My Thoughts on Phish as 2012 Closes

MSGIt’s been a year since my last blog post. A year. A lot has happened in that year, my life is very different than it was as I wrote “My Thoughts on Phish as 2011 Closes.” I’m a different person, and the things that make me happy have changed significantly. But here, as 2012 closes, I’m finding myself writing something I simply never expected to write. See, I didn’t order the Phish MSG webcasts. As I’ve been slaving over the Phish.net forum, crumbling due to the site’s size and several less-than-optimal code routines, I’ve been thinking something I’ve just not had the guts to say out loud: I just don’t care that much about Phish anymore.

I looked over the setlists for the last three nights, and I’m sorry to say, they just aren’t that interesting to me anymore. They look totally tired, many of the songs being a total snoozefest for me these days. Friday night included this opening combo: Stealing Time, Moma, Funky Bitch. I would’ve slit my wrists if I went to NY and got that threesome. The set was rescued, song wise, by Stash, Nellie Kane, and what I’m told is a fantastic Wolfman’s, the problem is, I just don’t even care enough to check it out. I hope I get the interest to check out the Tweezer that everyone says is “one of the best of 3.0,” but the fact is, I’m beginning to realize that I just don’t like 3.0 Phish that much.
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The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love” Revisited

One of the most popular posts on my blog – and by far the most commented, is “The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”: An Interpretation.” Even though it was written and published in March of 2009, it continues to receive comments and pageviews. This week, I was listening to the album again and I spotted something I’d never realized before. I found a theme I’d previously missed.

The story “The Hazards of Love” is a complete saga with well rounded characters with clear motivation. It exists in two acts. There are several layers of potential analysis, from character depth to allusion. “The Hazards of Love” itself is the title of four distinct un-thematically related songs on the disc. It bothered me only for a moment that Colin and company would reuse the song title so often for no clear purpose, but alas, this weekend, I finally found the connection.

The four songs entitled “The Hazards of Love” all describe a different “hazard” of love!

The first song, “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)” represents lust. It’s Lust that drive William and Margaret together, that keeps her riding out past Offa’s Wall to meet him, and ultimately leads to her bearing his fruit. Perhaps a little uptight to view lust as a “hazard”? In the age of The Situation and Snooki, sure. In the age of William and Margaret? Sin!

“The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)” represents jealousy. Bear with me: I know the Queen doesn’t discover William and Margaret’s affair in this song, but it’s during this episode that she will catch them. The hazard, in this case, is that others will be unable to handle the love. Ultimately, the Queen wants to keep William for herself, and this is the moment she will witness to cement that emotion.

“The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” represents… wait for it… vengeance, of course. Look at relationships: so quickly they can turn from love to hate. Use whatever cliché you want about the thin line between love and hate, but ultimately, many broken relationship land in hate. Not just hate, but the need to hurt and take revenge. What do The Rake’s children actually do here? Do they terrorize their father? Do they naïvely believe they are returning for his love? Do they kill him? Either way, they get their revenge by depriving him of Margaret.

Lastly, we have the heart-wrenching “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”. It’s easy to categorize this one: loss. It’s maybe as simple as just the loss of a single moment, hour, or day with someone when you are in love, but in this case, it’s illustrated in the extreme: William has promised his earthly bones to Annan Water, and Margaret tragically sacrifices herself – and possibly her baby – to be with William for eternity. Of course, the eagle-eyed December-head will know that the baby is probably doomed destined to be rescued by the Queen from the reedy glen, but Margaret, any way you slice it, meets her end. Love’s power is too great, and she is unable to live without her “true love” William.

You could probably write 20 short analyses of “The Hazards of Love” without duplicating content. I like to think that Colin Meloy and crew put some serious thought into this story and loaded it with Easter Eggs that are neither confirmed nor denied so as to leave the story up for interpretation. During “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)”, I nearly bust out of my seat picturing William swashbuckling through the jungle on the dark side of Annan Water to save our heroine from The Rake. I LOVE the story and the music. So, while I don’t necessarily think that it was the intent to illustrate four different literal “hazards of love,” I think it’s both fascinating and incredible that it’s possible to construct and support the theory at all.

Creating a JSON API

I was assisting someone recently in building an API for their website and it occurred to me that while the current trend is generally using XML/REST/SOAP for APIs, there is quite a bit of benefit to using plain old Javascript and JSON.  Most users won’t venture into API territory, so if your goal is to make your API accessible – and this goes double if your primary purpose is embedding content in a third party site – it’s hard to argue with Javascript.

The Phish.net API, for example, is a simple HTTP request to an endpoint that returns JSON.  If you provide a callback function name as an argument, and then pre-define that function, it will return the contents wrapped in a function call.  In short, if you define a function called “example()” that accepts JSON an array/object as an argument, then by requesting the API with a callback of “example”, the response will be returned like so:

example(json response);

The benefit, of course, is that it allows a user to embed your code easily. If you host your own callback functions, you can very easily walk a user through a data embed. For example, on Phish.net, we offer the band’s latest setlist.  So we host a callback called pnet3setlist().  Then we offer the API response.  Embedding the setlist is literally as easy as this:

<script src="http://api.phish.net/callbacks/pnet3-setlist.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="https://api.phish.net/api.json?method=pnet.shows.setlist.recent&amp;amp;callback=pnet3setlist" type="text/javascript"></script>

I’m going to dig more into this later, but the gist of this is that the API can be constructed in a way that allows novice users to interact with it in their WordPress- or Blogger-blogs with little to no modification, it allows semi-skilled users to modify it slightly and tweak it for display purposes, and it allows advanced users to control virtually all aspects. Since virtually every major web language can encode and decode JSON (Javascript, PHP, Ruby, ASP, etc), it’s a near-universal way to exchange data. It doesn’t carry the overhead or complexity of XML, nor does it have the limited scope of something like serialized PHP.

