Gamehendge: More Than Music

So many aspects of their career made Phish more than just a band.  A combination of playfulness, inside jokes, and connection to their fans created a community around Phish from early on.  One of the distinct factors contributing to this phenomenon was the myth of Gamehendge.  Written as Trey’s senior thesis at Goddard College in 1987, the songs comprising this story soon became the foundation for early Phish.  As the band emerged from their college days, playing less covers, Gamehendge became central to the Phish live experience.  As fans learned about Phish’s fantasy land of lizards and multibeasts, they felt like they were being let in on something different, something special.

phishplateBrewing with unlimited inspiration at such a young age, Trey scribed The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday without knowing it would soon define the acid rock of early Phish.  Gamehendge was not only significant for its brilliant music, but for the consecrated place it represented in the fan community.  As people began to see Phish regularly and picked up the story of Gamehendge, a common reference point in the Phish experience was born.  Creating a narrative for all fans to latch on to, this mythical place catapulted Phish into the realm of the sacred for their loyal followers.  The Phish community began to form around fans’ connection to this story- its characters, its songs, and most significantly, its literary themes woven throughout.

AC/DC Bag - The Character

AC/DC Bag - The Character

While the story of Colonel Forbin climbing a mountain to meet Icculus and re-capture the Helping Friendly Book may seem like a childhood fable, many implicit themes spoke to the left-leaning Phish audience.  Gamehendge was a communal utopia where the Lizards lived in peace and harmony with nature and each other.  These were fundamental values of the hippie counter-culture that populated the crowd.  The Lizards attained bliss through living by the code of Icculus’ book; by not over-complicating life with their own desires, they lived as one, free from corruption.  Freedom in simplicity, a cornerstone of the enlightened path, defined the life of Lizards, and represents what so many of us chase every day.  Yet, this Edenic society is taken over by a human traveler, the evil Wilson, who steals the book and locks it away from the Lizards, representing man’s conquest over the natural world.  Illustrating Trey’s personal ideals as a college student, fans felt a connectedness to these lessons in Gamehendge, that when combined with the live experience and Trey’s attention to the story’s every detail, Phish became more than just music.  The freedom from worry and focus on simplicity were the exact feelings we we had at shows, creating a magical congruency between what we felt and what we heard.  All of these aspects of Gamehendge helped create a sacred space for fans, both literally and figuratively.

liz1Similar to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunters use of Americana myth to inspire some of their most revered epochs, Trey used his own, far more playful perspective, to evoke Phish’s central values via Gamehendge.  Like the tribulations of August West in “Wharf Rat” and the glorified bygone era defined by Workingman’s Dead, Trey created a parallel reality with reptile inhabitants, a beautiful infiltrator, Tela, and the heroic knight, Rutherford the Brave.  As the Weir / Barlow songwriting team added the spice of the old West to the Dead with such tunes as “Mexicali Blues,” and “Black Throated Wind,” the mythology embraced by Dead culture grew deeper rooted in the country’s past.  Yet, the myth of Gamehendge remained purely allegorical and certainly more light-hearted . The overthrow of Wilson by Col. Forbin and the Lizards is followed by the traitorous actions of Errand Wolfe, who keeps the Book for himself, never returning it to the Lizards, becoming the next dictator of the Gamehendge.  Rife with political allusions, and human lessons, Gamehendge was Trey and Phish’s way to work meaning into their music.  While wholly different that the mythology of the Dead, the dynamic is parallel.

In the end, the moral of the story remain tucked in Icculus’ word’s to Forbin’s atop the mountain:

But I warn you that all knowledge seeming innocent and pure
Becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice
And greed

A lyric that seems incredibly appropriate in this day and age, the timelessness of Gamehendge’s lessons is ironic.  In the end humans corrupted the natural world of Gamehendge, upsetting the states of Llamas, Spotted Stripers, Multibeats and beyond.  One can take the comparison to our real world as far as they’d like.

lizardWritten as a psychedelic fairy tale, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday grew into something far larger than Trey could have imagined.  It became the ethos of a community; so far that seventeen years later, when Trey had to call it quits due to his personal battles, he was defamed as “Wilson” by many bitter fans.  What started out in a college dorm room, finished at Coventry, and is about to start again.  A door will appear in mid-air, and we will have the same choice that Colonel Forbin did- and I think we will all make the same decision.




This is the original recording of Trey’s senior thesis from Goddard in 1987.  Complete with the full story narration that is woven in pieces into live shows, this will take you on an hour long journey through Gamehendge. If you ever had any questions about the story, this will answer them

images73.12.88 Nectar’s, Burlington, VT SBD < LINK

The first-ever live performance of Gamehendge at the place where it all started.  Below is a cast of characters, thanks to Wikipedeia.

