Phish Essay, Research Paper
Music 265- Rock Music
Phish (featuring Trey Anastasio on guitar and vocals, John Fishman on drums and vocals, Jeff Holdsworth on guitar, and Page McConnell on keyboards and vocals), has often been referred to as the ‘Grateful Dead of the 90’s’ and their fans have often been called the ‘new generation of hippies’. The band however, sees things differently. While the Dead’s music has been known to fit easily into the ‘Rock-n-Roll’ category of Rock music, it’s not that cut and dry with Phish.
In a March 1993 article for Edge City Magazine written by Bob Droran, he said, “When I first heard [Phish], I thought of the Allman Brothers old records-extended solos with guitar trading licks with piano. They throw jazz, bluegrass, TV themes, Latin rhythms, and more into the bass-o-matic, shifting genres freely, blending from one song to another in endless sets that last for hours like the Dead. Also like the Dead, they have built their reputation through years on the road without much success in the record stores.” In Billboard’s review of the Horizons of Rock Developing Tour (with Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler), the describe the Phish crowd as ‘tie-dyed Deadhead U types.” When Anastasio was asked if he was offended by the comparison, he answered, ‘No. Because it’s there. You can’t deny it.” In another article, Trey said, “We are not the same band. It must be said they were and remain one of my favorite bands. In fact, the Dead are one of the most important bands, if not the most important. To me, the Dead are a genuine link to traditional American music. They moved music history forward. Jerry Garcia was as important a figure in this country’s music history as Bill Monroe or Elvis. Phish has learned a lot from them. They are an influence. But, that said, we are also very different. The most important lesson we learned from the Dead was how to be a live band.”
This influence in present in nearly every song, but only to an extent. I can remember reading a Rolling Stone article where Anastasio described Phish’s music as a combination of reggae, rock, country, folk, jazz, and whatever else felt right at the time- elements that aren’t always present in the music of the Dead. A wonderful example of Phish’s wide range of musical styles is the song Harry Hood (music by Anastasio, lyrics by a friend of the band, Brian Long). The song is a wonderful example of the band’s “as different as possible” style, and emancipates the concept of dissonance in their ear, which was something the band’s music really strived for.
Hood was first created in 1984 while Anastasio was in Europe; it wasn’t until the following summer (nearly a year later), that the first lyrics were added by Brian Long. They had moved into a house on King Street in Burlington, Vermont, in the fall, along with other band-mates Mike, Page and Fish. It was first performed at a show on 10/30/85.
Harry Hood Dairy Co. is a New England milk company based in Boston that features a small clay figure of a young boy as its logo. Many of the lines in the song are traceable to the company, which is rumored to have a billboard or a factory somewhere in the vacinity of the band’s house. In a mid 1970’s television ad, a claymation Harry Hood is featured wearing red overalls and a milkman hat. The commercial would show people opening their refrigerator to find Harry living inside. The first lines of the song (repeated three times) “harry, Harry, where do you go when the lights go out?” (with wonderful harmony), is presumably referring to the figurine, and the refrigerator light that goes on and off respectively with the opening and closing of the door. (Other rumors have circled though that it’s referring possibly to the lights on the nearby billboard that would be turned off at some point of the night, or to the Hood factory). The Hood slogan, “You can feel about Hood” is also repeated three times.
The only other line in the song appears between the first two previously mentioned ones. “Thank You Mr. Minor” is repeated a few times in the middle- which is said to have no real connection with the Hood factory. Mr. Minor likely refers to a Mr. A. Minor, a former tenant of the King Street house for whom frequent calls from debt collectors came, constantly interrupting early Phish practices. However, other ideas have surfaced which do link the line to the Hood company (although there has been no confirmation of any of these from anyone in or associated with the band). People have speculated that Mr. Minor was the man who owned the nearby plant/ billboard; others that he was a man who owned a convenience store across the street featuring a Hood sign, which he’d turn off at night, allowing the boy’s to sleep; some say he is possibly a milk delivery man; or someone in a Hood advertisement.
