Interview with Jon Fishman 11/7/96

Please enjoy this unpublished interview which I did last year with Jon
Fishman...feel free to distribute it but let me know if you plan to do
anything interesting with it

Jon:   know trying to make out they're [Oasis] the next
Beatles while adopting the bad boy image of the Rolling Stones-

Michael:        Let's see if I can snort the whole of Peru!

Jon:            Yeah, tryin'a- I guess Gene Simmons from Kiss would say
that the only thing that's important is that you're talked about - you have
to make a splash.  In a hundred years nobody'll be talking about this or
that guy just because they were good necessarily, but they'll still be
talking about Kiss or Madonna because these people made big controversy,
but I don't think people will still be talking about Oasis, although they
can make controversy for a little while I suppose, but they're definitely
not in the same league as the Madonna's or the Kiss's or the Prince's of
the world, and...they're so bad!

Michael:        I was surprised. I'd heard about them and I thought this is
gonna be exciting in some way, but it was like 'I can't believe people have
bought it!'

Jon:            I know, that was what was kinda upsetting about it, cos in
America there was this whole- we heard it, you know the whole Britpop
scene's starting to come over here and it was like the only band at all
that I've heard come out of this scene so far that I've liked in the last -
god I don't know how long - is Radiohead.

Michael:        A lot of people say that-

Jon:            I love the singer and I think they have a good sound in
general, like their overall sound's kinda ethereal, it's got some grit to
it, it's not all slick and perfected and produced. You listen to Oasis and
it sounds like somebody's production nightmare, you know it's got all the
strings and all the horns and just pile all this shit into it with like no
regard for like musicality or taste or anything it's just like slick
bullshit, but Radiohead's like rock 'n' roll. In America we got blitzed
over there with like the Britpop scene which Radiohead, Blur and all these
bands are part of. And then Oasis seemed to be like- the press
intentionally set them apart as like the special import, "They're coming
they're coming" and they tried to like-

Michael:        Did it work?

Jon:            To some degree they did pretty well, they were playing like
10,000 seaters - it wasn't like they were selling out Wembley Stadium or
anything but they were doing well. When I heard it- you know cos all I saw
was like this press about them beforehand talking about how great they
were, then when I heard it I was like this is totally run-of-the-mill, this
is completely average, in what way is this special? And I realised that the
only way in which this was special, the only reason these guys were making
a splash was because they're sort of like amateur media manipulators in the
way that Madonna is. Madonna is a pro. I don't like her and have no respect
for her but- I don't think she should be called a musician or a dancer or
whatever you know, but I do have, well I do have respect for her ability to
completely manipulate the media and have them work for her. And I think
Oasis are kinda like this scrappy version of that and I think that
everything they're doing is selling on being such an asshole. I guess a
younger crowd are into it, you know people who're just out to be assholes.
And it's not like they're the Sex Pistols or anything, it's not like real
you know, it's not like the whole time they're playing one of the band
members is a year from killing himself [laughs]  Nirvana was like that-
Nirvana was like the only band to come out of that- it was like the same
thing, Seattle was like this whole scene and it was like this big scene
that was thrust upon America. The only band to come out of that entire
scene that had any true musical merit in my opinion was Nirvana because
they were actually real- they really were- I mean this guy was singing- he
wrote good catchy songs, he wrote great words, and he could like scream
like nobody's business - the first like good screamer in like ten years -
and the words that he was singing were real, really him, from like growing
up in a, you know a broken family and having a shitty childhood and getting
beaten up in high school your whole life and part of this generation that
was just stuck with being the janitors for the previous generations and
being frustrated with the whole thing. I mean that album Nevermind comes
out, it's got this picture of this baby swimming after this dollar bill,
it's got all these completely in-your-face snotty songs and they call it
Nevermind! It couldn't be more in-your-face and it's just the most cynical
thing. I mean it's amazing to me now in retrospect to look at that and just
not be able to see just from the presentation of that album that this guy
was headed towards suicide. Now that he's dead, you listen to those songs
and you look at the cover and you go, "Oh my god this was like somebody
screaming for help" and as sad as that is it was the only kind of real- it
seems like all these other bands sort of adopted the angst of other people,
you know, people who had pretty decent lives, didn't have much to complain
about, but there was this scene so they just went and adopted this- I mean
like Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder has a good voice but other than that they're
to me like the Oasis of grunge rock, formulated riffs.

