A Garden Party

MSG 2012 (Graham Lucas)

Since New Year’s Eve, many people in the online Phish community have been making meaning of the band covering Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” to open the final show of the year. Though investigating the origin of the song, one can find potential significance in this seemingly out-of-the-blue selection.

Ricky Nelson became a childhood star on the 1950s television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was set in 1950s suburbia and conveyed an idyllic image of American family life. Nelson started his music career by playing songs on the popular show, and in the late ‘50s he branched off from his family’s sitcom and formed an early era rock band. Nelson became one of rock and roll’s first teen idols and became known for his excessively clean cut image. Between 1957 and 1962 Nelson charted 30 Top 40 hits, more than any other artist besides Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Garden Party (1972)

Though Nelson continued to record albums, his success was stymied by the British Invasion of the 1960s. Consequently, he gravitated towards country music, becoming a pioneer of the country rock genre. After his change of tune, however, Nelson reached the Top 40 only two more times in his career—once in 1970 when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and for the final time in 1972 with “Garden Party,” a song written in reaction to the following incident. Nelson performed as part of a “Rock and Roll Revival” concert at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971, sharing the bill with other early rock legends, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, among others. Nelson emerged on stage looking different than his fans remembered him, sporting the ’70s fashion of  bell bottoms, a purple velvet shirt and shoulder-length hair. Though he began with his older classics, Nelson soon played his new country-rock material and was subsequently greeted with boos from an audience who didn’t approve of his stylistic shift. He left the stage mid-set and didn’t return for the show’s group finale. Nelson wrote “Garden Party” in disgust, documenting this experience. Confident in his new musical direction, the lyrics of “Garden Party”—“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”—became his personal creed.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Fast forward to December 31, 2012. Phish decided to debut Ricky Nelson’s song in Madison Square Garden 26 years to the day of the plane crash that took Nelson and his band from the world. While the move was a clear nod to the American legend, Nelson’s “Garden Party” clearly held parallels to Phish’s experience in the modern era. Phish has always endured a hypercritical fan base, something that Trey, himself, noted in 1997’s documentary, Bittersweet Motel. The level of public critique has only increased in 3.0 due to the onset of Phish blogs, podcasts and the always-expanding use of Internet discussion forums. As a burgeoning population of seasoned fans all have particular ideas on the way Phish shows should be played, band analysis and criticism has reached a high point in this era. Whether it’s more bust-outs, not enough funk, a lack of a second jam in “Mike’s Song,” the need to shelve “Time Turns Elastic” or playing less songs per 90-minute set, everyone has an opinion on the band’s performances and isn’t shy about sharing it. The fact that Phish fans care so much about what form the band takes is a testament to their undying passion, though I’m sure if the band members ever tuned into the omnipresent online discussions, they’d be quite amused by the copious demands. Sometimes, a sentiment in the fan community is so widespread and intense that it’d be nearly impossible for it not to get back to them. Some modern examples of this are the ardent endorsement of 2011’s Super Ball festival and the overall disappointment after the lackluster Holiday Run of the same year.

12.31.12 (J.Herzog)

Perhaps Phish’s inclusion of “Garden Party” was their own coy response to their rabid fan base, embracing Nelson’s motto of being true to themselves in the face of any and all critique. By following up “Garden Party” with “Possum,” a song that is universally considered to be overplayed in this era, and “Roses Are Free,” a song from which everybody and their mothers have called for more jams, it’s hard to ignore this probability. While “Garden Party” may have been a playful musical retort, it’s quite dubious that the maneuver represented anything more than that towards their fan base—a loyal cadre they have consistently gushed over for the duration of their careers. Phish has enjoyed one of the famous love affairs in music history with a fan base that would travel to the end of the earth to see them perform. More likely than a jab at their loyalists, “Garden Party” was positive affirmation of their own place in time. The message didn’t feel like a defensive “Hey, quit your bitching!” but rather a mature statement saying, “Everyone is welcome to have opinions, but we are here to please ourselves. Take it or leave it.” Understood in this regard, such a statement simultaneously frees their fan base to be critical and allows the band not to worry about it at all.

In all likelihood, the cover of “Garden Party” had a bit to do with several aspects of the night—the fact that Phish had, literally, created a garden out of the Garden for New Year’s Eve, the 26 year anniversary of Ricky Nelson’s passing and a tongue-in-cheek comment to their feverish fan base that Phish will be Phish. And in the end, though fans will be fans, I don’t think there is anyone who really wants them to change. If they are happy, we are happy and if we are happy, they are happy. This has worked for 30 years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

12.31.12 (Richard Lawless)

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1,320 Responses to “A Garden Party”

  1. tela's_muff Says:

    Interesting lists @sumo. I’ve seen u mention Ty Seegal lately and I have a couple albums in addition to that White Fence pairing. All decent. Hit or miss on each album. I really like Quilt. Very cool album. Sun Araw is putting out good psych albums. I have one in my orange.

