Artist Interview: Dawn Jenkins

The next Artist Interview Project installment features the host and creator of Phemale-Centrics, Dawn Jenkins. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.

Find more information about Phemale-Centrics on the podcast’s website, Facebook, and Twitter (@PhemaleCentrics). You can listen to Dawn interview Dr. Jenkins about Phish Studies and philosophy on episode 7 of Phemale-Centrics.

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

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The music of Phish has a strong ability to inspire and resonate with its fan base in such a way as to mobilize them in their own personal and artistic lives. This can clearly be said about Dawn Jenkins, the woman I was fortunate enough to interview for this project. Jenkins has been a die-hard Phish fan since she was a young woman. She currently hosts a podcast about the band called Phemale-Centrics that examines the music from a woman’s point of view. She does this along with expressing her own artistic endeavors in a myriad of ways and mediums. What theme underlies the heart of her work, the culture of Phish and their music, and the element that ties them all together? Community.

Jenkins’ podcast, her interpretation of the band, and her art as a whole are deeply rooted in a sense of shared experience that is tremendously powerful and beautifully transparent. In “The Everyday Miracle of the Occasional Community,” John Drabinski analyzes a culture that is parallel to the one found in the Phish community. The communal, regulatory sense of familial bond that surrounds Phish is directly counter to the dominant narratives in the United States that expects strict progress, individual isolation, and profit. On our immediate reality and its relation to ourselves and others, Drabinski states that “[w]e live in a peculiar age. Whether one calls it modern or postmodern, our age is one of mutual alienation and mediated connection to others” (30). Equipped with her podcast and a love for Phish (and music in general), Jenkins is bucking this assumed arc.

Jenkins’ podcast, and her work more broadly, is particularly important because she analyzes and examines the work of Phish from a female point of view. This is not only crucial in helping to bridge a divide in gender that seems too often to exist in music, but it also defines a distinct effort of vision that Jenkins seeks to uphold. Jenkins is using something she createdin order to bring about something good. In The Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant compares the three different kinds of delight with regards to aesthetics. The most important one with regards to Jenkins and her work is the delight that Kant refers to as the good. Kant states that the good is what is held in esteem by the person. It is that which is approved of and that which is assigned an objective worth (5). The music of Phish is, to a large degree, defined to be aesthetically “good” by Jenkins and many others in much the same way that Kant defines the concept. The creation of art—i.e. Jenkins’ podcast—is not something passive and inactive; it is mobilized in a direction of action because, through its creation, it seeks to bring about a more positive, inclusive outcome.

To create something is to get at a real thing. The music of Phish gets at something and Jenkins’ podcast gets at something. In “The Origin of the Work of Art”, Martin Heidegger writes about what he terms “thingliness.” The thingliness of something is that element which defines the thing insofar as it is a thing. And this nature of things can be found and defined eloquently in artworks. Concerning nature and truth in art, Heidegger claims that “[i]n the artwork, the truth of beings has set itself to the work” (19). This claim made by Heidegger is poignant with regards to the art of Jenkins’ and her relationship with the music of Phish. There is an eloquent truth present in Jenkins’ art that is precisely alive and true because she is able to compile the world in a relevant, nuanced way and present it to herself and to us so that we can feel a sense of connection to a shared piece of work. This is what binds Jenkins’ work with Phish, and the rest of us as viewers to her creations.

 

Interview Transcript

Why do you feel it is so important to view Phish from a distinctly female point of view?

I have been part of the Phish community since 1994. At age 19, I walked onto a Phish lot, not realizing that I was coming home. In those days a lot of us were living in our cars and following the band from state to state. We became a tribe and took care of each other. At that time there were distinct, almost traditional, roles between the women and the men. Most of us were fairly young as well. The women were sewing & wearing our patchwork neo-hippy clothing, cooking off the back of the truck, and taking care of the dogs and our men. We traded tapes, found each other at shows through tour magic and, although we all took care of each other on a large scale, us ladies kept “house.”

The men called us Mama and we took on that role. Now, don’t get me wrong, we were listening just as intently as the men were. To us women, we were sisters. The music inherently was emotional and spiritual. The men came from a more technical side. Although they also felt that emotional and spiritual connection, they spoke more outwardly about the technicalities. Their opinions and presence was very strong.

During the band’s hiatus from 2004-2009, many of us settled down and started families. When the band came back, we women took on a different role. We came there to release and be ourselves. We joined arms with the men and with many of us having children at home, no longer took on that Mama role on Lot. We exuded confidence through our dance, opinions, and sexy, sparkly dresses.

