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The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday

The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (TMWSIY) is Trey Anastasio's senior project at Goddard College in Vermont. Finished in July 1988, it was never released as an album, but a tape of it got around and now many Phishheads have copies of it in various formats. It runs almost an hour long and was recorded on a four track with earsplittingly bad quality. It is eight songs, with narrations read by Trey between most of them tying the story together. The senior project also included a paper that detailed Trey's reasons for the various aspects of the project, which is very hard to come by today.

It's commonly referred to as Gamehendge (also spelled without the D). TMWSIY has occasionally been performed in its entirety by the band during concerts (which the crowd loves) even though most of the band members don't especially like it. A few popular songs were originally from TMWSIY, such as "Wilson" and "Lizards."

Many aspects of Phish lore have grown out of TMWSIY, especially the Helping Friendly Book, about which Trey will get all worked up and start screaming that it's wonderful. Also, at least eight songs not in the project ("Divided Sky," "Llama," "McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters," "Punch You in the Eye," "Axilla," "Axilla II," "Icculus," "Harpua") have references to TMWSIY.1

Contents:2

  1. Narration (3:58)
  2. Narration (1:43)
  3. "Lizards" (5:50)
  4. Narration (3:06)
  5. "Tela" (6:14)
  6. Narration (3:26)
  7. "Wilson" (3:13)
  8. Narration (0:31)
  9. "AC/DC Bag" (3:09)
  10. Narration (3:17)
  11. "Colonel Forbin's Ascent" (4:36)
  12. "Famous Mockingbird" (7:41)
  13. Narration (1:27)
  14. "The Sloth" (2:16)
  15. Narration (1:15)
  16. "Possum" (4:29)

The Song:1

The background song played during the narrations is also sometimes incorrectly called "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" when it is performed live. This tune, actually called "I'm Going to Get My Head Sharpened," was "designed to create a sense of motion"1 (from the accompanying paper), sort of like "Promenade" in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Performed live, the song is almost always (i.e. in every set list I've seen, but I haven't seen 'em all) preceeded or followed by "Avenu Malkenu."

The Story: (song titles appear in parentheses; the text afterward is not a paraphrasing of the song but of the narrations)

(Intro to "Wilson") Trey begins by telling of the Lizards and their unfortunate enslavement. The Lizards are a peaceful group of people who lived in harmony in a forest called Gamehendge for thousands of years. This culture lived at peace with its surroundings thanks to Icculus, a legendary being who lived at the top of the mountain in the middle of the forest. Thousands of years ago, Icculus gave to the Lizards the Helping Friendly Book, which contained "all of the knowledge inherent in the universe" and let them live peacefully with each other and their surroundings.

A man named Wilson arrived in Gamehendge and asked to stay with the Lizards, who had never met an outsider and were more than happy to let him stay with them. Over the next few years, Wilson learned much about the Lizards and especially the Helping Friendly Book. One day, the Lizards awoke to discover that the Book had disappeared — Wilson announced that he had taken it and hidden it, and declared himself King of the Lizards. He ordered that the trees be cut down, and built himself a city, which he named Prussia. In the middle of the city he built himself a castle, and he locked the Book in the highest tower.

Then Trey notes that the story does not begin with the Lizards or with Wilson, but rather with Colonel Forbin, a retired 52-year-old colonel living in Long Island. One morning, having been an obedient citizen his whole life, Forbin senses the futility of his existence, and rebels by going through the Door. He found the Door months ago at the top of a hill, while walking with his dog McGrupp, and when he first saw it he knew it had been there all along. After trying to ignore it since then, he realized this morning the only escape from his dull cookie-cutter life is through the Door — and he walks through it.

("Lizards") Forbin meets Rutherford the Brave, an "aging knight...in gnarly armor" who says they should travel to Gamehendge. He tells Forbin that the Lizards are almost extinct "from doing things smart people don't do," and that he is on a quest to save them by finding the Helping Friendly Book. Coming to a river, Rutherford dove in to cross it, forgetting that his armor weighed him down so much, and he slowly sank. A large "shaggy creature," the Unit Monster, burst out of the bushes on the opposite bank, and dove in after Rutherford. Just when Forbin thought they were both gone, the creature emerged, holding Rutherford's body above him. As Rutherford came to, and Forbin and the Unit Monster removed his helmet, a loud noise crashed behind them and they turned around to see a two-toned multi-beast, "an enormous shaggy horse-like creature covered from head to tail with alternating blotches of brown and white." Sitting on the multi-beast was Tela, the most beautiful woman Forbin had ever seen.

("Tela") Tela, "jewel of Wilson's foul domain," had been born in a "vulgar crooked hut / in the shadow of Wilson's castle." Her hatred of Wilson's regime led to her joining the Revolution to topple Wilson, which was led by Errand Wolfe. Errand's son Roger had been publicly executed at the age of 14 for suspected treason, and Errand formed the Revolution to avenge his son's death. She put her hand down to Forbin and helped him climb onto the multi-beast, and as they rode through the forest, Tela finished explaining the Lizards' situation and her history to the Colonel. As they reached the rebels' camp, they saw Errand, a small man whose "presence was overpowering."

