Birds of a feather flock together,
And so will pigs and swine;
Rats and mice will have their choice,
And so will I have mine.

nursery rhyme

Or, as my Zen teacher likes to point out: Birds that flock together grow the same feather.

He generally says that to underline the importance of associating with good and learned friends.

Track 2 from Phish's 1998 studio album, The Story of the Ghost. In addition to being a great Hammond Organ Transplant, a solid dose of 70s-flavored groove, and a nice demonstration of Phish's vocal talent, it's one of Phish's few "serious" songs since the album "Rift". Disclaimer: you don't have to believe what I say next, but once you've read the lyrics, you may believe me. Once you've met the phans at a show, I certainly hope you will.

This song is about Phish's struggles with commercial success: the fake fans, the fake fame, having to whore yourself on the talk show circuit, and everything that comes as a package deal when Steve Lillywhite produces one of your albums. The first verse is for the record labels and the MTV journalists who tout each band as The Next Big Thing and then count the money while VH1 does a Behind the Music about the newly-washed-up band. They make money on every step of the group's life cycle, and leave the group drained and ridiculed for "falling for that whole fame thing." But the more you protest, the more they publicize you as a "sleeper hit!!!" and urge their target market to beg, borrow, lie, or steal to get tickets to The It Show of the Summer.

When Phish showed up for the concerts on the Billy Breathes tour, they found that everyone there wanted to hear the radio single, "Free," buy a T-shirt, and go home. The audience were all wearing Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch and faux-tattered white baseball caps, and had their right arm around their blonde, anorexic girlfriend from the field hockey team.* And if I exaggerate their attire and similarities, it is for the purpose of giving you an image of the people who came to those Phish shows expecting two short sets of familiar, radio-friendly songs, at least half of which are from the recent album that we all went out and bought at The Wall. Phish has never played shows like that, but they were in an awkward position: the phans couldn't get tickets, and the Gap Kids were packing the house, unhappy because there was so much darned music going on.

That's what the second verse, and the chorus, are about. These are the "Birds of a Feather," and when they flock outside, there's no room for the phans. They strut out of stride: that is, they don't know the rules, but they try to join the community of phans anyway.

In any community, especially one built around a shared taste, there's going to be Last Settler Syndrome--everyone wants to be "in," and nobody wants to let anyone "in" after them. It even happens at E2! But Phish took all the fans' complaints, all their own dissatisfaction with the audience who displaced the fans, and their frustration at having to pretend they were radio-friendly on TV, and put it down in a song. It's a good song. As with anything else by Phish, it's a well written tune played by skilled artisans. Phish's ordinarily "silly" lyrics are absent, however, and the singing is infused with quiet emotion, the resigned sigh of frustration they must have felt.

It's a great tune; slightly different from most of their other work. And I think it became a single in some college towns.

It's easy sometimes when you just coast along;
like it or not, something always seems to go wrong.
Sometimes people build you up just so they can knock you down;
Sometimes they will have you there 'cause they need someone around.

Perhaps you'll receive invitations for tea,
Or perhaps you'll laugh, and you'll make them all smile,
Or maybe you'll join them, because it "had to be."
Perhaps you'll forget what you'd forgot for a while.

Birds of a feather are flocking outside! (x4)

Like whippets they dance a curlicue dance
of pulses and ringing and campfire chants,
of ritual drumming; although at first glance
you thought you could run, but you won't take a chance.

It's not an "experience" if they can't bring someone along:
They hang on emotions they bottle inside,
they peck at the ground and they strut out of stride.

Birds of a feather are flocking outside! (x4)

-=*"*=-+-*"jam out"*=-+-=*"*=-


If you wear these brands, play field hockey, suffered through anorexia nervosa, or attended the Billy Breathes tour as a Phish Virgin, I have, unfortunately, lumped you in with a gross generalization. If my statements regarding your expectations of Phish's concert were wrong, I'm only too happy to apologize for pre-judging you. I hope you enjoyed the show, and I'll see you at the next one.

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