Michael:        So Phish is veering away from being a rock 'n' roll death
trip band?

Jon:            Oh gosh! Phish has never had anything to do with any trends
at all in America. I mean people have compared us to like the Grateful Dead
and all these like psychedelic sixties bands. The Grateful Dead were an
influence on our music but they weren't by a long shot the biggest

Michael:        It's the culture around the band that's similar. I went to
a couple of Dead shows when I was in the States and you don't get such a
scene around many bands like that.

Jon:            Yeah it's like a giant hippy caravan marketplace following.

Michael:        That's the similarity, they've made it possible for you.

Jon:            I think that Phish has been a band, we've all had- I've had
a great life growing up and everybody in my band's had a really good life,
none of us have got anything to complain about at all. So there's no way
we're gonna write whining complaining bitchin' music. But I'm a realist,
we're not gonna go and play flowery everything is great kinda music either
cos that's not a message that's very realistic, either way would be an
extreme lie. I think it's like music for the sake of music, and a lot of
the words stem from liking music a lot, wanting to be a good band and
having a good sense of humour, and living in a situation where we're free
to pretty much do what we want. We're also pretty community-orientated. We
like where we live and we wanna participate in our neighbourhoods and
communities and stuff and try to- we're not like benevolent- it's pretty
basic. We're living on earth, we're lucky to be musicians, we love what
we're doing and we work really hard at it and I think that the crowd that
it attracts has kinda the same philosophy, is community-orientated. People
are trying to live freely outside of, or within a system that maybe for
them on a day-to-day level isn't as free...I definitely think we're
positively orientated. I think that generally music should be a positive
thing, I like Bob Marley's attitude: he said that his goal in life was to
single handedly fight all the evil in the world with nothing but music, and
when he went to a place he didn't go to play, he went to conquer. I
wouldn't go so far as to say we're going to conquer but he was like on a
religious mission. But I do think that we approach music, in of itself,
with a religious attitude. It's the only thing that we take seriously. I
don't just wanna get up on stage and play shitty, or not care, or not put
everything that I have into it. I just really liked Bob Marley's attitude,
it's a great attitude, it's really like your glass is half-full your glass
is half-empty, you can look at the world, given your situation, however you
want to. I mean I have friends whose lives are really difficult, truly

Michael:        Yeah I think it was in one of your interviews that you
mentioned a friend of yours-

Jon:            Willis

Michael:        yep

Jon:            Willis's life is the most difficult life of anybody that
I've personally ever known and he's just the nicest person. I mean Willis
to me is just a total inspiration and an example of somebody who- some
people when something bad happens to them they go out and think that it's a
license to treat somebody else bad. And you say why are you doing this bad
thing to this other person, and they say, "The world owes me, my life's
been shitty and everybody's shitting on me and I don't owe anybody anything
so I can do whatever the fuck I want to anybody else." Whenever I see that
occurring, all I think about is Willis, and I think well, you've got no
excuse you know cos like this guy's like definitely had a shittier life
than you and he's the nicest person, he's literally the nicest person I
know, I mean amongst all the people I know he's amongst the top, you know,
he's as nice as anybody, you know I have as much respect for him as I have
for my father, I mean he has my full know when I see that it
just- I don't know I look at him and I think god you know, the whole
situation could be so much better if people just- so I think all this
angst-driven stuff is kinda-

Michael:        not doing anyone any favours?

Jon:            To me there's certain music that I can't understand how
anyone cannot listen to once in a while, like Bob Marley's music. I don't
know how you can go your whole life and not listen once to Bob Marley -
what's the point? [laughs!] He's the only one I can think of like that
right now, I don't know, not to get on a Bob Marley roll, but I have
thought about him a lot, and he's not even my favourite band. Sometimes I
think of Bob Marley's music and I think, I can't think of any other music
that, you know I hold Jimi Hendrix's music in as high esteem as Bob
Marley's music, but I can see how people can hear Hendrix and be turned off
by it. It might be too much for my grandmother or something, young or old
it's not their thing, for some people it would even be too wimpy, Hendrix
pah! but I can't see how anybody could not like Bob Marley's music - I know
that's an ignorant thing to say, of course there's somebody out there and
it's not their thing but you know what I mean, you listen to it and you go,
you can almost taste this music, oh my god, he ruined reggae for everybody
else, you know, he's like the Michael Jordan of music, the Pele of music.
When I hear his music it really does change my attitude, it changes the way
I feel, it makes me have a better attitude for the day, for the whole damn
day you know and I kinda wish there were more Bob Marley's in a way. I
don't think that Phish is anywhere in the zone of Bob Marleyness, but I
wanna put that kinda attitude in my approach to music. I know I can't be
religious- I'm not religious that way but I can approach music religiously.
My intention when I go to play music can be to generally spread a positive
vibe, into the room and into the- and put yourself in a positive way into
music and use music as a vehicle for trying to make somebody walk out of
the room thinking, "Well Ok I'm not in such a bad mood" or "Maybe's thing's
aren't so bad, maybe I can do something about my problems", just have it
overall be a positive thing, it can be humour, it can get dark you know,
but it can get you know- but it's all