("Wilson") As Errand expounds upon his hate for Wilson, the Revolution is dealt a hard blow as Mr. Palmer, Wilson's accountant, is publicly executed in the main square of Prussia. Palmer had been diverting funds to support the Revolution. As Palmer stood on the hangman's scaffold with the AC/DC Bag (an electric robot hangman), Wilson speaks about Roger.

("AC/DC Bag") That night, news of the execution had gotten back to the camp and Forbin felt hopeless. He wandered around the camp, passing Errand and Rutherford near a fire, and stopping at Tela's hut, in which were several cages containing three-legged spotted stripers, the Unit Monster, and behind a makeshift desk, Tela. He told Tela that he loved her, but she did not respond — the silence was finally broken by the violent entrance of Rutherford, who grabbed Tela and the Unit Monster by the neck in each powerful hand and squeezed until they were both dead. The colonel cried in anger and confusion, "WHY?!" and was answered by Errand, who told Forbin that she had been a spy — his suspicion was aroused by the death of his son, and finally confirmed by Palmer's death. Forbin's world had been shaken up yet again, and he no longer knew who to trust: "the entire picture began to seem like an enormous puzzle with one piece missing, and the colonel knew what that piece was." Forbin said to Errand that within a day, he would have the Book.

("Colonel Forbin's Ascent") Forbin reached the mountain in the middle of what used to be the forest, and began to climb it, seeking the help and guidance of the legendary Icculus. As he climbed, the mountain shook and the earth trembled, and after blinking Forbin found himself in the presence of a "blazing beam of light" silhouetted by Icculus the Prophet. Icculus knew why Forbin had come, and said he would call upon his "faithful friend" the Mockingbird to help carry the Book. Icculus also warned Forbin that "all knowledge seeming innocent and pure / becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice / and greed." With that, the Mockingbird flew out of the sky and perched on Icculus' shoulder. After Icculus whispered into the bird's ear, the Mockingbird took off for Wilson's castle.

("Famous Mockingbird") The next morning, to Errand and Rutherford's surprise, the Mockingbird arrived with the Helping Friendly Book. After overcoming his initial shock, Errand snatched the Book in one hand and the Mockingbird in the other, and told Rutherford of his plan to kill Wilson and use the Book for himself. They lashed the Mockingbird to a pole "with glue and rubber bands," and set off to find "the only man in Gamehendge who could handle the job of eliminating a king."

("The Sloth") After the Sloth, a character described only by the eponymous song describing exactly how "so bad" he is, kills Wilson, Forbin finds himself behind bars in a dungeon. His thoughts turn to the Door and he parallels his actions to the situations of Tela, Errand and even Wilson. Icculus looks down on "all that went on below him" and smiles as Forbin realizes the cyclic nature of the universe. ("Possum")

Interpretation:

Now, I don't think anyone should read too deeply into this story. It was written by some college kid because he had to, and was not intended to contain great pearls of wisdom for the world to isolate and analyze. That said:

The story could be seen as a metaphor for the western world's relationship with corporations, God, and itself. The Lizards are humanity, Icculus is our faithful image of God, and corporations study our spirituality and ourselves to learn how to take advantage of and rule us. Colonel Forbin is our boy-next-door hero who rejects what the corporations tell him, and with a little help from his friends, triumphs.

What do I think? I think the story of Gamehendge is a common theme in the history of storytelling: a peaceful, spiritual culture is made miserable by newcomers, who enslave them. A normal person hero emerges, throw in a bit of miracle, and the hero wins. And there was much rejoicing.

Performances:1

Yes, the dedicated Phishheads have a list of every show that a big part of TMWSIY was performed at. Because the band members dont take it too seriously, the order of the songs and specific lyrics are often changed or left out. Often when performing the project, "McGrupp" will replace the non sequitur "Possum," as the former is a better closing piece and summarizes the story nicely. Finally, if you can find a live performance of this (and not the original tape), listen to it, because it's a treat hearing Trey get all into telling the story...

Also, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, there is a leather shop called Wilson's. One Phishhead says they have "great" business cards...


References:
Unmarked quotations are taken from the work itself, a transcript of which can be found at http://www.geocities.com/hollywood/academy/5393/Gamehenge.html.
1: Phish.net FAQ on TMWSIY: http://www.phish.net/faq/tmwsiy.html
2: "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday": http://www.angband.org/~grant/cds/setlists/treythesis.html
My knowledge, part of which is from Richard Gehr's wonderful the Phish Book, 1998: Peripheral Books, Inc./Villard Books/Random House, Inc. (NY, NY)

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