By Trey Anastasio
This all started as a joke.
Gordon and I were hanging out in front of a Guitar Center in 1983 doing whip-its next to a running tailpipe when we thought it’d be really funny to pretend we were a band. Neither of us could play. Neither of us could sing. Hell, I’m not even sure that either of us had even heard any music up until that point. Vermont was a different place. A messed up place where a couple of morons hopped up on goofballs could really make something of themselves. Because we had something those poor bastards didn’t have; those goofballs I was talking about before.
Our first gig was at a cafeteria. We thought we could just wing it but it wouldn’t hurt if we actually tried holding guitars before the show. We took some horse tranquilizers, went to the local pawn shop and started giggling and touching everything. They very quickly asked us to leave but not before a young Jon Fishman took a shine to the fact that we looked like we could probably find him drugs. We told him about our band and he was very receptive, at least partially from the promise of drugs. He told us he knew a guy who had some drums and never closed his garage, suddenly making us a trio.
A botched B&E and a couple dozen dead cops later and we had everything we needed to perform our first concert as Phish, a name I can’t even remember thinking of. Later we would find out it was the name of a popular species of life that we’d spelled incorrectly. I’m sure you all know the rest of the story. We destroyed. These idiots loved us. They were practically choking on their hot-dishes. Jon played a vacuum for thirty minutes and Gordon forgot to plug in his bass. It was hilarious. At some point during the show Page got on the stage and nobody said anything. It would be years before any of us realized that we never remember formally inviting him to join the band. I’m still not a hundred percent sure.
The next two decades went by in a very slow, dull blur. We continued to rise in popularity despite none of us bothering to learn how to play our instruments. In fact I think it’s possible that we actually got worse. Our songs just kept getting longer and longer, daring people to still like us. It just made them love us more. In retrospect I think that might have been the secret to it all. If you get people to invest in a twenty-five minute song and they don’t like it they feel stupid. Stupid people don’t like feeling stupid and boy were our fans stupid people.
I eventually learned to pity the creatures that would crawl their way to our shows, but at first I hated them, especially once we started traveling outside of Vermont. The idea of fooling all of the hillbillies of V-state was one thing but once we realized that people were like this everywhere… God. It’s not like I think I’m some genius, far fucking from it, I was so high I could barely remember to breath and I could still see through them. That’s what was so terrifying. I could see through their vacant stares into their souls and do you know what I saw? Nothing. I looked into them and I saw nothing as I signed their shirts. Their breasts. Their fucking ice cream cartons. What were we doing with our lives? With their lives? Could they have been decent people if we hadn’t come along and tricked them into thinking this was a lifestyle? It was all starting to get to me.
In the summer of 2004 Gordon and I finally sat down and talked about it. We both agreed that it just wasn’t funny anymore. Maybe it never had been. We’ve wasted, destroyed, people’s lives. I couldn’t do it anymore. Page agreed. Fishman wasn’t happy but he understood. He said, “If you hate them so much, why do you care if we take their money?”
I thought about it for a minute. He had a good point. The Fish-Man always did. Finally I told him, “Because nobody deserves that. Not even them.” Then I picked up my Scooby Doo duffle bag and walked out of the room. A man. A free man. For a few years.
In 2009 I realized I was almost fifty and it wasn’t like I was going to start over now. It felt like I was just waiting around to die. I felt the pull of Phish. It wasn’t just the music, actually it wasn’t at all the music. It was just that primal pull that any true artist has of wanting to have sex with women that are much younger than you. I know it probably wasn’t good for me and I certainly know it wasn’t right but I called Gordon, shot Fish an email and snap-chatted Page to let them know that I would be at the Little Cesar’s on Hazelwood at 3 if they wanted to shoot the shit. They did but quickly discovered that I had no interest in recalling our glory days of drugs, women, pussy and drugs. I laid out my plan to get Phish back up and running. Everyone was game except Gordon. He said he still had integrity. I showed him some photos I had of him fucking a mailbox in ‘97 and threatened to send them to the Postmaster General if he didn’t cooperate. He decided to keep his dignity to himself from then on out, but I lost a friend. Probably the last real one I had left.
The plan? One of us would tweet that we were back together. It worked. Before we knew it we were on the road for the same damn people for no damn reason. We already had money, we already had fame (sort of) but we just didn’t know any other way to live. I felt like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory said it best, “Prison’s my life. My home. I need to be here. Believe me, if I started killing people…there’d be none of you left.”
I don’t have the will power to stop. Only the fans can stop this. I used to think the joke was on all of you. I think I’m starting to realize it was on us this whole time. Good one, guys. We’ve all completely wasted our lives. You got us. Now, please, just let us die with some dignity.