Phish Article in Parade Magazine
Lynn Minton Reports
THESE NICE GUYS PHINISH PHIRST
The rock band phish, once a small-time group in Vermont, has grown to
major star status (it can fill New York's MSG_ without losing its
reputation for niceness and decency.
The band members have never hyped themselves--they even chose not to do
MTV viseos for their new album, "Billy Breathes." They were pushed
forward by their fans. They allow fans to tape their concerts--an
unusual practice that could detract from their record sales. When asked
why, they've answered, "Because our fans put us where we are."
I wondered if the band members were really as nice as people say. I
wondered what their values were, and what they were all like growing
up. So I went to mee them: lead singer-guitarist-chief songwriter Trey
Anastasio, 33; bassist Mike Gordon, 32; keyboardist Page McConnell, 34l
and drummer Jon "Fish" Fishman, 32.
Trey:Growing up, I was always getting into trouble--serious trouble. I
was always testing limits throughout my life. When I was about 7 or 8,
I set fires, deeply worrying my parents. I remember in fifth grade
taking a big black Magic Marker and writing on walls. I defaced a kid's
painting and tried to lie my way out of it. My parents so drilled it
into me not to lie that now I don't know how to lie.
My parents dealt sternly with each thing as it came along, but I never
got the feeling from either of them that I was a "bad kid," that I was
trouble. I think that if, at any point, they'd labeled me as a
troublemaker or bad, I might easily have believed it and then gone off
in that direction, since "that is what I am." It took five years for me
to get through high school.
I remember the first day I got my drivers license--I was 17--I trashed
the car. I was burning rubber in my grandfather's Buick Skylark, and my
father was out for a job--this is the God's honest truth--and I went
around the corner, through a stop sign, almost hitting my father. I
didn't even see him. He took my license away for two months. then, the
day I got my license back, I went to the store, and on my way back home
I was looking out the window at a couple of girls--and this fire truck
in front of me stopped. And I just went, Bam! Head on.
I thought my father would hit the roof. But he knew that I felt bad
enough, that I'd learned my lesson. That was one of the things that
always surprised me about my parents: They knew when to get mad and when
All this time, I was also into music. And although my parents probably
worried, "Oh, my God, all he cares about is playing electric guitar and
drums in the basement-what's he going to do?" my mom would always say,
"Oh, you're really creative," and this and that. She instilled a belief
in myself that goes on to this day.
Mike:I was a weird kid. Never played any sports or did anything like
that. I planned inventions to build. A friend and I wanted to make a
go-cart, and we kept drawing up these plans. Then it was going to be a
sports car. We spent every day planning and drawing. Then it was going
to be a line of sports cars. But we never built it. I planned things
for most of my childhood, but I almost never finished a project. Which
was what was peculiar about me, since I spent all my time on them. So I
constantly felt like a failure.
The thing was, my dad took eme seriously. One time when I was 8, I
built a paddleboat with him. But when I took the boat out into the
river, it sank. I don't remember exactly what my dad said, but I can
imagine his voice saying, "Hey, you tried. It was really kind of a neat
idea. And I'm proud of you for making it, even if it did .sink."
When I was about 10 or 11, I invented a machine I called "the
bubblemaker" and gave it to my little brother, who was 7 or 8, as a
present. But he left it lying around the house, and after a couple of
weeks of telling us to put it elsewhere, my father got mad and said I
had to take it away. Then I lost my temper, because he hadn't
recognized that it was something I had finally, actually, built by
myself. And that I had given it to my brother, who was responsible for
it. So I walked onto the second-floor deck and threw it into the woods,
and it broke into pieces.
The average father might have become even more mad at that point. But
my father didn't. He felt bad, and he went and got the pieces and
brought them back. He saw through my temper to how hurt I was that he
hadn't taken the machine seriously. And actually, today, when there are
people throwing temper tandrums, I am the one who tends to give them the
benefit of the doubt. To look deeper and find the hurt behind the
temper and feel compassion for the person.
Page:My father, who's a doctor, started a free clinic after he retired,
staffed by retired doctors and nurses, to provide health care for people
who can't afford health insurance. Both my parents are very giving
people who feel it's important to give back to the community. Their
lives make me feel good about what we're doing--trying to bring
happiness and joy into people's lives.
Trey:My mother saved a tape of me interviewing her when I was 11. On
the tape I asked her, "What would you think if your son grew up to be a
musician?" She said, "The only thing that would disappoint me is if you
did something just for money and not for love." When I heard that on
the tape recently, I thought, "Wow, I never really realized how much I
got that from her." That's so important to me.
[eat that, all of you "Phish is selling out!"-ers!]
Fish:Yeah. We had this guy come over to our house one time to fix
something, and her was really miserable, ornery. And I was all mad.
But my dad felt sorry for the guy. I was like, "Why do you feel sorry
for him? He's a jerk." But my dad said, "The reason that guy is that
way is because he's unhappy--because he gets up every morning and he
hates his job. And that's the worst thing." My dad would always say,
"The most important thing in the world is, when you wake up in the
morning, you're excited about what you do."
But when my parents found out that it was starting to become drums for
me, there were times when I caught my dad saying to my mom, "We should
never have gotten that kid a drum set." And it was, "Well, you should
find something stable to fall back on." But I could say, "Dad, you're
always the one who says, 'The tmost important thing is to do what you
like.' Well, this is what I like
Trey:All four of us had the experience of wanting to be musicians,
knowing we were musicians, at a very early age--and then running into
all those people who tell you, "Oh, you've got to do something real"
For me, there's never been anything else real. Except love, family.
I did an eighth-grade career day recently, along with other people in
different careers, and one guy worked for a snowboard company. He felt
about snowboarding the way I feel about music: It was his passion. When
he did it, he was free, like I'm free when I'm playing music. It's the
freest I am. And people said, "You can't make any money snowboarding."
But you can't listen to people saying that. If you have a love, you
have to follow it. He ended up figuring out a way--he got this
marketing job at a snowboard company, and he flies around from one ski
area to the next, checking in as the company's representative at the pro
shops. The rest of the day, he can snowboard and ski. He was so
happy. I thought that was so great.
No matter what I do, it always ties in to music. While I'm out there
paddling around on a surfboard, I'm thinking, "I'm doing this because I
want to get in tune with nature and the way the waves move, because the
next time I get up on stage, I'll have more to draw on."
Mike:We didn't plan on becoming big rock start. We would practice in
Fish's little bedroom--we had to move the bed out, the room was so
tiny. And we were never, "Well, we're in a band, and maybe if we keep
at it, we'll make a lot of money and be able to tour around the whole
country doing it for thousands of people." What we cared about was the
songs and what we could do with them. Then we had something so cool--we
had these fans who only came to see us because of word of mouth. We had
complete creative control over our music. We were having a good time.
We could support ourselves. And we were happy.
People always said, "You have to do this," or, "You have to do that,"
if you want to be in the music business. But we always felt, "Would we
still be happy if we did that? We're happy now."
Andy's Phish Page