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Music

30 Musical, Literary and Cultural Reasons to Celebrate 30 More Years of Phish: Part One

Katherine Factor

In 2014, the legendary jam band Phish released its 12th studio LP, Fuego. Here are some reasons why this group's legacy is one worth celebrating.


This first installment of these 30 reasons addresses ten musical reasons Phish’s experimental nature and energy of delight is deserving of a closer look, to ascertain at what might be at play in the band's attracting of thousands of audiophiles to repeat musical experiences.

1. Phish Is an Inherently Open Form

Like the fish it puns upon, Phish refuses closure. It swims in ever-changing expanse and depths. It is always coming into being. It is difficult to wrap a meaning around.

In The Origin of the Work of Art, Martin Heidegger confirms that the energy of Art as it is quickening is Mystery. Thus, Art is most alive in process, in waters warmed with improv. Mystery exists when logic and outcome loses insistence and that state keeps us rampant in play.

For over 30 years, Phish has established an inflatable musical playground where rafts, slides and acrobat bars prompt music’s potential as a place to experiment, wreak havoc, to sully us in silliness. We romp and swing and risk flips, as if to say, Look Ma, no hands!

2. Phish's Use of Open Forms Fold a Field of Improvisation

Open forms invite an aesthetic capable of casting nets over art movements, current events, pop culture, philosophies, and genres. This openness is vulnerable: it can absorb or it can trawl.

Such is obvious in Phish’s supernal use of improvisation. Like their musical kin the Grateful Dead, Phish’s stylistic approach is steeped in the miracles of Miles Davis’s space jams.

Intuitively, any fan understands what Herbie Hancock said to the New York Times recently: "The thing that keeps jazz alive, even if it’s under the radar, is that it is so free and so open to not only lend its influence to other genres, but to borrow and be influenced by other genres. That’s the way it breathes."

At Phish we traverse those fields in one set, in one hour. Sometimes these are being collapsed at once, shifting from party-playtime into the unknown. In this you are caught, rolling ‘tween it, and you have to withstand it by breathing or instead be bullied. What activity field do we scurry from, then, when that recess bell rings?

3. Productive Ambiguity Bolsters Phish's Openness

Ambiguity bolsters this openness. Phish’s lyrical dexterity can ballad, can narrate, can joystick an interpretation, can populate a whole children’s songbook, and can nauseate a non-listener, for often they shunt away from the topical, from the trickery of surface.

Instead a willing derangement of the senses as Rimbaud wanted. Assessing such interpretations is seen in a litany of message boards, tweets, and daily musings: fans fanning literal discoveries soon show themselves stumped.

A force that makes one stop in uncertainty, one that wrenches us out of the mind’s meaning-making machine: this is a mark of art. While such difficulty pushes others away and an untrained ear hears only a din, thousands feel invited in. Ambiguity, juxtaposition, associative thinking and elliptical narrative have become a patterning that sets our ear to adhere intimate feelings, decisions, and dream-states to the song’s messaging.

In one mind’s eye, for instance, the song "Piper" is about what’s pied and heroic; in another eye, something about traveling wormholes. (In mine, words are wormholes.) Or perhaps it's about the story of enslaved Melampus, who heard woodworms warning him of the oncoming storm, that insect-work would destroy the house. The orphan-turned-prophet told his captors. They then set him free.

4. Phish Stimulates an Active (Instrumentation of the) Imagination

Such music fascination is integrally fastened to the imagination. Music can improve verbal skills, glue together a group, create instant intimacy and mediate moods, expand visual abilities, release woes, provoke, console, stimulate sweet diversions, and rejuvenate. What a strong sensation to carry in life, that music can key a different brain.

As neuroscience now knows, music insists on a whole brain endeavor. When sounds pummel out from grooves into the vibratory, our brain does a full orgy of multiple lobes. Music crosses bifurcated hemispheres via the bridge of the corpus callosum, where fibers that band together the left and right sides, defying its divisions. When a musician moves with their instrument, showing expressive intention, our mirror neurons fire, creating direct relationships.

Isn't it possible that those invested so heavily in live music must undergo a practice similar to what musicians do? Absorbing songs and seeing shows tour after tour offers a training for the listener-participant, as it were. Practicing musicians have hyper-development in certain lobes or display a more advanced auditory cortex and capacity for executive functions vs. non musicians.

