Mike Gordon Talks Jerry Garcia, Annoying Phish Fans & Bust Outs In Re-Published 1996 Interview
In 1996 The Onion launched The A.V. Club, described as “a non-satirical pop culture supplement to The Onion” and one of the first musicians featured on the site was Phish bassist Mike Gordon. The A.V. Club recently republished the Mike Gordon interview which came out just after the release of Billy Breathes. Gordon touches on a number of topics still relevant today including how he felt after the death of Jerry Garcia who passed away on this date in 1995.
The A.V. Club/Onion asked Gordon, “was there a part of you that was a little bit excited when Jerry Garcia died?” Here’s what Mike had to say:
Not at all. In fact, when all the different publications called to interview us, I put together a press release with what I had to say about it, and the last sentence was, “Every speck of me wishes he was still alive.” I just was really into the Dead. The other band members pretty much weren’t, except for years ago. But I still was, and I was flying off to Dead shows maybe once in the middle of each of our tours. For me, Jerry had all these values that I could really relate with. You know, mixing all the traditional Americana stuff with wild, loose, free experimentation and jamming. That mixture really appeals to me. And it’s not often found, especially in the rock and roll setting. So for me, I wasn’t relieved at all when Jerry died. I was saddened. And in terms of our career–and in terms of interview questions–it just made it worse, just because all of a sudden people thought all the Deadheads were going to come and see Phish now. Which isn’t exactly true: There’s definitely some crossover–we both appeal to somewhat of a hippie-ish audience, and we both jam a lot, and this and that–but the people who really like the Dead probably don’t like us. Because the music is different enough, and the rhythms are different, and the attitude and even the sense of humor is way different. So the real Deadheads–there’s nothing that’s going to replace the Dead for them. And for the people who really like us aren’t necessarily the biggest Deadheads.
Cactus also was asked about the “most irritating thing a fan has ever done to [him]?” Mike brought up a fan who yelled, “Trey! Hey Trey! You played at my father’s bar! Hey Trey!” as the band was performing a serene set of music a top a flatbed truck at 1996’s Clifford Ball. Gordon also mentioned an incident that took place at the band’s April 18, 1993 show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The previous night a mishap led to an unintentionally extended “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars.” During “I Didn’t Know” on the 18th, keyboardist Page McConnell hosted a segment in which those who attended the previous night’s concert were polled on their opinion of the extended “BBFCFM.” Mike mentioned a woman who responded to the question with a question of her own, “I just have one question: Will we ever get out of this ‘Maze?'”
The bassist also discussed Phish’s cover of “Whipping Post” and why they stopped playing the Fish-sung version in deference to the Allman Brothers Band. Additionally, Mike brought up David “ZZYZX/The Timer” Steinberg, “This guy was known as The Timer in the parking lots, and he would stand in the front row every night and time all the songs. And if a song was, like, 10 seconds or half a minute shorter than it should have been, he would stand there with his arms crossed and roll his eyes back. And eventually, it got to the point where we got to know him because we were playing in small venues and he was touring around, and Trey ended up confronting him. We got him on the bus, and Trey just said, ‘I’ve never said this to a fan before, but what you’re doing is actually bothering me while I’m playing. It’s actually on my mind and entering my consciousness, so if you’re going to be timing and rolling your eyes back, could you do it from the back row rather than the front row?’” Gordon mentioned ZZYZX “ended up respecting that” and the pair are on such good terms now they share clothes.
Also of note, Mike Gordon talked about bust outs and how the band feels (or felt at that time) about dusting off songs they retired for whatever reason:
Well, the thing is, we as a band have been talking about our relationship with our fans. We had a long talk at band practice yesterday, actually. We asked ourselves why we play these old songs–sometimes every night–or why we break out old songs that people want to hear that they haven’t heard in a long time. Is it just to please them? And if that’s the case, are we really doing what we want to do, which is to stretch limits and take risks? Or are we compromising ourselves? And the answer was no, we just like to put on a good rock show when we can, and if that involves playing some of the same stuff we’ve been playing and playing some things just because people want to hear them… And so we had this conversation about songs that we haven’t played in five years that people keep requesting, and with our audience that’s sort of a popular thing. It was with the Dead, too, like, making this big deal out of some song they haven’t played in a long time. And usually, if we’ve stopped playing a song, it’s for a good reason: It just didn’t feel comfortable. People just don’t realize how sensitive we are to what we’re playing, and how it feels, and that if we can’t relate to the lyrics that we’re singing, that’s a bad feeling. People don’t realize that. If the song represents a part of our lives that was from 10 years ago, then it might feel wrong. Our fans are very sensitive and aware of things that we’re not even aware of: We’re probably playing songs that we’ve played a lot of times, not even realizing how cool certain musical changes are, and they might be having musical experiences that we’re not even acknowledging that they’re having. And so it can go two ways, because music is so subjective. But the thing that people often don’t realize is that a lot of thought and feelings go into something like taking a song off a record.
Phish played a whopping 205 different songs over the course of their recently completed tour including many bust outs, so hopefully they are still enjoying playing them. For much more from 1996 Mike Gordon, head to The A.V. Club.
[Hat Tip – @TheZeezer]