20. Analyze Phish

There’s a moment in the last episode of Analyze Phish where Scott Aukerman gets frustrated with the quality of the vocals on Phish songs.

“I wish they’d hire a real lead singer…. like Scott Weiland,” he says. “What is he doing?”

“Uhhh, he’s sober now,” says Harris Wittels, who had just completed rehab himself when this episode was released in 2014.

Wittels died a few months later after an accidental heroin overdose. Today it was announced Scott Weiland died at age 48 after decades of battling heroin and other drug addictions.

It’s bittersweet to hear recordings of people after they die. It’s eerie if those recordings foreshadow their deaths, like Kurt Cobain singing “I swear that I don’t have a gun.”

And it’s sad to hear Harris talking about getting himself clean and Scott Weiland’s sobriety when you know what ultimately happens.

I started listening to Analyze Phish recently thanks to a tip in the Reply All newsletter:

Before starting this podcast, I only vaguely knew about Harris Wittels. I knew he was executive producer of Parks and Rec, invented the term “humblebrag,” and I read the beautiful eulogy for him on Medium from his sister Stephanie Wittels Wachs.

But there’s something about audio that really makes you feel like you get to know someone. Podcasting is a technology that seems to establish or grow a relationship with someone you don’t actually know in person.

Whether it’s a singer or someone talking, the words and sounds travel straight into your brain. Maybe I sounds too much like a Phish-head here, but it feels like sound comes into your ears and stays lodged in a part of your mind. Kurt Cobain’s wail. Scott Weiland’s croon. Harris Wittel’s chuckle.

It’s an intimate experience to eavesdrop on personal conversations. It’s not everyday you have frank hourlong discussions about drug addiction, embarrassing early sexual experiences, and what exactly someone hates about your favorite band. But with Scott and Harris, the public was invited to listen in on exactly these types of conversations.

Here’s just one such exchange between Harris and Scott in the last episode:

Scott: [Annoyed] “See, this is why drugs are so good for you. You are a naturally anxious person, and you need something to soften those edges.”

Harris: [Annoyed but trying to mask it] “I’m chill!”

Scott: [Exasperated] “You’re not chill! You are one of the least… You keep saying you are a stone cold chiller and are a chill dude. You are not!”

Scott goes on to explain that Harris tries too hard to get the approval of “stupid Phish-heads” and critics on the Internet. It goes on like this for awhile.

To avoid further discussion, Harris keeps pushing to just play a clip of a Phish song. Harris seems uncomfortable talking about himself and thinks that a podcast called Analyze Phish should do just that.

“Do you want to break up?” Harris asks.

Scott then tries to reassure him that personal stories and banter is OK, that listeners won’t mind.

The response from Harris is sweet, and sad.

“I just wanted to start playing the song,” he says. “And then it got real.”

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