  2. MiA Says:

    Gotta spin that now Palmer.

    Power of suggestion.

  3. TheSloth Says:

    Does anyone else hear a slight buzz/hum during the star lake simple, light, paug and part of 7-? Maybe I am hearing shit?

  4. ElJefe Says:

    RL- white denim pop punk…errm what?

  5. tela's_muff Says:

    White Denim – D is a very very good album. I see them more as a indie folk-rock band than psych but I’m getting bad at labels. Sun Araw and White Denim are way different.

  6. ElJefe Says:

    Ill give ya a pass for the Sea and Cake. ; ) Didn’t even know they still were making music.
    Sumo- you heard the most recent Godspeed You Black Emperor?

  7. bob dylan Says:

    Thanks for the music. Wednesday is cut out for me.

  8. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Funny RL, I’m listening to the field right now. Different album though. From Here We Go Sublime. Just as good if not better

  9. ElJefe Says:

    Like that WD album a lot. 1st couple songs makes me think they listened to Live Dead a lot. Especially St Steve> the 11. Then mixed in a bit more psych pop

  10. tela's_muff Says:

    Agreed DF. That’s a classic

  11. roberto luongo Says:

    I’ve tried on that White Denim. just not my thing.

    maybe I don’t get it. everyone else seems to dig it. only made it through once. def not my style of music though. not quite dirty enough. too song based.

    tell me el jeffe cuz i really don’t get that band. why are White Denim hip I can usually at least tell why peeps dig white rock bands. not that one.

  12. bob dylan Says:

    Ps I thought all the white denim talk was ripping on someone while I’d pop in and scan. Funny ass band name.

  13. Iriewalton Says:

    Finally figured out the work around comcast’s babylon firewall setting that was fucking up my Airplay: $45 Logitech Bluetooth adaptor that just plugged into the Denon’s aux. Stoked to have my entire library and spotify streaming throughout the house again!

  14. roberto luongo Says:

    ya I’ve been working around their catalog since I caught em last summer DF

    really dig all the stuff I’ve heard. great live.

  15. roberto luongo Says:

    I must have gotten the Canadian pressing

    def not thinking St. Stephen > Eleven on my white denim spin

    but I tend to not dig the psych pop stuff so that makes sense why I didn’t dig it. seemed more garage rocky but to clean. that’s why I like Ty Segal. nice and dirty.

  16. ElJefe Says:

    RL- That’s one thing them I like. I like the song writing aspect of em. They mix it up pretty well. Def not 3 chord pop punk though. Then again I haven’t heard GReen Day in a while. Haven’t seen WD live. Hope they would stretch out some of the songs. Also hope they would be a little grittier guitar tone wise. Reminds me of Moe’s “sound”. A little thin.

  17. voopa Says:

    Gary Clark Jr.
    Alabama Shakes
    Black Moth Super Rainbow
    …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
    Purity Ring
    Killer Mike
    Amanda Palmer & Grand Theft Orch.

    …so much more. Great year.

  18. ElJefe Says:

    RL- I always think that w passes as Psych is Garage Rock. Check out the 1st 2 tracks again def a poppier St Steve>11 vibe. To me Psychedelic Rock is more like Dark Star Jam or Storage or Tower jam type stuff. Stuff ya get lost in. Not toe tapping pop. I like both though. Sorry LOVE both..

  19. roberto luongo Says:

    green day was just a bad joke. never heard a green day song since their radio days. from the hype I thought there would be hipper guitar shit and maybe more psychedelic sound. just seemed cleaner and poppier than i expected from the hype.

    like I said just seemed like white garage rock. I hate to judge bands till i catch em live though. who knows may have some fire.

  20. ElJefe Says:

    What passes. Ill check out the Ty Segall

  21. tela's_muff Says:

    BMSR. My favorite newer bandied the last 5 years. This new release was quality. They also released a great Ep @voop. Psychic Love Damage. Had one of my all-time sweet tart-like experiences while listening to BMSR

  22. roberto luongo Says:

    in a similar genre I really do dig that Tame Impala as a cleaner poppier psych rock thing. didn’t think I would but Love it.

    ya big dirty guitars in that Ty Segall. really dig their sound.

  23. roberto luongo Says:

    the new godspeed is great

    they just crushed a 45 minute set of straight mind fuck guitar wash at pitchfork last summer

  24. tela's_muff Says:

    I’m done typing on the BB via iPhone.

  25. ElJefe Says:

    I think they are from Austin . Like to think there’s still some L left over from the Butthole Surfer etc days (in the water supply :)).

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