Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Balls on the Road: Citrusville, Phish, and Quebec Edition

This is one of the moments of hilarity and prankishness that dropped into the Superball IX Phish Festival Weekend. Normally the Ted summit is Burning Man, but this year we descended on Watkins Glen, NY for three days of transformative music, lights, conversation, dance, and art with the masters of derailment.

But First! Anth and I drove to Eutawville, SC, where Linz met us by plane, for the Citrusville Citizens' Sports Tournament. Every year Raymond Hawkins, Linz's mad genius younger brother, organizes a tournament of sports for his family and friends, based in his invented town of Citrusville. We played sports for 7 hours. We wore matching jerseys and ate boiled peanuts and Charleston Chews to keep up our strength. Something true: I adore badminton. The following day Linz, Anth, and the family all went out on a boat, while I cruised around the tiny town of Eutawville, eventually settling in at Aces High, the only bar in town. I met Mudhog and Hambone, and listened to their stories of southern living over a can of Busch. One must be a club member to drink at the Aces High, and I'd like to boast that due to bartender Gina's great generosity and humor, I now am one. I'll always have a place to drink beer and sit down in South Carolina. Does anyone know the name of that game that involves a large jar of water with a shot glass at the bottom, into which people try to drop quarters? All we could come up with was "Drop a Quarter in the Jar." It turns out that I'm perfectly at ease by myself in neighborhood bars populated almost exclusively with men. More on that later, probably. In the book on bars.

We packed Linz and our gear back into Aayla Secura (my little blue Toyota Yaris, who has been the heroic vehicle of this road trip and is named after an awesome Jedi Master) and drove 12 hours north to New York. There we met up with two other Teds, Janet and Max, spent an evening walking through Brooklyn with the venerable Jon Cotner, co-author of Ten Walks, Two Talks,  and practiced his "spreading of good vibes" by speaking simple compliments to strangers. He cooked us scallops, we talked for hours, a difficult but important fight erupted, and eventually the Teds fell asleep in a small heap in JanTed's room. 

In the morning, we got five Teds into the car, and met two more, Aaron and Karine, in Watkins Glen, NY. Oh joy of reunion and material reality of bodies! Oh violently loving Tedpile! We pitched tents, we slathered sunscreen, we entered the rarified world of a Phish Festival!! We were missing one Ted: Josh, who had life obligations that forced him to stay in California. One must not worry too much about keeping the Teds organized in their mind. We are right now eight people, but we will likely be more, and we share basic principles and life experiences and love each other with familial fervor and thus any Ted is Ted.

And this is where a most important theme emerged, although it still slips by me, feels not-quite-tangible, and I grapple with my ability to articulate it...because the basic premise is a kind of ghost, a Derridean notion of the trace every word is and leaves, an encounter with the state of wistfulness and desire that characterizes living: nothing is ever truly finished. Phish is my favorite band in part because there is no "authoritative" version of any song, since many songs were played live before they became studio recordings, songs have multiple incarnations as each time they are jammed out a new textual, musical world emerges, and songs listened to outside of the live Phish show inevitably present themselves as truly different experiences than those we "do" with Chris Kuroda's lights, with the crowd, with Trey Anastasio's elated smile, and so on. This blog will not feel finished. This trip is not yet finished. That's the way things are, and often I worry that literature (and even more insidiously, bad TV and film) is trying to sew up the cracks in reality by inventing "endings" that are not the only real ending, i.e., "endings" which are not: "and eventually, all these characters would have died, had they ever been actually alive."

Over the weekend the music fixed us in emotive bodies with gorgeous harmony, asked us to focus outside ourselves and get ready for the fight for the working class AND our right to be weird, loosen up our identities and become overflowing cups of love, train us to be freedom fighters for people far away, and also, invited us to hop in a space ship and take off for planets yet unknown. We read sections of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and then Phish played us the song, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." We also ate $1.00 grilled cheese together, napped in the shade of an enormous stage set, and talked with many other Phish fans who had innumerable philosophies on how to listen to and incorporate the music and its effects into life. The validity of ecstasy, of peak experience, of overwhelming joy and deep terror and big balls and mischief and true comrades was pounded into me with every kick of Fishman's drum. 