Michael:        good medicine

Jon:            but all in a medicinal way, yeah not in a complaining, I
don't know, I think that's an important thing for music.

Michael:        I'm surprised in a way that there isn't more music that's-
I mean there's instrumental music that fits the bill of being wholly
positive but it's not exactly high profile.

Jon:            Yeah, well, there really are some awful trends that have
been going on for a really long time, and there's a lot of examples on the
planet now where- you know I sort of look at the overall- maybe it's
anthropomorphic, maybe I'm more concerned and don't realise it but I'm more
concerned for the human race than the world. Maybe the world itself is in
no danger, but whenever I say that to myself I feel I'm just clouding the
issue and not facing the obvious. You look at the fact that for millions of
years species on earth have been developing and we've been knocking them
off at like a hundred a day. When you see that like the Bengal tiger is in
danger of extinction, African elephants, I mean these are huge major
players in the food chain that have been going- or you know like half the
species of spiders on earth have been wiped out because of destruction of
environments, you know spiders, you just look at the role they play in the
food chain you know you gotta think- you know that game Genga?

Michael:        Which one's that?

Jon:            It's the one where you stack the blocks like dominoes kind
of, and each person takes a turn pulling one out and the object is to pull
them out but not make the thing fall and whoever pulls it makes it fall- I
sort of look at our entire existence on this earth right now as one giant
game of Genga.

Michael:        Endgame, we've figured it out, we found the self-destruct
button about fifty years ago...

Jon:            Right! we've found the self-destruct button.

Michael:        ...and it's only a matter of time.

Jon:            Yeah it looks like either slow deterioration or maybe'll
we'll hit the self-destruct button, and noone can look at the world and
deny that. Some people panic and that's what's expressed in music and some
people- and so I guess the reason why it's not so shocking that there isn't
so much Bob Marley kinda music or whatever that is, in the bigger picture I
think that people are aware of the fact that these trends do seem to be
catching us up. If you look at the overall health of the planet it looks
like there're sort of lesions of deterioration here and there, and everyone
has this internal fear of, "Well the shit's hit the fan in my
neighbourhood"- and even if you're doing things to reverse trends,
destruction is quicker than construction and so people are still- So, being
that there's that awareness I think that that is actually expressed in
music before it actually happens. There's a book called Noise by this guy
Jacques Attalie who had this theory that music was a herald of the future,
it was the sound of things to come, music was always one step ahead of what
was actually happening in society and so if you're hearing- even though
there's a certain bogusness and marketeering in all this stuff like the
Pearl Jams, the overall angst wave...what am I tryin'a say? just the fact
that angst sells doesn't negate the fact that that angst is real.

Michael:        and there's plenty more to come, it's gonna get darker but
at the same time- but in that case then if Phish are looking to the future
and creating/coming out with all this positive music then what 'trends' do
you see that inspire?

