The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday

Gamehendge is the fictional setting for a number of songs by the rock band Phish. Most of the songs can be traced back to ‘The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday’ (or TMWSIY), the senior project of guitarist and primary vocalist Trey Anastasio, written while he attended Goddard College in 1987.

The recording of TMWSIY has been heavily circulated among fans and is considered by some to be an unreleased Phish album. Outside of the songs from TMWSIY, there are numerous other songs set in the fictional universe of Gamehendge.

The Gamehendge saga tells the story of Colonel Forbin, a retired colonel from Long Island, New York, who enters the land of Gamehendge and rescues a document called the Helping Friendly Book from an evil dictator named Wilson.

On the album, the story of Gamehendge is told in nine parts, with short spoken narration in between. The saga can be compared to rock concept album projects like The Doors’ ‘Celebration of the Lizard’ or Rush’s ‘2112’ suite.

Though TMWSIY has never been released officially, Phish circulated the studio recording of the suite in 1987 and 1988 and it quickly became a collector’s item. At one time Anastasio announced plans in ‘Doniac Schvice,’ Phish’s newsletter, to release the material as an interactive CD-ROM. However, this never happened and the album can only be found in bootleg or in fan-traded form.

The songs from Gamehendge have been played many times throughout the career of Phish, sometimes with Anastasio narrating parts of the story to the audience. The earliest known performance of a Gamehendge song was ‘McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters’ on April 6, 1985, in Burlington, Vermont.

When songs from the project are performed live, accompanying narration often details the transportation of the audience to Gamehendge. Some fans speak of ‘going to Gamehendge’ with reference to attending a Phish concert. Some songs and narratives explain how to get to Gamehendge, as evident in live versions of ‘Kung,’ ‘Harpua,’ ‘N02,’ and ‘It’s Ice.’

Other major characters in the saga include Tela, the ‘jewel of Wilson’s foul domain’ and the ‘evil’ Wilson himself. Several of the album’s spoken narrative sections are accompanied by background music borrowed from sections of the Phish songs ‘Esther’ and ‘McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters.’ The final track, ‘Possum,’ is the only song on the album not written by Anastasio, having been written by former Phish member Jeff Holdsworth and later added to the Gamehendge cycle.

The Mockingbird Foundation, a charity founded by Phish fans to fund music education, is named for the ‘famous mockingbird’ in the saga.

Gamehenge saga characters include the Lizards (the race of people who inhabit Gamehendge and are dependent on the writings of the ‘Helping Friendly Book’ for their survival. They’re a race of people ‘practically extinct from doing things smart people don’t do.’ Wilson is a traveler 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 dictator of Gamehendge. Colonel Forbin is a retired colonel who embarks on a mission to rescue the ‘Helping Friendly Book’ from the tower of Wilson’s castle.

McGrupp is Colonel Forbin’s dog, Rutherford the Brave is head knight of the Lizards who leads a team of allies to help overthrow Wilson, Tela is a member of the allies and Colonel Forbin’s object of desire who is eventually revealed as a spy for Wilson, and Errand Wolfe is a member of the allies who keeps the book for himself after overthrowing Wilson instead of returning it to the Lizards, thus declaring himself ruler. Roger Wolfe is a member of the allies, Errand’s son. He is hanged by Wilson in the public square on suspicion of treason.

The AC/DC Bag is a robotic hangman with a bag on its head used to hang traitors and enemies of Wilson. Mr. Palmer is 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. The Unit Monster is a giant monster who is a member of the allies and is killed along with Tela for spying. The Spotted Stripers are Three-legged messenger birds sent by Tela the spy to reveal information to Wilson about the activities of the allies.

Llamas are giant animals used by the Lizards in combat; complete with huge guns on each side. Multibeasts are 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. Icculus is the Supreme God of the Sky and author of the ‘Helping Friendly Book.’ The Famous Mockingbird is 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. The Sloth is a hitman who is hired to murder Wilson after the ‘Helping Friendly Book’ is rescued.

Jimmy is a young resident of Gamehendge and his cat, Poster Nutbag, always dies some form of death towards the end of the song ‘Harpua,’ an ever-changing narration sometimes taking place in Gamehendge. Harpua is a mean bulldog owned by an old man who was banished from Jimmy’s village that invariably ends up in a terrible fight with Poster Nutbag, usually resulting in Poster’s death.

‘Prussia’ is a city that was constructed in the land of Gamehendge. In the song ‘Wilson,’ Anastasio refers to Wilson as the ‘King of Prussia.’ This lyric references an actual city named King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, which is where ‘the rhombus’ was rumored to be located. Actually located near Anastasio’s childhood home in Princeton, New Jersey, the rhombus is a giant piece of art located in a field where Anastasio, Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, and other friends would engage in lengthy songwriting sessions (including some Gamehendge songs). ‘The Divided Sky’ also references the rhombus, where the Lizards supposedly chant to the sky in praise of Icculus.

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