The male presence had always been very prominent and their opinions were strong, but the women have been rising to the surface and have found our voice. When asked by the lyricist for Phish, Tom Marshall, to start the first female hosted Phish podcast, I was not only honored but I felt truly understood with regards to the lack of the female voice that was being heard. In the public Phish forums, it was still mostly guys chiming in. It has been men interviewing the band members and running the other podcasts. Phish Chicks, a group of over 10,000 women, was started and we talked Phish like nobody’s business. We all listened to each other as well. It is time for the female’s point of view to be heard and represented.

Do you find that the artistic expression present in the music of Phish is inherently gender inclusive? Or is there an apparent disconnect that you have noticed?

I do believe that the music of Phish is inherently gender inclusive. I tread lightly with the term gender because there are so many ways that people identify themselves and do not represent a traditional Male or Female identity. Their lyrics range from fun and silly to intimate and personal. Many of their songs are written around the lead singer’s senior year of college thesis. The songs that tell the story of “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” envelope both traditional masculine and feminine qualities, as do the variety of other songs written throughout the years.

The different lyricists for the songs all have different styles of writing as well. Tom Marshall writes in a more traditional poetic style full of metaphors and vibrant descriptions. Steve Pollack, “The Dude of Life,” tends to write shorter, sillier type lyrics. Trey Anastasio, especially in recent years, has been writing very personal, emotional, and positive pieces. Mike Gordon’s style is just like him, very quirky! Page McConnell tends to write ballads, but can hammer on those keys and bring that jazzy feel. Jonathan Fishman’s style is whimsical and playful. There are several songs that have very little lyrics and bring you on an epic journey and seemed to be loved by all. You Enjoy Myself, Harry Hood, Slave to the Traffic, David Bowie and Divided Sky are a few examples of this.

How do you see your own artistic expression using the medium of the podcast as being one that is highly useful and effective in analyzing a band that you love?

The definition of “artistic expression” is the conscious use of the imagination in the production of objects intended to be contemplated or appreciated as beautiful, as in the arrangement of forms, sounds, or words.

The joy and the love I have for the band is deep rooted and an intertwined part of my soul. Phish has been part of my life for longer than it has not. Walking into this podcast my number one goal was to be able to portray this joy I feel through my words and energy. Joy equals beauty. People appreciate joy and enthusiasm. When I speak to my guests and listeners I come from this place. The questions that I ask are intended to find that joy and beauty within them. When I come from this place of honest joy, I am able to analyze the music in an intimate way that speaks to people and hopefully makes them feel part of all of this.

Do you feel that the music of Phish allows you to voice your own artistic influence in a way that other things do not?

I would say that music in general is my biggest artistic influence. I am a classically trained singer. Singing is something that I have always been able to do. Although I am unable to sing in a choir these days, singing is something that is always there.

As far as outside influences are concerned, I actually started a school and created the philosophy based on the Forest Kindergarten concept. I am in the forest with children, building forts and creating art using nature every day. I would say this is just as strong of an influence in my life as Phish is.

Based on your experience, how is making a podcast an art form?

I am not too sure how many people would regard making a podcast an art form. I went back to the books and looked up the definition of art form and found, “any activity regarded as a medium of imaginative or creative self-expression.”

Each one of my episodes is carefully thought about and put together. I enjoy discovering people in our scene that are making a difference. Whether it be admin of a group on Facebook, creating paintings, directing movies, teaching classes, living the tour life, creating original plays or playing with the band. After I connect with the person to interview, I then create an outline for the show. I first decided which one of my co-hosts will match best with this guest. I then make the bullet points for the intro part. This usually entails what is going on in the scene, who our guest is, etc. The next part I would say is the most important part. “What do I ask my guest?” I like for my interview questions to be intimate, personal, and funny. I like to put together somewhat of a time line of their life to see what they have done to get to the point of where they are at. After the interview, we play our game Market Price and then the final outro. It’s like writing a play in some ways.

Once we are in the studio and press record, to me that is when the art form comes to life. At this point, everyone involved is now part of the art form and allowed to add their own forms of creative self-expression. It unfolds as we move through it, laying piece by piece down. When we stop recording, we have a raw form of the original intention. The final polish is my producer who edits the sound clips, adds in the music, and cleans up the background.

The piece is complete when we release the episode for all to experience.

With regards to the art form of your podcast, do you consider the games you play with fans to be art, or do you reserve that definition more for, say, the completed form of an episode?

Our game show Market Price is definitely much more for fun, completion, testing knowledge, etc. I wouldn’t say it is “art”, but it absolutely fits with the whole as a completed episode.

Do you consider what you do to be a form of “public art” maybe in a way that other forms are not?

This is an interesting question. I guess I would consider this spoken public art. It definitely is staged and planned to be part of a public domain. Although not in a physical presence, words and emotions (again, that pure sense of joy and beauty).

 

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