Jon:            I think that like um overall- I think that there're all
these bad things like destruction of the rain forest and all the obvious
ones that everybody knows, I'll just use that as an example just because
that's an obvious one, but along with that there is a greater awareness,
and I think that our ignorance is going to cost us and I think that you're
right that there're going to be darker times ahead you know because of that
certain things are going to be lost along the way, certain species are
gonna go out and certain things are gonna get- you know we're not gonna
save in time, but I think as a result of that also it's gonna cause people
to also say woah! this really is real and let's save what we can, you know
what I mean? It's gonna cost you but it doesn't have to be the end of the
world, you know when you make a big mistake hopefully you'll learn from it
and as long as it doesn't cost you your life then you still have time to
pick up the pieces of what's left and you know make good with that, and so
maybe we might lose this rain forest but we won't lose it all and maybe
there'll be a real- not that technology can save us but I think there may
be ways to you know in the future if we manage to stay here, you know if
trends reverse- you know cos I do think trends are just that, they go a
certain direction for a while then they go another direction and you know I
think things always go to an extreme before they start going the other when things start going real shitty around you you gotta start
fixing stuff, then things get fixed, then when things are really fixed and
really great then people think oh things are taking care of themselves,
then they start getting sloppy again, you know but as long as you stay
within the bounds of you know life's requirements, you don't make the
atmosphere more than 21% oxygen or things like that and I think that some
of the positive trends are gonna be along those- like I was reading in this
magazine the other day that since Earth Day, the first Earth Day was in
1989 or something like that and since the first Earth Day in the United
States there's been a more and more growing awareness of toxic waste
emissions from factories in America, and as a result of that over the last
6/7 years overall toxic waste emissions are down 44%, that's not enough by
a long shot but it's better than it was going the other way. And also
technology is providing ways of cleaning things up better and there's also
things like, you know a hundred years ago industry was a lot worse, and if
you look at like the iron curtain is down and if you look in Eastern
Germany and Russia and you see how badly the environment is damaged there
and now there's efforts to repair that, and the rest of the world's looking
at that and saying we don't want that to happen here, see noone knew about
it cos it was all shrouded in secrecy but now that you can see what the
black river looks like or whatever, people are like more cautious because
they can see an example of how bad it can really get, I think people need
to see that...I think that you really don't have a choice, when you see
that things are wrong the only choice you really have is to just do what
you can to make it better. Where we're living we have a certain amount of
our profit every year it's like a percentage 5 or 7% or something like that
that we set aside specifically for charity things. There's this King St
Youth Centre. Rather than dolling out some money here and then next year
there, we've picked out two focussed things to...

[to the impatient eavesdropping woman from Elektra] - yeah we'll be done in
a second

...there's this thing called the King Street Youth Centre which Trey's
wife'd done some volunteer work at, it's just a place that's got athletic
equipment and some basketball courts and some tennis courts and musical
instruments and other kinds of things, that people like between 14-17 can
go to after school whatever where they can go and be involved in
constructive things maybe for themselves that would give them another place
to go other than a home they don't want to go to or going out and taking a
lot of drugs or being generally directionless. A place where people of that
age group can have a space where they can do something for themselves and
maybe take themselves in a direction that's good for them, and we've
guaranteed them a certain amount of money over a period of like 3-5 years
because we found that that was an age group that doesn't get a lot of
attention from the community. Adults tend to think that teenagers are a
group that, "Well they're old enough to know better and so should take care
of themselves" and so most funds go to younger kids' programs. So these
teenagers who really are, some of whom really are at critical points in
their lives you know really fall through the cracks, and so that's
something that we've gotten behind, and the other thing that we're getting
behind is trying to clean up Lake Champlain which is a huge lake that
borders New York and Vermont, it goes into the seaway and stuff. Vermont's
been a huge farming state for years and the farmers have been losing money
over the years so they haven't had the proper funds to do the proper clean
up and maintenance of the manure and things like that, and so as a result
there's a lot of run-off and the rain all goes into the lake and it kills
certain plants and it raises the nitrogen or the potassium you know and now
the fish all have these lapreys(?) on them cos there're certain species of
parasite that prey on the fish that are able to expand cos- so things like
that we're trying to get behind and reverse, and I sort of feel like ok
there's no denying that there's some bad stuff going on in the world and
there's definitely some extreme examples of the cost that's gonna happen
but given that, what are your choices: you either just stand there and
whine and complain about it, you stand there and panic and freak out about
it or you look at it realistically and say this sucks but we're gonna try
to fix it you know, that's all you can do, that's the best you can do. And
so I think that's where Phish generally comes from, from an attitude
overall. We're not like some cheery happy ignorant band -
[I point out that the Elektralady is trying to wind it up, pointing to her
watch etc]
Oh gadd!

Michael:        What I wanted to ask was-

Jon:            I just wanted to say one more thing: I also think that when
you go to play music, you're there to play music. You're not there to
spread any particular- if you're Bob Marley you're there to spread a
message, but very few people can do that effectively without shoving
opinions down someone's throat. When I go on stage man I just want people
to have fun, I don't want people to think about their problems, I want
people to get energy and nutrition and food from that so they can go back
into the real world and work on their problems. I don't want them to think
about that shit when they're there, and I don't want to think about it.