  1. The Lizards (the race of people who inhabit Gamehendge and are dependent on the writings of the Helping Friendly Book for their survival)
  2. Wilson (a traveller who arrives in Gamehendge and eventually captures the Helping Friendly Book from the Lizards and locks it in the top of his castle, thus becoming the sole ruler of Gamehendge)
  3. Colonel Forbin (a retired colonel who embarks on a mission to rescue the Helping Friendly Book from the tower of Wilson’s castle)
  4. McGrupp (Colonel Forbin’s dog)
  5. Rutherford the Brave (head knight of the Lizards who leads a team of allies to help overthrow Wilson)
  6. Tela (member of the allies and Colonel Forbin’s object of desire who is eventually revealed as a spy for Wilson)
  7. Errand Wolfe (member of the allies who keeps the book for himself after overthrowing Wilson instead of returning it to the Lizards, thus declaring himself ruler)
  8. Roger Wolfe (member of the allies, Errand’s son)
  9. Mr. Palmer (Wilson’s accountant who is hanged by the AC/DC Bag in the town square after he is caught embezzling money to fund the allies)
  10. The AC/DC Bag (a robotic hangman with a bag on its head used to hang traitors and enemies of Wilson)
  11. The Unit Monster (a giant monster who is a member of the allies and is killed along with Tela for spying)
  12. Spotted Stripers (Three legged messenger birds sent by Tela the spy to reveal information to Wilson about the activities of the allies)
  13. Multibeasts (giant four-legged creatures that are used as transportation by the people of Gamehendge, much like horses or camels. They have long curly hair and splotches of brown and white color.)
  14. The Famous Mockingbird (a bird who is sent by Icculus to fly to the very top of Wilson’s castle and retrieve the Helping Friendly Book for Colonel Forbin)
  15. The Sloth (a hitman who is hired to murder Wilson after the Helping Friendly Book is rescued)
  16. Icculus (the Supreme God of the Sky and author of the Helping Friendly Book)
  17. Llamas (giant animals used by the Lizards in combat; complete with huge guns on each side)
  18. Jimmy (young resident of Gamehendge)
  19. Poster Nutbag (The cat owned by Jimmy; always dies some form of death towards the end of the song ‘Harpua’, an ever-changing narration sometimes taking place in Gamehenge)
  20. Harpua (A mean bulldog owned by an old man who was banished from Jimmy’s village; invariably ends up in a terrible fight with Poster Nutbag, usually resulting in Poster’s death, sometimes set in Gamehenge.)
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30 Responses to “Gamehendge: More Than Music”

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  1. Musical Stew Daily Says:

    I personally only saw Gamehenge performed once. At the GameHoist show in West Virginia, way the hell back in June of ’94. I love every one of the songs on Gamehenge, but don’t think that it translates well to the larger venues and for people coming to the show “to party”. I honestly doubt I’ll ever see another performance of the song because it represents a very young, very different Trey. Thanks for the piece.

  2. mitch Says:

    Where is the AC/DC Bag sketch from?

  3. bhizzle Says:

    Trpnstn – “The Phish experience was TOTALLY different, as it should have been. Phish was playful, entertaining, surprising, and thought provoking, but let’s be real here… they were not really SPIRITUAL, at least not intentionally….

    For me, I LOVED the fact that Phish had a different purpose and intention than the Dead. I loved that they were playful, I loved that they were tight and professional when they performed, I loved that they didn’t get too deep. I loved that they weren’t trying to BE the Grateful Dead, but, intead, trying to be themselves.

    I hate it when people compare the Grateful Dead to Phish. While Phish may have been inspired by the history of the GD, they came out of a TOTALLY different historical context and had a TOTALLY different intention regarding what experience they wanted to create at their shows.

    What Trey and Phish have done is NOT “parallel” to the Grateful Dead, it is complimentary to, and inspired by the Grateful Dead, but very different. Even Trey says he has too much respect for the Dead to try to copy their “dynamic”. The Phish experience is TOTALLY different from the Dead experience. People CRY when they hear the story of August West or Black Peter (deep emotions are triggered), but when they hear Gamehendge they are inspired by intellect and thought.”


  4. Joy Rose Says:

    Re: Trpnstn
    Perhaps neither the myths nor their intentions were congruous (Dead and Phish) but the purpose they served for the audience, which for some reason has attracted similar types of people–as Miner said, those searching for “communal utopia.”

  5. William H. Bonney Says:

    Long live Errand Wolfe

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