won’t seem to go away, though. For starters, I want soft corn tortillas encasing my enchilada filling and encasing my enchilada filling only. Don’t try and pass off an incomplete, improper-ingredient-riddled food item as a taco. I don’t care if that’s what they have used for 1,000 years in Michoacan. That shit ain’t a taco to me. And while we’re at it, keep your damn radishes away from my plate already. Jesus.

            Now, I know that this is probably wildly unpopular, but I’m talking about my tacos. Not yours. And no thanks on the pulled pork. I did myself a disservice and ate some authentic, pulled-pork tacos at Port Fonda late one Friday afternoon a few years back and I was criminally hungover, so even if I at one point would’ve been in to that, I ruined that particular flavor profile for life. I also rolled out this smoked-meat-heavy menu at a restaurant I worked at and I did 100 percent of the brining, curing, rubbing, injecting, pulling, etc. myself. So I kinda poisoned myself on pulled pork not just in those two ways, but having tailgated with it a time or two as well.

            Anyway, Phish tacos are a different story.

            Phish tacos are probably something you don’t care about.

            Phish tacos are little tidbits about Phish that keep me rowing (or floating, depending on the day) down the stream of life.

            I’m not going to talk to you about why Phish is the greatest band in American rock history. I’m not going to drop attended-show stats, my show timeline, or post a YouTube clip about why you should listen to this “Tweezer” now. I’m not going to regale you with the studiousness of Page McConnell or the work ethic of Trey Anastasio. I’m not going to post concert photos of the light show, and I’m not going to ask you to just give this studio track a listen with because-then-you’ll-get-it claims anchored in one-sided promises.

            What I am going to do is talk to you about art.

            And here’s the thing about it. We all -- I don’t care who you are: all -- love art. It may be in one form. It may be another. It may be two forms or 16. It may be that you don’t even realize you do love art.

            We love art because it represents life. I kind of think that no two people look at art the same, and if I’m wrong (and there are two people) then hopefully those two have met and identified that they are in fact soulmates. I know. I know. Stupid word. Doesn’t necessarily have to mean best of friends or most electric of lovers. It can just mean what it actually, linguistically, means: That loves, hates, jams and jives are all on the same page; that tiny differences are recognized, respected, treated with compassion.

            I like books. I like paintings. I love songs. I mean, there’s other stuff I love, but those’re the over-arching vehicles for me. I love the written language. I like the use of words to tell stories. I also like the use of color on a canvas to portray a screenshot of a story, and I love how songs let you in on a teeth-brushing session, a cry in the work break room, a GoPro clip of the time you got unexpectedly euphoric. That’s what art does. It opens a lens for the viewer to relate to the artist for a moment, and the definition of moment always depends on the medium, the level of consumption, the life experiences of the consumer. Music is, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful. That doesn’t make it the best. At all.

            It just means that a finished painting is a tangential thing that hangs on a wall. You have feelings when you look intently at it, but then you walk away. Books (or articles or editorials or poems or whathaveyou) are a tedious investment that the most dedicated take away from. And by most dedicated I mean the engaged that really let themselves escape. They see it through. The finish. They resonate. They carry away from. Over the course of human history people have always had to gather in small groups to discuss, to relate to, to share joy over written works. Painting has always meant that the select few that come in to your home get to cherish for a fraction what’s in your living room or folks have had to go to the same exhibit center and discuss at a later time.

            We all hear music, though. Every day. Maybe it’s a song. Perhaps it’s a jingle in an ad to the podcast you just consumed. Could be that you heard it at church or on the radio or coming from the voices of the street-corner quartet you just walked past. And of course it could’ve come from your own throat.

            We establish relationships with these things, though. This is what’s meant by relating. You can identify with someone in a conversation because there’s a shared moment, a nugget that let’s you (and the other party) know that on one, tiny, microscopic level, you shared the exact same human experience. Or maybe it’s bigger. Maybe you shared on seven levels and that elevated things.

            I mean, this is why country is so big in America. It’s a nation founded on, well, farmers, I guess. Maybe that’s just a perspective anymore. Used to be the only one. Doesn’t mean it’s the right one or the accurate one. Just means that -- once we were past, you know, genocide and enslavement and the withholding of basic rights to, well, a lot of people -- the United States was formed on the necessity for people to grow shit so that other people could either eat it or use it. Obviously other countries have been rooted in this same concept, but I’ve never lived any of those places or studied any of them hard enough and long enough for it to still resonate.

            Just means that people farmed and a few of them wrote songs about it. Some other people heard ‘em and that whole sub-culture grew.