A lifestyle is an instrument. A band is a bond. Hell yeah, teachers, we want to practice!

The brain will re-wire itself in support of musical activities. Whole generations of brains certainly have similar synaptic adaptations, aggregating a common musical memory over time.

Musical memory is powerful in the present as well. Those who frequent music know that once played or heard, it (particularly melody and rhyme-saturation) foments its own stature. It has the grand capacity to be recollected unprompted or to populate a mind on repeat.

But it’s what cannot be recalled that adds an enormity to this power. However hooked on the familiar we may be, it is the absence of it that feels so feverish. Broken patterns straddle anticipation and cuss our receptors. A jam, untied to lyrics, hinges on the ungraspable, it bonkers out with unpredictable vibes, literally. When the unexpected happens, electric shock fluoresces.

Into the unknown we swim, a school smirking around in the dark.

5. Phish Hearkens Back to (Musical) Cubism

Phish may be confusing at times, but is hard not to follow a compass here, for there are only four at work musically in Phish, and their disposition is alchemical. Imagine for a minute each member embodies a cardinal direction analog to an appropriated medicine wheel: going clockwise, Mike as North (Air, Winter, and Mind); Trey as East (Fire, Spring, and Spirit); Page as South (Water, Summer, and Emotion); and Jon as West (Earth, Fall, and Body).

While this may recipe may balance beams and sync elements, Phish are more dynamic than that.

At its best, Phish the band plus the audience-participant are musical Cubism. Abstracting musical structures, angles are approached and notes protracted to illustrate dimensionality. Picasso and Braque made their 3D canvasses not static but an entity; so too does Phish adjust a surface a refracted plane made 4D or more. Viewers further diffusing perception by listening, by dancing-viewing. When we arrive, we surround the sound with a bowl of locations, with optics.

Children everywhere learn a prism lesson through a broken classroom window. Eventually, we are brought back to familiar palette of feelings. Perhaps we can disengage color from form.

6. Chris Kuroda's Lights are Unparalleled (Artistry in the Industry)

For color froths form! The Lights, of course, already know this; lighting designer Chris Kuroda’s minimalism is a practice in vintage minerals manipulating subtle bodies, expressionism, and implied imagery. This is not just a palette wrought by a rig’s natural ability, but also color combinations set to rhythms that send us refracting then sharpening.

When one really really looks, indulging purposely on a riot of color, we get right with the dance of saturation and restraint. Not unlike Apollinaire, who advanced Cubism by insisting on more -- on Orphism -- Phish pushes the limits of lushness, slicing and coating in its bedazzlement.

These rays raise synaesthetes to raze roofs, dismantling auditoriums through attention and awe. This skill is unmatched in an industry where shows rely on gimmick and inundate with iconography, expected tech, and ejaculations of gratuitous lasers.

We see Kuroda vertebrate, having exposed a twisted rib cage, from the floor we crown our heads -- yes, to a diadem dense with settings! We send ourselves into dreams, to what poets might assess as our true waking life.

So what we have matches a kindergarten nap, when we watch the backs of our eyelids ground shadows, divulge hues, wreath dreams, and fire up a ship. We don’t have to see exact flowers, when we feel garlands, taste gems. In the firmament, there resides our crown, a claw surveilling the crowd.

7. A True Spectacle Asks a Question

A gargantuan chunk of the phenomena of Phish is phenomenology, the study of that which appears. With phenomenology, reality is interdependent with perception, and therefore alterable via applied consciousness. Since spectators here actualize their role based on being a part of the entity, point of view and attitude seem to affect each event, eliciting reports of mutual metaphysical reciprocity, joint influence, and synchronicity.

With a poetics of space only monopolized when spit on by hierarchical fans, great room for freedom is left to address a Semiotic interpolation -- that is, a reading of a series of signs: song (not just what song is being played but whatever meaning accrues when joined by another in a set), cues, as well as signs seen in signage in venues or billboards on the road. Shows and songs that pick up meaning and velocity score our sense with a series of constellating symbols hinged off an intention to plug into the magic and immediacy of aural-drawn landscape.

Heidegger, prophetic of internet dizziness, declared Art dead out of concern of the focusing lens of the viewer on consuming the image, an experience increasingly relegated to institutions. Luckily, the experiential nature that Phish insists on, a "live this" modus operandi, is not decimated in an age that prioritizes commodification and media dominance. An immersion event, Phish is a last vestige of concerts not colonized by cell phones.