When we'd totally won Superball IX and it was time to leave, we entered our temporary Ted separations. Anth drove back to NYC with Janet, Max and Linz. Linz got on a plane and went back to summer school in Berkeley. I drove with Aaron and Karine up to Montreal, with one very important stop along the way: Boldt Castle, in the 1000 Islands. 

There is something perplexing at every turn in Boldt Castle. This is because it is a "restoration" of a building and a vision that was never actually created in the first place. It's an opulent mansion begun in 1900 that fell into disrepair before it ever was actually opulent, before anyone lived there. In fact, no one has ever lived there. CG Boldt was building it for his wife as a romantic gesture of a summer home. She died unexpectedly in 1904, a bit over a year before the Castle was scheduled to be finished, and he ordered work to cease on the behemoth. The place changed hands many times, was open for tours as early as the 1920s, but mostly people were touring an empty shell of a place, and were asked to be interested in the many carefully-cut pieces of granite on the outside. Eventually, it got spruced up. Bizarrely, it's all wrong. The furniture is a motley mix of things that belonged to various people related to the Boldts, and pieces that sort of resemble things a rich person would own at the turn of the century, and only about ten of the 127 rooms are "done." Aaron, Karine, and I went up every flight of stairs and realized that we much preferred the un-refurbished floors where people had covered the plaster with graffiti since as early as 1917. In the same huge mansion: layers of graffiti, fake rooms for people who didn't ever there, and a constant piping of an old Enya album (Shepherd Moons?) into every room through a series of speakers that were added to the mansion in the 1990s. We walked the grounds, in a slight daze, and came upon a gorgeous stone fountain. The basin was painted a garish blue and Karine and I said, simultaneously, "Oh, that blue is all wrong!" And then after our ferry ride back to Alexandria Bay we had a lively conversation in town over a few beers during which we decided that Boldt Castle is what happens when people become obsessed with the notion of Finishing Projects.

It seems to us that artists invent "finished" as a psychological trope to keep from going crazy with perfectionism or self-loathing, to let go of things that have been sold or published, or to create space in which to envision new projects. That Phish is able to keep making old songs different and new, to never let them be finished, seems a grand act of meditative calm and will. That Raymond Hawkins keeps improving the Citrusville Sports Tournament annually seems more understandable, but I think it's possible we'll all play the last Tournament without knowing it's the last one, and one day we will all just notice he grew out of it. And Boldt Castle will never be finished, as long as the non-profit running it now keeps getting half-baked ideas about how to simulate its authenticity. One can learn this lesson about the impossibility of endings on LSD, of course, and one can learn it by becoming a mystic, and one can learn it in meditation, and one can learn it in moments of sudden revelation due to art or sex or other pleasures, but I also think it has to be practiced somehow, thought through constantly. Because the impulse to tie things up in a narrative, to have discrete packages of memory or identity or accomplishment can be so very strong. 

Now I am in Montreal, where the lilt of spoken French graces outdoor patio bars and the staircases are wantonly adorable. And more comes, more comes, more comes. 


  1. Yes! Let's not be finished. Let's stay inside the jam that doesn't end but we fall into often enough to remember the path that does not stray. Said Dante, last night, when I was standing on his pedestal in his park.

  2. Even though we all must have the Norton edition of Shakespeare's complete works for reference, the professor of my current Shakespeare class encourages us to read any version of the plays that we may find in order to underscore the fluidity and lack of certainty that we can have of his writing. Even famous literature must accept that there's no such thing as closure. "I'm sick of your closure. As if anything can be closed." -The Sacred Dice
    And, thus, Hamlet enters the Phish jam.

  3. Although I'm a huge Harry Potter esteemer, I dislike the new poster for the last film, which says "It all ends." No, it doesn't. And it detracts from the importance of the struggle against fascism, racism, anti-intellectualism, and other themes in the film when one thinks of the end of the series as conclusive and bringing closure. Closure is a fiction that sullies fiction.

  4. I love that my first Phish experience was with the Sacred Dicers. I think that Phish is my new favorite band, but there is a standing pool of favorites which includes the Sacred Dice!

    The idea of things ending seems naïve to think things are actually ending. We're continiously growing and thriving, wehther it's our bodies, minds, souls, its ever changing and neverending. It's adventureland, fantasyland, tomorrowland, frontierland, all wrapped in a contious gift wrapped package that we continue to pick at and open and reopen and reobserve and observe and discover and rediscover!