Hey Hey, A Billion Miles to Mark A
The first time I heard Transdermal Celebration, by Ween, I was in the middle of a bad decision that lasted a decade. I had just moved back to New York City after a long stay in the North Country of New York and Vermont (on both shores of Lake Champlain), and I felt a billion miles from okay. Maybe that’s the reason “a billion miles to Mark A” sounded like “a billion miles to okay” in my ear. Maybe that’s why it became one of my favorite songs.
That was a long time ago. I was 28. I was a different person than I am today. I was worried about everything (I still worry, but it’s a different kind). I felt like a prisoner of my own life; like I was trapped in a world that wasn’t my own and I had no idea how to free myself.
When Dan Keller played the opening riff from Transdermal Celebration, about 10 minutes from midnight March 9, 2018, I felt a deep wave of emotion tear through me. It was too perfect a choice, and my eyes welled up in the way that only time and deep reflection can cause. I was ten minutes from entering the fifth decade of life, ostensibly “half-point”, and the reality suddenly sunk in.
Half-point: For men and women of a certain age, mainly my age – X-ennials as we are being called now, half-point has a certain significance. If you were a fan of linear, action-adventure style of video games popularized by Nintendo and Sega in the mid-1980s, half-point was the spot in each level that created a new starting point. Basically, if you were not skilled enough, or lucky enough to finish the level in one pass, if you reached half-point, you could start over from there after “dying”. Half-point was a major accomplishment, especially when playing the most difficult levels. If this life were a Nintendo game, it would be the hardest one imaginable, and reaching half-point would be a major relief. I feel that sense of relief today.
Last night an Ellis Ashbrook show was performed in my honor. To have a show put on for you is a really magical thing; if you ever have the opportunity I highly recommend it. I have been lucky in this department – there have been a number of very special birthdays through the first half. Running though some big highlights, there were three surprise parties (1985, 1991, 2008), basking in the afterglow of the Phish reunion (2009), the happy birthday song performed by an audience of 100, surprise psychedelics, all night downtown raging (2013), the black-An-ton party of seven South Catherine (1998), 21-Shots (1999); and there were also wonderful, more quiet celebrations that stand out; ice-hiking on Lake Champlain (2000), bonfire in Bed Stuy (2017), Riis Park and ramen (2014), Palace Winter BBQ (2015), Early spring Snake Mtn hike (2004), 3rd grade class tour of Central Park (1987), Planet Hollywood with family (1989), Broadway/midnight sushi/early spring on the jetty (2016) – thinking back I could list so many more. I am amazed that I can remember all of these times, and while charting these memories may seem self-serving, it’s really my tribute to all of you. To every single one of you who has made one or more of those occasions significant, memorable, a part of the tapestry of the first four decades of my life. It’s the warm bonds of friends and family that make life worthwhile and has made mine so very special. Time and time again, it’s my friends who show up for me – it’s my friends who mark each milestone as I trace ellipses around the sun, it’s you. Birthdays are not really celebrations of the self, they are celebrations of the lives we share, the interconnected nature of humanity, and the loving ties that bind. As I add the Ellis Ashbrook/MacGlidden show at the Footlight in Ridgewood (2018) to the list of memorable birthdays, what I will remember about the night is how all of you made it happen and made it amazing. “Okay” doesn’t seem like a billion miles away any more. It’s here, it’s forty, it’s half-point, and it’s going to be alright.
The show! The show was a significant event. When John Barber first asked me about this, he said the venue wanted an opening act. We threw some band names around, but the question of who would be available, who would want to do it, who would we want to see there and hang out with made the decision a bit challenging. Early on I thought about MacGlidden – long-time friends of the Space Palace community, an acoustic duo, a quiet contrast to the bombast of the full rock show to come after. Andy and Grant are also good guys; friends I would want at my birthday. Unfortunately, Andy recently moved to Texas, so what’s the likelihood this would even be possible? Turns out the good fortune of the huge zone prevails again, and quite fortuitously Andy had familial reasons to return to our neck of the woods and was going to be here anyway. Incredible serendipity for the big night, and they did not disappoint. The smooth sonorous vibes of MacGlidden were in full force, warming the room for all of us. It was so great to see them perform and have the chance to hang for a minute – thanks guys.
The Ellis show was what you would expect from EA in 2018: Heavy, proggy rock – a powerhouse of sound, with decidedly less funk, dance, pop elements; although still there shining through from time to time. The performance showcased fine playing from all four, creative set-list development, and fire jamming, including the monster 17-minute return of “Way” – a personal favorite. In fact, they played a number of my personal favorites.
I want to take a second to credit Dan; he has learned a lot of the catalog at this point and he fits the role like a strong hand in a well-worn glove. For a guy who is not a “jam guy” he certainly is capable, producing some memorable, improvised moments throughout the night. But what is almost more significant is how he is adjusting to his role as a vocalist in this band; to my ears last night was his best vocal performance with EA to date. He is more confident singing his parts true to their original form, while adjusting them to his range effectively. Really well done, sir. Your hard work was not lost on us; I can’t wait to hear how it progresses further.
If I had to sum all of this up (I do), I would say simply this: Without music and friendship I would not have made it to half-point. I’m here, the future is brighter than ever for all of us, and I am so excited to see how this second-half unfolds. With all the love in my heart, thank you. In particular, thanks to John, Alex, Jon, Dan, Andy, Grant, Eric and the staff at Footlight – you guys are the absolute best. And to all our crew from days past – you were sorely missed.
Dedicated to Big Vern who lost his Dad this week, much love.
March 8, 2018: THE FOOTLIGHT, Ridgewood, NY
Set One: Cat Song, Accelerator, Savior Self, When Will This End?, Way, Kan Eye Tuch U?, The Undeveloped Brain
Set Two: What Is Thinking?, Transdermal Celebration > Good Time Blues, Birthday, Weekapaug Groove > More Gain Free Man, Desert Raft > Slide
 Prior to Way, Anton Nickel (lord ganton) was called to the front for John Barber to say, “It’s the Lord’s day and Lord will have his WAY”
 With Close To The Edge quotes
 Ellis Ashbrook debut
 With Have a Cigar teases and Stash quotes
 With cake presentation (cookie puss) and brief Birthday words from Anton Nickel
 By Request
16 Songs, Spread:
Ellis Ashbrook: 2
The Space Palace: 2