A confession: Regular readers may be aware that these days I mostly listen to indie rock and modern classical music, but in my younger and more vulnerable years, when I had hair down past my shoulders and routinely sported tie-dyed shirts, I was a huge Phish fan. Over the course of my late teens and early twenties, I saw the band live more than 30 times. You will probably not be shocked to learn that this also happens to be the period of my life when I was smoking pot with some regularity.
Now I see that erstwhile Sleater-Kinney rocker Carrie Brownstein is making a public attempt to get into the music of Phish, which is (to put it mildly) not a style of music one associates with her. At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype and giving rock snobs more fodder for jibes, my first response to her call for advice: Smoke a joint. Yes, yes, I know: “Ho ho, music you’d have to be high to enjoy.” (I’m assuming that, unlike lame-o DC journalists and wonks, ex-rock stars retain relatively easy access to the stuff well after college.) But there’s a reason it’s a stereotype. And it does seem like it’s particular types of music that especially benefit: the long, noodly improvisational jams found especially in the live recordings most beloved of serious aficionados, say. My guess is that it has something to do with increased sensitivity to patterns—maybe one reason for the fabled paranoia—making it easier to shift from a mode of enjoyment focused on a straight melodic line to one based on appreciating subtle permutations and transformation of repeating themes. Speaking very loosely, enjoying a Phish jam is (sometimes) an aesthetic cousin of appreciating something like Philip Glass’ “Music With Changing Parts.” Except you can’t really groove to “Music With Changing Parts.”
A more strictly musical recommendation: Try the Clifford Ball DVD set they released recently. It’s been a long time, but I recall that particular set of bootleg tapes getting probably the heaviest play back in the day.