There is no active band more misunderstood, criticized, unabashedly adored, obsessively followed, engrossingly digested, and hated for the sheer sake of despising than Phish. Just by showing up – okay, and by casting an indifference towards the mainstream music industry, ironically posing as mindless pranksters, earnestly pushing music to the far reaches of rock, noise, space, funk, bluegrass, you name it, and, simply existing for nearly thirty years – they crafted adamant, and derisively passionate fans, while at the same time inducing legions of haters. While one must wonder how a band that has spent the better part of its career seeking exclusion has struck such a nerve with non-fans, what’s most interesting about their misunderstood legacy is that in many ways, it is a confusion shared both by those outside of their captivating reach, and those most proudly within it.
To those on the outside, Phish is your obnoxious, worthless brother who can’t seem to get his shit together fast enough to get out of your parents basement. Their songs are without purpose or sense, their jams too long to hold an interest, their fanbase too high, too off-beat to be worthy of an opinion on the worth of the music they’re most likely just zoning out to. To many of these critics, Phish may as well not even exist. This view is supported by the fact that the majority of people who despise Phish, have never had to listen to Phish on account of their absences from mainstream music. Phish is a non-conversational subject, an annoyance one would rather live without; a stain on the art of music for the sheer fact that they make music.
Conversely, their fanbase is unevenly split between two camps. The first is a majority who follow Phish for the guaranteed party, whimsical nature of their music, and overall good vibes that emerge whenever they pass through town. In other words, Phish is a form of escapism. The minority is composed of dedicated and studious quasi-true believers who critique the band’s performances, history and jams to the point of near-exhaustion. But while they are critical and often harsh, they have no doubt been shaped by the thousands of moments where they felt as though the band were speaking right to them, whether at a show or through their ipod.
Up to this point in their career, only a couple of websites, one oral history book, and two series of encyclopedias have made an attempt to understand the band from this dichotomy. More so, no book has been compiled that has properly given Phish their credit in modern rock – save for parts of the excellent The Phish Book. Constantly viewed through the lens of the ultra-vague jamband lens donned upon them, their story has always been told in a forced tone, simplistic in nature; an ultimately unsatisfying perspective. The goal of this blog is to refine and rewrite the history of Phish in this manner. Cunning, honest, with an ever-present respect for their unique and lasting impact on music at the turn of the 21st Century.
Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman ultimately began playing music as a foursome in 1985 – though the band originates as early as 1983 – with the lofty goal of combining Classical structures, folklore tales, Rock energy, Jazz exploration, and humor with the brilliant idealism of the Northeastern prep-school mind. In the nearly thirty years that have followed, the band has ballooned into one of the rawest, most dynamic live music experiences in America. Yet while their story is ultimately one of success on the grandest scale, buried within it is a series of seemingly never-ending hurdles that the band has overcome as both a group and individuals since their onset. By exploring and learning about the band from this vantage point, this blog hopes to craft a more well-rounded, honest and, frankly, interesting perspective of Phish.
From stories of day-long jam sessions as quirky twenty-somethings, to the grind of 100+ shows on the road in a single year, to the pitfalls of fame, to the personal struggles of writing in middle-age, to the celebratory relief of returning to the stage after five years in the dark. This blog with cover everything, all with the goal of understand the personalities, music, trials and tribulations that have made Phish Phish. A band that has surely given millions a reason to forget their problems and party, Phish has always been more complex than the assumptions placed upon them. In the coming months and years, Tackle & Lines will explore the vast archives of Phish, interview those closest to the band, and cover their history with an accuracy and a yearning for truth and understanding that has thus been absent from their legacy.