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Music

Trey Anastasio owned Grateful Dead's Bob Weir on the state of modern music

Bob Weir, the former guitarist of Grateful Dead, and Trey Anastasio, the frontman of Phish, have been friends for a long time, and this great relationship has seen them perform together on numerous occasions. It’s a connection that makes a lot of sense, as countercultural heroes Grateful Dead are the most important jam band of all time, and their heady deployment of a wide variety of styles set the stage for outfits such as Phish to form and take their formula and run with it.

However, in the late 1990s, when both appeared at a forum discussing the state of music, Anastasio destroyed Weir by offering a refreshing take on the state of music and what we have to do as listeners to find fulfilment in the modern era. The duo were joined on the panel by the operatic icon Beverly Sills and esteemed trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and the event was moderated by Bill Flanagan.

At one point, Flanagan asked Weir the question that was sent in from a fan: “What do you think is the most disturbing trend in music/culture in our country right now?”

Weir responded: “I’m not sure that there’s anything that disturbs me, so much as, as, there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on that’s being marketed… Well, yeah this does disturb me! The quote, ‘music industry’, is not really interested in selling music to kids. The stuff that you get, the stuff that they are marketing for kids is not real music, it’s something else. It’s entertainment, in my opinion, but as far as, you know, having musical traditions and heritage, lineage, any of that kind of stuff, it’s entirely lacking.”

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He continued: “I used earlier this afternoon when we were talking, I used the example of Britney Spears, and I’ll do it again. You know, I don’t wanna slam here by any means, because she’s very good at what she does, but calling that music”.

His final point and his not-so-thinly veiled dig at the likes of Britney Spears received a thunderous round of applause, as many in the crowd found themselves in total agreement with one of rock’s most respected elder statesmen. 

Enter Trey Anastasio. Even though he is one of Weir and The Dead’s most prominent disciples, he did not share the same view as his old friend, and provided a different, more progressive take on contemporary popular music.

The Phish mastermind said: “I will now play the devil’s advocate to what everyone said. I think that anytime in music you could have found, you know, schmaltzy music, including in the big band era, there were a lot of schmaltzy big bands, and that probably, I would guess that right now there’s stuff going on, that you gotta look (away from)… Don’t look at Britney Spears, because if you look back, you know… there’s ten huge supergroups that are being pushed right now, just like The Bay City Rollers were huge when I was eight years old, who remembers them, you know? It doesn’t really matter.”

Turning to Nicholas Payton, Anastasio reinforced his point, saying: “You just put out an album. Your latest album is a great big band album with incredible arrangements that I just discovered. You also put out another album that I think is destined to be a classic with Doc Cheatham. And so music is happening, you gotta dig for it. I mean, even some of the popular artists… I saw a Busta Rhymes video on MTV the other that I thought was just mindblowing, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before in my life. Just the most twisted rhythms against, the most, you know. Really new. Fresh. And, it’s on MTV, you know what I mean?”

Concluding his point, Anastasio maintained that what we listen to is up to us as the listener, and not the record company: “It’s up to us. Don’t worry about the record companies, they’re gonna push whatever… Don’t buy it. Go out and do something good. We have the power.”

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