Recently, writers Andy P. Smith and Jason Gershuny released a brand-new book on the beloved jam act, Phish. Titled 100 Things Phish Fan Should Know & Do Before They Die, the book spans Phistory from the band’s earliest days until today, offering 100 concise chapters ranging from the band’s history to notable performances, albums, and sit-ins to the band’s and fan’s culture and intertwining symbiotic relationship.
Below you can read an excerpted essay from 100 Things Phish Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, which talks about Phish’s “secret language”—the way the group signals to the crowd for a moment of spontaneous participation. Check it out for yourself below, and head here to pick up a copy of the book.
The Secret Language
Picture this: a band you are somewhat familiar with is playing a show, and you are there having a great time. You know a couple of tunes and like what you have seen, but you are new to the scene and haven’t dug deep into their immense catalog. Somewhere deep in a second set you are dancing along, having a blast, until, without warning, the band and select people all around you suddenly fall to the floor and play dead. Seconds feel like minutes as you try to figure out what is happening. Suddenly, in syncopated motion everyone gets up and continues rocking out like nothing happened. Shhh…this is one example of the Secret Language of Phish in action.
Within the Phish community, there are linguistic forms and social norms that are all our own. Dig even deeper and you will find a Secret Language, wherein the band has created musical cues that prompt fans to respond with an action. It should be noted that this language goes even deeper, and includes signals that the band members can use with each other while playing.
The best way to learn about the language is to find a recording from a show in the early 1990s where Trey Anastasio explains the concept to the audience. One of the most detailed explanations takes place at a show at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, New York, on May 14, 1992.