Javascript-based APIs may not be the ultimate solution to a fully interconnected web, but they’re certainly going to be one of the best and simplest methods of data exchange for the foreseeable future.

firsttube.com 10.3

I’ve upgraded/downgraded firsttube.com.  As I switched from one server to another, and therefore revisited my very heavily-customized firsttube.com theme (the beautiful Mystique), I decided it was time to simplify.

As such, firsttube.com 10.3: based on the default WordPress 3 theme “Twenty Ten.”  There are minor customizations to the HTML and the CSS, but overall, it’s almost entirely stock WP.  It’s much faster, much leaner, and much easier to maintain.  Enjoy.

Phish Wish List Redux

Just about a year ago I posted my “Phish Wishlist.”  I’m heading up to 3 shows in Atlantic City this weekend, so it’s time to update and revisit this list.

What can I cross off this list since then? Two songs: “Dinner and a Movie” and “Walk Away.”

So I’ll start off with the remaining songs:

  • Destiny Unbound
  • Camel Walk
  • Brother
  • Scents and Subtle Sounds
  • A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
  • Glide
  • Harpua
  • Spock’s Brain
  • Have Mercy
  • The Lizards
  • Crowd Control

Then I’ll add songs I want to see as of now:

  • Alumni Blues > LTJP > Alumni Blues
  • Gone

I don’t think I’ll get Alumni or ASIHTOS because they were played last night, and Camel Walk, Lizards, and Brother were ALL played on Sunday.  But I do have my fingers crossed for something fun.

Making the Case: Summer of '89

Smegma, dogmatigram, fish market stew.
Walking across the lawn, stepped upon a log.
Tipsy, fuddled, boozy, groggy, elevated prime did edit her.

These are the lyrics of Phish. These are the fun, linguistic acrobatics that entertain us. But, from time to time, things get serious we have to acknowledge that we are human, and we have lives, and we have families. Those, too, shape us and our experiences. I think it’s common for fans to forget that they’re favorite entertainers have lives off the stage, and from time to time, those fans can be both rabid and unforgiving.

When I began to read online comments deriding Trey’s new ballad, Summer of ’89, I was a bothered. When I heard the song debut in Hartford, I thought of it as a light little set-interlude, punctuated by the “and we danced all night” refrain. I wasn’t especially excited about it, but I certainly wasn’t offended by it. On repeat listening, though, I’m feeling differently.

I hope we’re mature enough as a community to recognize Summer of ’89 for what it is: a nice, gentle love song from Trey to his wife. Phish is on the road a lot – less these days, with Shakespeare camp and school vacation commitments – but it seems only fair that once in a while, they can use the stage to remind their family how much they mean to them, especially give the fact that most songwriters write lyrics that touch on their personal lives, while our rock stars tend to sing about imaginary friends, getting raped in the forest on an owl hunt, syrup thieves, aggressive reflections, and, oh yeah… good ol, classic masturbation.

The other day, I was driving along and Summer of ’89 came on, and I listened to the lyrics seriously for the first time. What is it other than an intimate glance into Trey’s love life? Weaving a grass ring, a particular, frequently-worn dress, a shared phase of Brazillian music. And then? “On the road when our first was born in the summer of ’95.” I actually felt a tear well up in my crusty old ducts, one that betrayingly fought its way up, but ultimately, I was just able to hold back. But it connected with me, because the idea of being away from my kids for more than a few days makes me sad, let alone a tour, or missing something as monumental as their birth.

I consider this light little tune, and I realize that behind the simple rhymes are not just memories that make one smile, but a little bit of regret. Regret about how it was simpler then. Regret about missing time with children. Regret in the moment: we used to dance all night, but now… well, now we don’t.

Singing about kids often chokes me up, and this is coming from someone who almost never cries. I’m not ashamed to admit that there was a day a few years ago when, upon hearing the “smiles awake you when you rise” verse of The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers, I suddenly and uncontrollably wept like a baby thinking of my daughter. As a parent, I don’t see any problem with reflecting on the life you’ve built with your family and being wise enough to see your successes and man enough to admit your regrets and mistakes. To me, this was Trey reflecting on his life with his family. A little bit of happy memory, a little bit of bittersweet. But honest. Like Joy, it’s hard not to see something raw underneath the veneer of playfulness that usually coats Phish and Phish-derivative offerings.

Say what you will about Summer of ‘89 – it’s weak compositionally, it’s mushy and out of place at a Phish concert, its chordiness makes it musically unchallenging, it’s not manly enough, it’s unnecessarily sappy, it’s a too-intimate glance into private emotions… to me, those are all excuses. You don’t have to love the song, but to suggest that it’s bad because it’s different just seems disingenuous and uncharacteristic of Phish phans.

But then… what do I know? I likeTime Turns Elastic.