- by Ghost Llama -
Phish have reunited. A new album is due in September.
I am fresh out of college, newly single, and living alone for the first time in my adult life. I don’t have any health insurance and have lost the use of the campus therapist. I am struggling. No one knows anything is wrong with me but I am depressed and tired of life. Drinking becomes a normal thing just to hang out with people. I can’t sleep at night but can’t get out of bed in the morning. Everything is wrong and I know it is. This isn’t my first trip down this avenue of bleakness.
A lot of us find ourselves in situations where life is overwhelming and everything looks bleak. It is fairly common and everyone gets “down” sometimes. However, some of us have a good day and at the end of the day thinking “This is a nice night to end it all. If I just die tonight, my last day will have been okay and I won’t have to face another bad day.”
These are the kind of thoughts you cannot explain to family or friends. You don’t want to want to hear “but think about how we would feel if you left.’’ (Honestly, the guilt trip fix to suicidal thoughts seems weird. Like you are telling a person who loves you “I don’t want to live” and their response is “Now how would that make everyone else feel?” Tip: I guess “I don’t give a shit, I’ll be dead” is the wrong answer.) Afterwards, you spend the rest of the day calming down your friends or family. They spend the next few weeks walking on eggshells around you. It truly makes everything worse. Knowing all of this, you skip telling anyone. You numb yourself and go through the motions. Little things seem impossible and waking up alive is the biggest disappointment. This is the time that music can really save someone. And for me, at that point in my life, it was the album Joy.
It’s never as simple as putting on a happy song and snapping out of depression. Sometimes I don’t even know what caused the changed and made me content with life again. But I can pinpoint the exact point when things started to come around in 2009. I had recently gotten into vinyl and pre-ordered Joy from Amazon. On release, it arrived and I absentmindedly opened the packaging and set the record aside. I didn’t touch it for weeks.
Finally, since my apartment had reached a point of messy I couldn’t deal with, I decided to put on Joy and forced myself to clean. The start of Backwards Down the Number Line instantly put me off and I ignored the song. “Happy happy oh my friend” my ass. I was content just letting side A play and then I would put on something sad and wallow. I was making progress on cleaning and didn’t want to stop. A while later, while cleaning off takeout contains from my coffee table I heard “We want you to be happy, don’t live inside the gloom.”
And for some fucking reason that struck me just right. Then the chorus goes on to say “this is your song too.” And at that moment I owned it. Trey sounded so sincere that night. It was like he singing this song just for me. I sat on my couch and listened to the rest of side A. I was interested in something for the first time in months and was enjoying it.
As soon as Sugar Shack finished, I flipped the record over to side B and dropped the needle. Ocelot is a great song if you have been canceling plans and avoiding people. By the end of the song, I was ready to go out and play. Then Kill Devil Falls plays and the happiness in the music makes all mistakes not seem bad at all, even mine. I have learned my lesson, until the next time. By the 2nd chorus, I am ready to live, if not for me then for the chance to see this song live. Somehow this song has embodied me and I feel alive again.
It’s hard to put into words exactly why Kill Devil Falls jumped out to me that night and still jumps out to me this day. For example, the entire time I lived in upstate New York if I needed a reset, I would go into the mountains or gorges. On the drive out there this would be the first song I played when I got on 17C. That is what music, Phish especially, does for people. Just a little hook or snippet of song and boom we are transferred to a different world.
By the time the final notes of Twenty Years Later play I am a different person. Living doesn’t seem that bad. The past isn’t as bad as I made it out to be. I feel loved and worthy of life again. After taking in what happened, I put on side A again.
“Happy happy oh my friend” doesn’t sound corny or forced. It sounds like a warm welcome from a dear friend. I am thankful for Phish for that.
Joy was a giant audio hug from across the radio waves telling me, “we want you to be happy, step outside the gloom.”