I wanted to post an example of the kind of story that combines who you are and frames it loosely in the context of the Hampton, VA Phish shows. This is a very personal story that tells a lot about why I am who I am. I know it’s not easy to share personal things sometimes, but the most meaningful stories may rise from these self-truths or perceived self-truths. Some of you may be familiar with elements of this story...
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, times were much different. Besides the horrible clothing, parents and children seemed to have more time for each other. Work didn’t seem so oppressive to our parents, and mine managed to make it home for dinner just about every night. My parents were married and living in the San Francisco Bay area in the very late 60’s and 70’s. It was a transitional time for many in their situation - trying to enter and enjoy an era of free living, to eek by financially, avoid Vietnam, and live the Northern California sunshine daydream lifestyle.
I was born on May 5, 1975 in Berkeley, California. While my father was very much a young hipster at the time - attending every jazz concert he could plus Fillmore concerts and some big festivals like Altamont; he began a lifelong undertaking in photographing jazz artists and performances. Prior to my birth, my mom was working with Bananas, a childcare and playgroup organization while my father (a marine biologist) worked for the Marine Ecological Institute in Redwood City, doing research. My mom likes to recount how on payday the Institute would ask everyone, “How much do you need right now?” The obvious answer was, “All of it!” Ahhh, times were different and you could get by working part time doing something you loved.
The birth of my sister and I forced real life into the picture. My father took a job working for the National Park Service on the east coast, and the family packed up and moved to Maryland, where my parents still reside. My mother continued working teaching school.
I used to imagine that photography was my dad’s way of staying connected to his youth. While that may have been true at one point, the photography “hobby” grew and evolved into a mature art form. His lifelong love for jazz music and performance has been much more than the passing fancy of youth. Actually, it is the music and creative expression that keeps him feeling active and young. The photography provides a reason for his being at all those performances and his work is a tribute to many wonderful and under-appreciated jazz musicians. In fact, two of the strongest influences on me in this world have been my father’s innate creativity and passion for music.
Now, these days I seem to find that parents are generally much more overprotective of their children than our parents were. Exposure to the wrong TV show, music, friends, books, etc., seems to panic contemporary parents. My, times have changed. Here’s an example - In 1981, my dad took me to see “Quest for Fire,” in the theater when I was 5 or 6. Holy unga bunga violence and nudity! Anyway, the point is that it wasn’t odd for my father to expose me to something like this at a young age and let me process it as best my undeveloped sensibilities could handle. This primarily included live music and film. When I stayed home sick from school I used to curl up on the couch with blankets and watch Samurai movies. I later discovered that this was my dad’s Kurosawa collection. While I guess you could critique exposing a young child to adult material, I also have to remember that it was the same standards that allows me to claim seeing “Star Wars,” at the Uptown in D.C., during the opening showing (at age 2). When I was 14 and desperately wanted to go the Rolling Stones Steel Wheel concert in New York, I told my dad that all of my friends had gone to shows but I’d never seen a concert. Once I was in college I realized how ridiculous these words were coming from the mouth of someone who had not only been lucky enough to see legends like Miles Davis up close and personal – but actually hang with the photographer and talk with them afterwards. For some reason I just identified a “concert” as something that happens at a big arenas with even bigger hair.
It was this type of “outing with dad” that placed me at a “Residents” concert with my father that same year (1981). For anyone who ever saw “The Moles,” with The Residents, you know that it was pretty disturbing and strange stuff - especially for a 6-year-old. I just remember horrifically creepy music with people on stage dressed as huge sea worms, or moles or whatever. All I know is that I wanted to leave (Just like Wrath of Khan - the earwig!). My father, in typical fashion agreed to leave, and then took me from one concert straight to another. We ended up at D.C. Space - a venue that has long since closed. I was tired and hungry (typical 6) and the music just seemed to keep going and going. My dad was waiting for Malachi Thompson to show up, but the other band just kept playing. My strongest memory from that night is eating the only food that the D.C. Space had - a traumatic tuna sandwich that was just a little bit more crunchy than any tuna and celery should be. After that, I put my head down on our table in the club and passed out.
As I grew up, I regularly attended jazz shows with my father, often repeating this scene minus the tuna and passing out on the table. Our experiences together evolved into shrimp and artichoke Po Boys at New Orleans Jazz Fest (went for my birthday in 1998) and many small club shows. I was lucky enough to be exposed to many great jazz legends – all the while watching him watch them from a distance. What has always been awkward and at the same time mind expanding about any jazz experience with my father, is that it’s very lonely and personal. Early in the show my father would take his Olympus camera and stalk off into the shadows of the club. I’d find myself trying to stare into these black pockets and nooks near the stage trying to find my dad. A jazz concert with my dad is like a jazz concert alone. That’s why my mom never goes. For me, it was a time alone with my thoughts, and when listening to music I often find myself feeling invisible, examining the world around me - despite being surrounded by others.
The solitary concert experience can be fascinating indeed. After sitting alone during an eclectic set of true free jazz (a style focusing on free form unscripted improv) at Jazz Fest that literally numbed my brain, Joel Futterman, alto sax and pianist, approached me and said, “Noah, man, how’d you like the set?”
I replied honestly, “Joel, I don’t think a single thought went through my head during the entire performance.”
Joel nodded as if I had said something very wise and said, “It took me 5 years in the streets of Chicago to figure that out.”
When I recently spent some time thinking about these experiences, I realized how I hadn’t seen the simple truth of my evolution. As my father captured his subject, jazz, through a lens, he and the music were my subjects. Over the years he has continued to see and photograph jazz and has been very successful at making his passion part of his life. With his work seen on CD covers, magazines, books, websites, international projects, it’s not the desperate attempt of a man to reclaim his boyhood, but rather the serious appreciation through professional examination of a subject that has brought passion to his life and sustained it.
So what does this have to do with Phish? Just as I sat in the back of dark clubs watching my father watch Dizzy, it is only appropriate that nearly 30 years later my fascination turns now to watching all of you as you celebrate your passion (or lack thereof) for Phish. This project puts me right back at that small table at the D.C. Space - not really understanding why Malachi Thompson showing up was important, but knowing somehow that something amazing was supposed to happen when he did.