It has been confirmed that the boys were often interrupted by phone calls from debt collectors for Mr. Minor, but another explanation (once again not confirmed by anyone) is that they’d also receive an overwhelming amount of junkman for the former tenant, many beginning with the line, “Thank you Mr. Minor.” More specifically, when the “Thank You” to the former tenant is in the song, the chords it is sung over are minor chords (Bm C#m D#m-B-minor, C-sharp-minor, and D-sharp-minor), and the first chord on the song is D-minor.
Musically, the song (as previously mentioned) is good at exploring many different genres of the Phish style. It begins with a nice upbeat intro; very conjunct. We also get a taste of the reggae influence, with high-pitched guitar notes played on the upbeat. After some mild jamming, and the first three lines, the song transitions or segues into a new style which sounds almost progressive; as if the song is going somewhere. Here, I think I’d be wrong in saying that the tempo changed to a + measure, which is what seems to happen (if I’m remembering things correctly from when I studied music in high school), The emphasis just seems to shift from every other beat, or the upbeat, to a different meter, where the tempo is increased a bit, and the high pitched notes played on every second, third and fourth beat, occasionally the first.
The song seems to take a turn in the middle with a bit of organized chaos implemented using heavy guitar rifts, complicated drum sets, and a plethora of other sounds (one that sounds like it’s coming from some sort of a special feature on the keys); this possibly eludes to their frustration for the man and his many debt collector phone calls. Notice here that there is also a break, or a pause in the music when the boys thank the man, and that their harmonic tone has switched to a more dissonant style. The last “Thank you” however, is more consonant, which leads to another change in the form which is more like the beginning of the earlier parts of the song.
The band has been known to have two types of jamming. The first involves variations on a song’s written notes and tempo; it is based around a fixed chord progression. The second improvises chord progressions, rhythms, and the whole structure of the music; it involves additional variations on chords and keys. In the version of Hood which I have provided (which is a live one because I regretfully have not yet been able to figure out which album the song’s recorded on), is an excellent example of the type II jamming (after the “thank you” part). Each instrument has its own syncopation, and makes good use of dynamics and tambour. It truly emulates the “as different as possible” style the boys were going for.
This section is a nice lead into the final section of the song (possibly referred to as a coda?). Towards the end, it crachendos to it’s peak (around the same time as the last lyrics, “You could feel good, good about Hood”). The tempo is slightly increased, and all the instruments seem to seamlessly come together from their own individual jams into one all inclusive jam. In an Addicted to Noise article from 6/7/95, Trey described it as, “Usually a long jam consists of a groove and soloists taking turns playing on top of it, and there might be a harmonic structure, like in jazz where everyone’s playing over the chord changes of the song, or it’s free and everyone’s going in all different directions.” The band seems to play together as one, which forms a nice concluding section to the song.
Although there don’t seem to be any odd instruments added (aside from the norm of bass guitar, electric guitar, drums and keys), they all use their instruments in very innovative ways. Trey benefits from his experimentation with feedback, Holdsworth with his all over the place and heavy bass, Fishman with his variations in tempo and syncopation, and the different use of the keys by McConnell seem to add the same mood as a synthesizer.
Hood could easily be seen as a novelty tune (along with nearly all of their other works produced before 1995 when the new songs began to become a bit more serious), and thus possibly not taken seriously by many people as innovative pieces of rock music. (The band was once voted one of the top ten worst bands by People Magazine). The band may not stick out as one of the most influential rock bands to the public eye, but in the mind of their fans, they do. They’ve always stayed true to themselves and to what they though of as good music.
So far, Hood may not have a very concrete place in rock history as a whole, but in Phish’s history, it does. How? For glowsticks. Glowsticks have become almost customary at Phish shows. (Almost like macaroni and cheese at Barenaked Ladies shows). Early in their career, Anastasio would ask that the lights be turned off during Hood outdoor performances so that the band and audience could enjoy the music under the clear sky and bright stars. Soon after, people began throwing (what has now turned into millions) of glowsticks at every show when the band would play Hood. It has become a tradition of sorts; something that keeps the band and its fans tied together as a small community.
The famous philosopher Plato once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything,” and these words are truly emulated through Phish’s music.