Friday, February 14, 2014

Playing Possum

Something dawned on me today, something that once again shocked me that I had not tried it before.

I played Possum.

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I was introduced to Phish way back in 1992 by my housemates in Berkeley.  They had all been fans for years.

As I have noted in other entries and in some comment sections, much of the early music of the band is based, at least in part, on phi, the number which gives us the golden ratio and the golden rectangle.  You know phi most commonly from the conical shape of a snail shell.

Anyways, it's math being used in music.

And as I have also noted before, some of my thoughts and tinkering with phi lead me to where I am today.

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It was shortly thereafter when I heard Possum for the first time, a song only heard in concert.

It's a silly little thing, lyrically.

Yet, it has an absolute monstrosity of a guitar solo.  It was what truly hooked me on the band.

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Way, way, way back in 1983, I played trumpet in the Piedmont Middle School Jazz Band (Yes, fellow male graduates of said middle school all joke that we went through PMS). 

I was half decent.  For my age and grade, I was exceptional.

It was in Jazz Band that my Instructor taught us all how to improvise.

He taught us the B-flat blues scale.  He taught us to start with something small, some simple melody of just a few notes within the scale, and then to build upon it, and even branch out should you have a long solo, 8 to 16 measures.

This would be where my relationship with music really started.  It became very rooted in my ear, listening to solos and how they did or did not follow this approach.

To me, the solo was like a ripple on water, starting basic, but getting some variation (and often complicated) as it went along.

I like to listen to a solo and ride the wave the musician creates.

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So, when I heard Trey Anastasio's solo in Possum, I heard something I never dreamed would be attempted, something outrageous.

It just kept on building, that solo.

What a wave!

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Several years later, scouring a used CD shop in Santa Cruz, I came across a bootleg Phish album entitled Sloth.  It was Set 1 of a 1992 show (May 1st if the web is correct), which ends with Possum.  It was like striking gold.

 Not the greatest sound quality, but I have listened to that track so many times, and groove like mad each time.

What a wave!  The solo is very much as I remember the first version I heard live.

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Now, when it comes to my "adjustments," as I call them, a near constant problem has been that I take three steps forward (progress) but soon fall two steps back (regression), making it very slow going.

I have written much of the feeling of slipping like a stripped bottle top.  Or how I get a little done and just can't focus enough to try to go further in the same attempt.

As usual, it is hard to explain.

It's like unwrapping something with knots and twists and turns, but each change of direction requires tremendous concentration to keep what was done to get there  from collapsing (and bringing everything down in a world of pain).

But today, I played Possum.

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I realized that this insanely long solo could be used as a form of meditation towards my adjustments.

The solo builds and branches off every 4 or 8 measures, but it also builds in intensity, very much so by the solo's end.

Having the solo more or less memorized, I can hear the progression in my head.  As I finish attempting to unwind some portion of muscle and reach a position where I now have to move a different muscle in an entirely different (and usually new to me) manner, I can keep focus and maintain the earlier position I achieved by imagining it as a segment of the Possum solo.

I let the intensity of the solo aid the intensity I need to maintain focus.

The result has been a day of adjustments far more successful then they have been in ages, maybe ever, really.

I mean, where I used to be able to get past one "change of direction," maybe two, with great effort, I found myself doing 4 or 5, then resting, and then doing another 3 or 4.

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The progress I made so far today, an attempt to describe it, is for another day.  Too much done already, and I am far too tired to even try.

As usual, I am not sure I can do it justice.

But I have made significant strides today, and the day ain't over yet.

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If you'd like a listen . . .

Here is a link to a youtube video of a reasonably similar Possum recording, though I must admit Trey has much more fluidity in the track I have on CD.

Possum, pre-song starts at the 2:22 mark
The song starts at 4:59
The solo starts at 7:22 and builds until 11:59

Keep in mind, this will give you an idea of how my focus and intensity build while subluxing and unwinding and, when successful, adjusting.

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