Michael:        Totally. Ok there's a couple of things...mainly about the
culture around your shows, what I remember of seeing you previously was the
psychedelic culture around the band, and I wanted to ask the extent to
which acid mushrooms etc had influenced you or the band at various stages...

Jon:            Oh well for me-

[band manager strolls over 'we need to get going' 'ok']

Well for me the first...well I would say that within the group there's a
huge expanse, I was definitely the biggest drug addict in the band -
there's no two ways about it - and Mike the bass player's never taken any
psychedelic's in his entire life and he's never tried mushrooms or acid and
he's smoked pot a few times and he's barely ever been drunk and he's
generally pretty straight, but he's also the weirdest person in the band,
he doesn't need it nearly as much. For me from a pretty young age up until
about 21 years old hallucinogenics had a huge place in my life. There was a
year where pretty much I woke up at 5am, you know set my alarm for 5am,
dropped a couple of tabs of acid and went back to sleep, it would wake me
up at 7.30 and I'd go to school. I got my best grades that year and I had a
good time and for me it was like a sense of humour kinda thing. When Phish
started, for the first two years that we were together, I pretty much
tripped for all our gigs, we didn't have that many gigs, granted, we mostly
spent our time practising. I was never high for band practice, I did never
really smoke much pot and I never really drank much, just once in a while
when in Rome sorta thing, you go to Amsterdam you smoke hash, but I'm
generally not really a- and I guess it's not really my place to discuss the
habits of the other people in the band, but for me personally I think
hallucinogenics were just a huge opening factor - they really did - they
opened some doors for me, but they sort of pointed me in the direction of
some possibilities but they didn't make me acquire these skills you know,
practising a lot as a band and an individual are what got me to become a
good musician, the acid just got me to be able to be less mental in my
approach to music in the heat of the moment, when you're playing music you
shouldn't be thinking you shouldn't be counting, you know, you should be
playing music, you've done your homework, you're as good as you're gonna be
now just go out and bomb it on the stage you know have a good time don't-
and I think acid really helped me to let go of those- to be able to
separate those two worlds to say this is homework, this is the world of
work and toil and acquiring skill, and this is the world of expression, and
when you come to expression you just expre- that's it, like I'm talking
whatever, and that was- that for me was- the first two years I loved to
trip and play and then [pause] I dunno it's like I graduated! [laughs]

Michael:        Yeah yeah, you learned to live without it

Jon:            Yeah then one day I didn't need it anymore or something-

Michael:        The other thing I was gonna ask...I'm doing an interview
with Terence McKenna, I was wondering how much credence you give to what he
has to say-

Jon:            Who?

Michael:        Writes about mushrooms DMT etc

Jon:            Gosh I don't even know who Terence McKenna is!

Michael:        No?

Jon:            I think I've heard his name now.

Michael:        Present day Timothy Leary?

Jon:            You know Trey was reading something about him and telling
me something- is he the guy who takes heroic doses?

Michael:        Yeah

Jon:            Yeah I heard about that guy, he's the guy that believes
that like if you're gonna take hallucinogenics you should only take heroic
doses and that- I heard his name- that was like all I heard about him Trey
telling me 'Hey this guy's like you he's got the same approach'

Michael:        In one of the interviews with you I think you were talking
about starseeds on this earth and how we're gonna be building starships
outta light - this was an interview from about five years ago - talking
about how the trick was to master the use of light and once you could do
that you could turn the whole of earth into a spaceship and fly out of the
orbit of the sun...

Jon:            Woah! that's amazing, I was thinking about that for a
while, maybe I did use the term starseeds, I did think that the ultimate
engineering project would be to end up using the sun as the actual fusion
generator for powering this and that you could actually eventually
intentionally move the galaxy in a specific direction rather than- cos in
the big bang theory everything's just expanding outwards and that the
ultimate sort of sign of life or sign of advancement, say if you were
looking through a telescope and you saw one star or one galaxy out there
moving in the opposite direction of everything else, one thing was coming
towards you while everything else was going out - you'd know that there was
some intention there that there was something- yeah that's true I forgot
all about that. Actually that has nothing to do with Terence McKenna...but
I still think that would be the coolest engineering project, this would be
the control centre, the sun would be the motor, or the sun would be the
power then somehow the planets were used as propulsion to move us- look at
it like a ship and move it towards Andromeda or wherever, yeah that'd be
cool! That's funny man I forgot all about that!

michael renshaw 
Kensington, London
11th July 1996

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