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An Editorial on Bieber and Phish: If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

Occasionally, events and topics in the Phish community become heated topics of discussion and thoughts are shared on PhanArt. Artist and Contributor to PhanArt, Shirzad Khusrokhan, had some thoughts to share on the Justin Bieber’s recent foray into the Phish extended family, particularly the lukewarm reception that some fans (not all) have given to Bieber.

In the last few months there has been a disturbance in the Phish community. A tween heartthrob known as Justin Bieber has crashed our party, and his presence is making some waves. As is typical in environments that don’t experience much contamination from the outside world, the community’s hyperactive immune system is jerking its knees in an attempt to engulf and neutralize the invading body. While certain well-meaning phagocytes may feel they have cause for alarm (Justin Bieber’s music wouldn’t exactly be a welcome influence on the Phish repertoire, even if the band has repeatedly proved that it can absorb even the most disparate influences into its musical patchwork with elegance), it is this writer’s opinion that Phish fans wear graciousness better than derision, and that no more public contempt for Bieber should be meted out than is customarily reserved for a noob.

We Phish fans revel in our music snobbery. We are proud of the depth and the breadth of our musical knowledge. We also proudly condemn genres of music which we consider pedestrian or puerile. I tout my complete ignorance of Bieber’s music as a good thing, and I’m sure many others in our community do the same. And that’s fine – there’s no reason to be disingenuous in our approach to Bieber the musician. Bieber the phan, however, deserves better.

From the beginning of this unlikely affair, phans have spewed vitriol all over the internet – in blogs, tweets, and ever-expanding facebook comment threads that seem to contain no more than substance-free dissatisfaction and insults. This is particularly ironic given guitarist Dan Kanter’s recounting of Bieber’s first show where everyone was so respectful and nobody came up to bother him, and he enjoyed being left alone in crowd so much that he hung out in the middle of the floor instead of going up to the front of the house, as was arranged for him by security. It made me smile to think about him learning to clap his hands to Stash, throwing glowsticks, and noticing the lights going along with the music. It made me smile because those are wonderful moments that we’ve all experienced, and over the decades that I’ve followed Phish around the country, I’ve always loved the way our crowd rallies around a first-timer to make sure he or she has a great experience. But instead of being allowed to enjoy the excitement of his first throws of phandom, and being encouraged and tutored by the community as we all were, Bieber has been relentlessly attacked and belittled online by phans. I think its safe to assume that if he’s following what’s being written about him and Phish on the internet, he (not to mention his large and fanatical fan base) has a very negative opinion of the Phish community, and I think that’s sad and shameful.

Justin Bieber is a fan of our band. That should make us proud, not threatened. For people so conceited about the superiority of their musical taste, it should be obvious that when Bieber starts quoting Phish songs in his show and dressing up his crew in Bieber-ized Phish logo t-shirts, he has good taste too. He’s just showing the world that he’s a phan, which is what we all do – and most of us are insufferably prolific about it. His music may change irrevocably as a result, and surely that’s not a bad thing. He’s only 18. Maybe his trajectory will mirror another Justin from the recent past with similar origins, who now has a respectable acting career. So what if Trey and Tom go to his shows? So what if CK5 blows other people’s minds outside the Phish sphere? Yes, it’s unlikely and bizarre, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t, and it won’t, diminish or dilute our experience one bit. And if the much-dreaded Bieber sit-in actually occurs, I admit I may cringe a little bit; but if his entrance is accompanied by an audibly negative audience reaction, I’ll be severely disappointed in a community that I adore.

So please, please, stop with all the hate and rudeness – you’re making us all look bad. Maybe publicly bashing Bieber makes you feel erudite, but nobody’s expecting you to like his music, and he doesn’t need your approval to like Phish’s. You’re supposed to be gracious, generous, kind, and welcoming. You’re a Phish fan. Act like one. Be nice.

Shirzad is an artist, musician, and technology geek with well over a 100 Phish shows under his belt.