In the Poetics, Aristotle says that spectacle is an artifice that is soggy as a literary component, although he does consider it a whole mode. Perhaps the performance plus production plus concert-participant can supersede entertainment, especially if such participation will strike contemplation again worthy of the poet’s contemplation.

By design, great curiosity and wonder can accompany Phish. At times, we turn off the babysitter-television and stare into our own marathon.

8. Phish Flaunts Uncertainty That Is Integral to Art

To live in the questions is postmodern art’s dominant characteristic; as an answer to late capitalism, though, it’s quite awkward. This substrate of uncertainty has long been fuel, fat tinder: see Coltrane’s pentagram, Beefheart’s Exploding Note theory, Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodics, or Santana’s Hose theory.

To traverse a charcoal curve and to mark with an open end is acceptance, but it is wily, disruptive at times, an uncomfortable noise stinking of the oncoming unknown. We have to spend a lot of time in the dark -- repeatedly. Willingly, we enter states of strange territory, trudging about whenever the funk muddles.

We have to navigate planning terrain, offended family, nightmare logistics. Frequently we deal with ridicule, that easy go-to for the non-initiate; certainly, we face flubs of a perceived social experiment. Repeatedly we agree to mangle expectation, coping instead with inquiry -- thus less disappointed by outcome. Alas, there is an ecstatic pay-off, some equation of effort plus actual presence. As with any difficult art, from the Avant Garde to Conceptualism, process is integral and deserves exhibition.

Certainly, we eat the journey up, but the destination in this case doesn't decay into cliché but rather into cochlea.

Subscribe as we do, then, to active, sustained listening in a world seduced by sound bytes, training toward the difficult, a musical dissonance can resolve a cognitive dissonance. Therein the pleasure of not knowing, uncertainty becoming common enough to temper anxiety, what Keats coined Negative Capability: when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

Turn that din into syntony – and, soon enough, a healing practice: a private biophony.

9. Phish Lives in an Exquisite Musical Realm

Phish’s existence raises important questions in regards to the Archives. Throttling several throats and at once -- what placeholders does Phish inhabit?

To answer this, a field trip to special collections is in order. Phish as band shirks the confines of music industry, just as an institution against orthodoxy wedges America’s best psyche of anti-hegemony. The band propels ideas more akin to our founding fathers: reformation, Freemasonry, Utopianism, and American Transcendentalism, Phish succeeds against monoforms.

Phish, against redundancy, against the gap in band-audience dynamics, are consistently dismantling systems of separation by purposely blurring the subject-object distinction. Chess-games are played together. Dialogues are abundant. There is an exciting polysemy -- the capacity for a sign to have multiple meanings, so communication loads the experience. Incredibly rife with codes associated sonic props, antics, spoken language, vocal jams, Phish has even their own secret language, a system of sound-symbols.

Phish have essentially picked up where our education system has failed. For many, it's tapped fans' stunted creativity, teaching fragments of the arts, music and theory, math, geography and travel, and vocal exercises through a shared songbook, cultural criticism, a personal historical materialism.

Gather as we then to unlock a vault of art-in-fact. To gig: to play rock, bluegrass, blues, funk, host myriad guests from Jay-Z to Jimmy Buffett; and to gag: to embody album-costumes, put forth a festival resuscitation, to play on Seminole land all night long, to exhume a true New Years, or erect a tower of aerial dancers -- not to mention the apotheosis of a gigantic flying hotdog. All of this is an exquisite trip for the viewer-participant; it accumulates meaning and magnificence.

Once there, discovery thrills! Aspects of our human orientation are unzipped toward animal habits, behaviors penetrate outer bounds of orthodoxy. Bakhtin's Carnivalesque and Cage’s musicircus are present here. There are communal coming of age rituals, a sense of adding to the walls by the time we sit down. Importantly, there is the presence of mistakes and great vulnerability, but when the music starts we are ready to face the face. In this, a togetherness forms. We link arms to make sure no one is lost on the way to get back on the bus.

10. Phish Fosters a Unique Social Geography

Let’s consider Phish a perfect incubator of white privilege, technology, a birthright to pursue art, and the gooey remnants of what Ellen Willis calls "Rock 'n' Roll’s Utopian Optimism".