            Sharing, though. That’s the connect. That’s the mojo. That’s the love.

            You write a song about a bad digger you took at the skate park. You were alone. You’d just been dumped. It was fall yet you needed sunglasses late. Someone was grilling hot dogs nearby and it made you think of your favorite mustard. I’m me. I’m the listener. I bought your record or opened the YouTube link someone texted me. I can still picture pieces of gravel in my sixth-grade knee from a skating wipeout. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve lived through seemingly countless autumns and I know that feeling of being deep in an emotion and having a sensory experience that marries the two thought clouds beyond the number of times you recall that story in your privatest of circles.

            I love that song you wrote because I related to a tiny portion of it I heard upon first listen. Second listen dropped another splash of dopamine into my brain because of either a) a new thing I latched on to within the song, or b) the experience I was having when I heard it. Now I’ve bitten the bait. Now I’m going to chomp and I’m going to do so knowing full well that a hook might ensnare my cheek. I’m going to play it again in both random scenarios and those with intent. I’m probably going to share it, keep that chain letter moving to another mailbox.

            When you buy a concert ticket it’s almost always because you have consumed enough of what that artist has done across their career and you’ve probably dug a certain percentage of it.

            Most bands write setlists. Most bands know how they’re going to open and close shows. Most bands have members in it that probably tire of looking at their hands or feet in the same position at the same time, night in and night out. Most bands probably need to numb themselves in some fashion to forget about the monotony, which is to say that this is art. That band sat in a studio and took 19 takes to get the one song you love the most as close as possible to the way that the producer deemed perfect. Now that moment of creativity, having been washed, dried, pressed, worn, discarded, recovered, starched and highlighted only resembles a portion of its original self. And the artist must go from city to town, from town to city and try to replicate that song -- along with many others -- in a fashion close enough to the version of the song they didn’t even actually write in a way that generates cheers and applause.

            Sounds awful and excruciating. Little wonder there’s heavy amounts of mood medication amongst artists.

            Phish doesn’t do that, though.

            They take the stage setlist-less. They seldom “solo” in the same fashion. They play the songs they’ve composed and if, at any given moment, one member feels like scatting -- if you will -- on a particular portion, they do. And the other members harmonize. And the song becomes a song within the song. That song within the song often returns to its original home, creating a secondary sense of elation, and that feeling is eternally shared. Amongst the band, the ticket-stub-in-their-hand attendees, and the people that have either streamed it, WebCasted it, or listened to it after the fact. Perhaps most important: Not every song of every show is like that. Most nights a few are. Some nights a cluster are. Occasionally the majority of the show is like that, but then that show’s over and it’s on to the next. It’s purged from the system, save for the electrons left lingering from the vibe, which get picked up and built upon from all of those same parties.

            It’s really remarkable.

            Anyway, they’ve been -- if you cut out hiatus and breakup -- at it for 36 years. I don’t cut them out because those productivity-less years didn’t mean they weren’t writing or painting or strumming or drumming.

            Aside from the feeling of being a dad I’ve yet to discover anything that really makes my joy flourish like seeing a Phish show or listening to a Phish song or reading a piece of literature about Phish or buying a poster crafted in the heart of the band.

            They have an app, because of course they do.

            It’s been around for a minute and it’s superb. So much available. Such an insane level of access at the literal tap of a finger.

            Opening that thing is like having a taco truck pull in to my driveway each morning. It’s just there. It doesn’t honk or bother me or send an annoying text to me to let me know it’s waiting. It’s rattly-muffler engine isn’t running while I shave or iron my pants. It’s just there, like that car in movie scenes that they’ve just begun to eye in the rear-view. The driver of that car hasn’t let on that it’s following yet. It’s just there in traffic, hanging out, unnoticed (until now) by the person maneuvering the lead vehicle.

            If you subscribe, which I of course do, you can pretty much listen to anything you want (with a few understandable exceptions). It’s like the Willy Wonka river of chocolate, though. You know, in case you overdose on Sour Patch Kids or eat too many Doritos or finally groan at the remaining handfuls in your snack-mix bowl. It’s just there, flowing quieter than White Noise, ready for you to dunk your head in whenever you feel inclined.

            Phish isn’t for everybody. It took me a while to figure that out. I won’t go so far as to say that I’m at peace with that, ‘cause I feel like it should be. I’m also old enough now to realize that that would be totally weird and unnatural. They’re there, though, and new people -- in some fashion or another -- wind up diving in every day.

            I’m just thankful that their body of work is so deep and so wide and so available that I can stroll over to that buffet anytime and make myself a taco. Or six. The way I like.

            You know…loaded with all of the goods.

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