Trey explains, “Most of the people who come see Phish see Phish a lot. What happens is we do one of these signals. Suddenly out of the blue the whole audience does one of these things. Nobody knows what the hell is going on. There [are] 100 people out of a huge crowd that [are] just standing there dumbfounded, and then you don’t say a word about it.”
Writing about the Secret Language makes me feel a bit like a traitorous magician exposing the secrets of some treasured illusion. But since the band’s return in 2009, the Secret Language has been mostly missing. Phish has seemingly put this language to bed, even denying the obvious Simpsons-inspired “D’oh!” during the doughnut-themed Baker’s Dozen run.
So is it really that bad to expose the ancient mysteries of the past? Should modern magicians feel guilty about revealing the secrets of ancient Houdini tricks? Maybe so, maybe not.
According to Phish.net, there were 10 opportunities in the early ’90s when Trey took the time to teach the audience about the Secret Language. Trey would often stop a song in midflow (often “Possum,” “Antelope,” or “David Bowie”) and teach the audience the five main aspects of the Secret Language.
Like any good teacher, he would later throw out a musical pop quiz to see what the audience had learned. He added that fans should spread the word to other fans, so if you got this deep in the book, I have to assume you are a Phish fan. So my conscience is now clear.
Anyway, there is always the same initial signal to tell the audience to pay attention. Usually Trey Anastasio (although Page McConnell or Mike Gordon would do it as well) would repeat the same twinkling, high-pitched notes to grab your attention. Once the call is heard, there are five main prompts that can be thrown your way.
- The Simpsons Theme: If you hear the theme from The Simpsons’ opening, you just need to yell Homer’s iconic “D’oh!” at the end of the melody.
- The Random Note: If you hear a circus theme, at the end of that melody sing a random note out loud.
- “Turn Turn Turn”: If you hear the melody of the classic Byrds tune “Turn Turn Turn,” turn around and face the light board at the back of the venue and scream your head off.
- All Fall Down: (“The best one,” according to Trey on May 14, 1992.) When you hear a series of four descending notes, fall down like you were struck on the head with a giant hammer.
- “Aww Fuck”: When you hear a scraping sound along the strings of the guitar, shout “Aww fuck,” and raise your middle finger in the air like it was cut off in a horrible guitar-string accident.
Who knows if Phish will ever bring back the Secret Language of the 1990s, but if they do, now you’ll be ready!