Within a social geography, then, "Phishdom" is a petri dish containing U.S. states coagulating as people meet across the country. Within that, any human radius around a listener summarizes a portion; a crew of fans contains a catalog. Any quirk, quark, or new constituent incites the agar; as this happens, appendages go growing toward the new.

Students then crave and brave discovery, peak ears, discuss and assert lab results while contemplating musicianship in an attempt to resolve a contemporary problem in the music industry: that of historical incongruity, the lack of understanding from where these traditions arise. This education supplants gaps in American arts education made increasingly bland due to the denizen of standardized learning. From this, there arises a proliferation of audiophilia.

Yet wonky apprenticeship doth spawn a slew of poor reporters, drug-addled sludge makers, and synthetic matrices – and, at other times, fluorescent cyanobacteria. The incubator is semi-transparent, ornamented with a Baroque exterior of pomp tendriling with entertainment. Yet a velvet mold lines the tray with a yearning for Classical cosmogony, where music is medicine. We become entrenched in the question, What is the nature of music in relation to our greater selves?

At the least in the case of Phish, there is a mutually made music over a period of decades. As a process, it is known as inoculation or plating, but it is important keep the experiment's incubator upside down.

Splash image: photo of Phish concert on Halloween 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish. Taken from artist's website. Thumbnail image also by Rene Huemer © Phish.

Katherine Factor is a writer, educator, and the assistant editor at inter|rupture. She has her MFA from Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of grants from the Iowa Arts Council and Arts Enterprise Lab. She has seen over 250 Phish shows and hundreds of other live music events.

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock each did their stint as a lonely Mexican cowboy, it seems. These and other things you didn't know about A Charlie Brown Christmas.

How Would You Like to Be the Director of Our Christmas Play?

It's really a beautiful little movie and has affected my life in numerous ways. For years, especially when we were poor, we always tried to find the littlest saddest Christmas tree possible. In fact, my son Eli has a Christmas tree set up right now that is just one single branch propped up in a juice bottle. And just a couple weeks ago we were at a wedding, everyone was dancing, and me and my wife Amy and my friend Garth started dancing like the Peanuts characters do in the Christmas special.

-- Comic artist James Kochalka.

Bill Melendez answers questions with the sort of vigor that men a third his age invest thousands in herbal supplements to achieve. He punctuates his speech with belly chuckles and comic strip taglines like "Oh, boy!" and "I tell 'ya!" With the reckless abandon that Melendez tosses out words like pleasure, it's clear that 41 years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of his favorite topics of conversation. "It changed my life," he states simply, "being involved with this silly little project."

Melendez celebrated his 90th birthday in November. "When I think of my last 40 or 50 years, I can't believe it," he says, capping off his comment with that inevitable one-man laugh track. The curly-mustachioed animator was born José Cuauhtemoc Melendez in Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1916. "I was literally a cowboy," he says. "From there, I crossed the border and started growing up. Just recently I went back, and when I got there I realized where my home was: across the border. When I was a little kid, I would have killed myself had I known such a thing was going to happen. I'm one of you. Whether you like it or not, I'm one of you."

Melendez recalls his blind leap into the world of animation as though the story's end still managed to catch him by surprise. "I was working in a lumberyard, and one of my mates said, 'Hey, I read in the paper that some guy up on Hyperion Avenue is hiring young guys like you who can draw.' So I went to this stranger and said, 'Hey, I understand someone here is hiring young artists.' The man asked me for my samples and I said I'd show them to him tomorrow. I went home that night and made the samples. I brought them in the next day, and he asked me what art school I went to. I'd never been to an art school. He said, 'Well, you have talent,' and he hired me to work in a place called Walt Disney."

Four years later, after lending his hand to Disney canon fodder like Bambi and Fantasia, and after fighting for his new country in World War II, he spent the next decade or so hunched over the drawing board, producing animated commercials and industrials by the thousands, including a number of spots featuring syndicated comic strip characters. Among them were the Peanuts characters.

Of all the Charlie Browns in the World, You're the Charlie Browniest.

I was around 10 when it first premiered, and seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time was enough to prove even to a young child that a well-written thing is superior to most of what is out there. I'll probably be watching it again tonight or tomorrow, because I have a copy of it and a six-year-old daughter. She loves it.

-- Comic artist Gilbert Hernandez.

By 1959 Charles "Sparky" Schulz's Peanuts kids found themselves at the center of their first print advertising campaign, pushing Ford's new Falcon make of cars. As the story goes, the idea of using Schulz's characters came from a daughter of one of Ford's advertising people.

"I think Sparky was flattered when they wanted to use his characters, says Schulz's widow, Jean, who now is one of the driving forces behind the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. "It was a new way of extending his creativity. From the get-go Sparky always said a comic strip is a commercial venture. Newspapers put the comic strip in to sell newspapers. He would then bitterly say, 'No one considered comic strips art in the first place, so why would you get on your high horse about that?'"

When the time came for the characters to make their animated debut in a Ford commercial, Melendez was brought into the fold, and he brought along a cast of unknown child actors to voice the parts. The team reunited five years later, when Lee Mendelson, a filmmaker from San Francisco, requested two minutes worth of animation for a film he was shooting based on a Peanuts story line.

"I had done a Willie Mays documentary in 1963, A Man Named Mays, which had done really well," Mendelson says. "Then I was reading a Charlie Brown baseball strip, and the idea came to me: I've just done the world's greatest baseball player; now I'll do the world's worst." It's an old joke -- the same he used to open his 2000 coffee-table retrospective, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition -- but it's one for the ages. "Two years later Coca-Cola called, and I thought they were calling to do the documentary," Mendelson explains, "but they said, 'Have you guys ever thought about doing A Charlie Brown Christmas?' I said absolutely. And that's how I got in the animation business." His executive producer role on that film was the birth of a career now well into its fourth decade.

"So Lee called Sparky and said, 'Well, I just sold our Christmas show," explains Jean. "Sparky asked, 'What Christmas show?' and Lee said, 'The one we're going to write tomorrow." Sparky said, 'If we're going to do it, we need to have Bill.'"

Melendez was brought into direct, and as with the Ford commercial, he gave the parts of the Peanuts kids entirely to children, many of whom had never acted. Getting them to learn their roles was a trying task, given that Schulz's script had his characters regularly waxing philosophical and tossing off words like ailurophobia (a fear of felines, for the record). Melendez had to teach the young actors long portions of the script phonetically. "Sometimes they didn't understand a word," he remembers. "They'd say, 'Just tell me how you want it said.' Then they'd say it, and I'd turn to the engineer and ask if he recorded it. The kids were all startled when they got screen credit and happily startled when they started getting royalty checks."

Melendez's also tried to coach a voice actor for the part of Snoopy, whose lines were limited to a handful of non-words. "I recited Snoopy's lines for the actor, and the actor turned to the engineer and said, 'Did you record that? Just use what Bill has done. I don't want to repeat your words.' " This happy accident left Melendez playing the role of Snoopy and, later, his yellow bird companion Woodstock for the next 40 years.

For the film's soundtrack, Mendelson and Melendez embraced Schulz's love of jazz. "Driving back from Sparky's over the Golden Gate Bridge I heard a song called 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind,'" Mendelson writes in The Making of a Tradition. The song was written by Vince Guaraldi, a jazz pianist from the beatnik-dense San Francisco neighborhood of North Beach. It had won the musician a Grammy Award for best original jazz composition in 1962. Guaraldi enjoyed Schulz's script and happily accepted his invitation into the Charlie Brown Christmas fold.

This Doesn't Seem to Fit the Modern Spirit.

The one thing that has always bothered me about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the other kids never admit to Charlie Brown that he was right about the little tree. They ultimately accept the tree, but no one ever says, 'Well, Charlie Brown, I guess you were right all along. We were idiots.' However, it's still cool to see a mainstream children's program show that is so stridently nonsecular, which could never be done in this day and age. Linus gets some good face time with all that shepherd talk.

-- Pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman.

Beyond the inclusion of Schulz's cast of wildly popular characters, 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas seemed a production earmarked for failure. The special's small crew was given a mere six months between the film's conception and its maiden broadcast. At his own insistence, Schulz signed up to pen the script, his first attempt at a screenplay. "He said that if he was going to get screen credit for something, he wanted to be doing something," says Melendez. "He was very proud and curious and didn't want credit where he didn't deserve it."

Despite the Ford commercials that gave birth to the collaboration, and Coca-Cola's strong sponsorship presence in the special, Schulz's script centered around a pensive Charlie Brown attempting to find the true meaning of Christmas. "The 1960s were when Christmas first began to start the day after Thanksgiving," says Mendelson. "There was an irony to this, given the commercialization of the comics. That wasn't really his doing. He said, 'If people want to buy stuff, that's up to them. I'm not in the business of making stuff and selling it. I'm in the business of making a comic strip, and if people want products, then so be it.' "

"We're all a little schizophrenic in that way," adds Jean Schulz. "You live in this world, and you despair. If you think at all, you're always wrestling with this. I think that's exactly what Sparky was expressing." The special opens with a characteristically distraught Charlie Brown, speaking to the perpetually blanket-wielding Linus on a snow-covered version of the brick wall, the bald third-grader's preferred location for vocalizing his ever-present inner despair. "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus," he begins. "Christmas is coming, but I don't feel happy."

In case that wasn't enough to threatren the film's commercial potential, the producers added one final nail to the prime time coffin: Schulz's script called for Linus to deliver a subdued monologue at the film's climax, a word-for-word recitation of Jesus's birth, taken from the Gospel of Luke. "Bill said, 'You can't have the Bible on television!' Sparky said, 'If we don't do it, who will?' By the time that Coca-Cola and CBS saw it, they had no choice but to play it. They had nothing else to put in there."

What the roomful of executives saw upon the first screening was a shock -- a slow and quiet semireligious, jazz-filled 25 minutes, voiced by a cast of inexperienced children, and, perhaps most unforgivably, without a laugh track. "They said, 'We'll play it once and that will be all. Good try,' " remembers Mendelson. "Bill and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room -- he had had a couple of drinks -- and he said, 'It's going to run for a hundred years,' and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were."

I Never Thought It Was Such a Bad Little Tree

That show is probably the closest I've ever come to having any interest in religion. That part where Linus quotes from the bible is extremely touching and very deftly handled. I was raised in a nonreligious household, and that was a moment that actually had some religious significance to it just because Schulz expressed it so well.

-- Comic artist Seth.

Upon its airing, the special received a 50 share. The network immediately ordered four more films from the team. "We watch it every year to make sure that it actually happened. We thought it would be on one time and be gone," Mendelson says. "The message is simple. Schulz wanted to do a show on the true meaning of Christmas. Any good writer like Schulz deals in truisms and things that are timeless. There are themes about unrequited love and bullies. They work as well now as they did in the 1960s, and they'll probably work for another 50 or 100 years as well."

"I think it touches something in the viewer. We didn't do it on purpose, but there's something ethnic about it," Melendez adds. Schulz expressed his own surprise that the film found its way into the canon of holiday classics. "He would say things like, 'I never thought it would be around 25 years later,'" Jean remembers. "One of the reasons that Christmas is so great is that back in 1965 there were no VCRs or DVDs, so you saw that show once, and you had to wait a whole year to see it again. And when it came on, it still held up. It was still charming."

Forty-one years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a towering if unassuming presence in holiday TV. It's an oasis of sincerity, managing never to be drowned out by its overzealous neighbors' rush to cross-promote themselves. It's a quiet testament to what children's programming could be: introspective, unpretentious and, above all, respectful of the intelligence of its target audience. "Children's programs were held in low regard by everybody -- including me," says Melendez. "But I realized that it wasn't just for kids. I was dealing with adults. They were giving me suggestions and criticism."

For a film with an anticommercial message, A Charlie Brown Christmas produced its own market bonanza. But it still suggests the spirit of its writer, who sensed the real magic of Christmas was not in the spectacle of lights, commerce and big aluminum Christmas trees, but in those fleeting moments of silence, which seem to become rarer with each passing day. "They weren't afraid to have quiet," Jean says. "Most of the time when the kids are walking, it's very quiet. We came out of a new animated movie one day, and Sparky said, 'I missed the quiet places.'"

Over the years, the Schulz-Mendelson-Melendez team created more than 75 half-hour television specials and four feature films, and five Peanuts films have been made since Schulz's death, in 2000, at the age of 77. Outside of the films, Peanuts continues to be an incredibly lucrative license for its owners, United Features Syndicate. "If Sparky had the volume of stuff crossing through the office that we have today, it would have driven him nuts," laughs Jean. "He probably would have walked through the office and said, 'We're cutting all of the licensing off. I don't want to do it anymore.'"

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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