Hooking Up With Fishman
With Phish out on the road, we revisit this irreverent interview with drummer Jon Fishman from October 2002
A man who tongues a vacuum in a dress and is actually applauded for it must have a few interesting things to say about his life. Jon Fishman, the backbeat for Phish and Pork Tornado, has been keeping himself busy: a relatively new father, he’s been touring in support of Tornado’s debut album, put together a compilation of his favorite Frank Zappa tracks and has begun getting ready to start the next chapter of Phish history.
If you could play with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Zappa. If I could, I wouldn’t pass the audition, but I would want to play with him. God, there’s probably like a ton of those, I’m just drawing a blank. Well, I wouldn’t have minded doing a gig or two with Sun Ra even though I couldn’t have been in his band for very long, but I would have enjoyed playing with him. I don’t know, I kind of like the people who I’ve been playing with. I don’t have any complaints.
What album do you have that you hope no one ever finds out that you own?
Um… Well, if I told you, they would know, wouldn’t they? [laughter] If I have an album to hide, why would I tell a magazine? My god.
How about a guilty pleasure then?
I have no guilty pleasures because I don’t feel guilty about any of my pleasures. I really, truly don’t. Not that I’m not a guilty person… [laughter], that I haven’t done things to be guilty for, but I’ve just decided that… nah… I don’t have any guilty pleasures, I don’t think so. But again, if I felt guilty about them I probably wouldn’t tell a magazine. [laughter] Not to be disagreeable or a hard interview [more laughter]
Will you be debuting a new dress for the return of Phish?
Nope. Well, yeah… well, maybe. I haven’t made up my mind about that. I really haven’t. I’m actually not trying to be evasive, I just haven’t decided. Actually, I am being evasive, I know exactly what I’m going to do, but again I can’t tell you. [laughter]. The answer is yes and no.
What have you learned most from fatherhood?
Oh, well that’s a good question. The answer to that could go on for a small millennium. What I’ve learned most from fatherhood is that everything my parents said was true, in lots of ways, it really is what it’s all about. I really do think that. I didn’t think that before and I now do think that.
One of the things I’ve learned from fatherhood is that, until this time in my life, I had spoken of the concept of unconditional love, but really never knew what it meant at all until now. It truly is the most unconditional thing ever. She [his baby Ella] could fucking hang me by my balls and pull out my toenails and I’d still love her. Which I couldn’t say for a girlfriend or anything like that. I mean if that were my wife, I’d have to divorce her as soon as possible. But, I’ve learned that the concept of loving unconditional is much more.
[Fishman calls out to one of the Pork Tornado roadies for a crescent wrench. As we’ve been talking, he has been setting up his drum kit. At this point, Phish lyricist Tom Marshall walks up and mockingly declares to Jon, “what are you doing here?”]
Jon: Tom! I have yet to get through any take of “Satellite” yet without crying. I have yet to make it through “Anything But Me” without weeping.
Tom: Trey told me.
Jon: It’s just…
Tom: The new stuff is coming…
Jon: I have to, I have to…. I have to hug you. [they hug] I have to say you…
Tom: Thank you. I love that song…
Jon: This recent batch of lyrics has had me just completely…
Tom: Just crying like a baby.
Jon: Just crushed. It’s a whole evolution of… and Trey goes…
[At this point I introduce myself to Tom since we are standing right next to each other as he and Jon talk. I interviewed Tom about a year and half ago for Relix which he remembers, though clearly he has been put on mild guard since he sees the tape recorder in my hand. There are a few jokes of “a ha, I see now…” traded amongst laughs]
Tom: “Pebbles and Marbles”…Trey said that a recent recording thing that you cried at another one. Was it “Spices?”
Jon: “Spices.” It’s like each one is having its turn at me. [laughter from both] On some of the ones that have more involved arrangements, I’ve been trying to get a grip on the drumming part. It’s like this opening process because you hear this stuff in your head and you try and get out into the music and get your coordination together. The more I get my part together, the more I am able to open my ears up to what else is going on because you can only concentrate on so much at once. So I hear this music, try to get this part out and then I’m listening to the whole vibe. Once I get used to the road map of the tune, then I really start to focus on the lyrics and focus on all the other parts. Each time….
There was one take of “Pebbles and Marbles” where we were really together and focused. and the whole section of, “When we’re alone, we all seem to tend if we find a marble in dust, to wish someone left it for us…”
Tom: [recites rest of lyric]
Jon: Yeah. Then it got really quiet, but that whole section leading up to that line, it just builds to this… you know… I just… and music is really quiet there and I think its supposed to come back in at the point, but the lyrics just caught me and I just… [he mimics crying and begins seriously laughing] (and through hearty laughter manages to get out): I just totally fell apart… I couldn’t fucking play. [he settles down a bit] And I was just like, “oh my god, I can’t wait to play this shit.” Oh man. It’s just such an awesome, awe inspiring vehicle.
Tom: That’s great to hear. Thank you. I’m glad you’re crying.
Jon: I’m going to cry just thinking about it. Its really been great, just the whole thing.
Tom: Don’t tell Relix that Phish has 25 more songs. That’s a secret.
Jon: No, no, no, no.
Josh (me): Off the record of course…
Jon: (with a grin on his face and rolling his eyes a bit) 25? 45! [laughter] No, but the question I’m trying to answer now is what I’ve learned most from fatherhood. That I never knew anything and now know even less. [laughter] I was saying that I didn’t understand, that I had conceived of the idea of unconditional love until that…
Tom: Yeah, that’s a huge one. Also, the vunerability that it opens up.
Jon: Yeah, that’s true.
Tom: And the protection instinct that you now realize you now have for someone other than yourself.
Jon: Yeah. If you thought you were living life with your dick hanging in the wind before… [much laughter among everyone]… now you’re really in for it.
Tom: Fisman’s quote on fatherhood. [more laughter]
Jon: If you thought you were caught with your pants down before, you are so totally vunerable… [laughter]
Since we’re on that topic, do you freeball?
Do I what?
Freeball? What’s that? I guess I don’t cause I don’t even know what it is.
Lack of underwear. Do you not where underwear- that’s what freeballing is.
Not wear underwear? No, I always wear underwear. I like underwear. I’ve been forced to not where underwear in the past. I ran out of clean underwear at boys’ camp or something. I don’t enjoy not having underwear. I like underwear. It keeps me from shitting in my pants. [laughter]
If you could watch one person get hit in the nuts with a hockey puck, who would it be?
Can it be a group of people?
I would say, if it could be a line of guys standing in a row about to get hit in the balls with a hockey puck, and I could see them get hit, in order, it would be: George W., Cheney, Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, who else? Osama Bin Laden, Jiang Zemin the current President of China, maybe…
[someone shouts from the floor, “What about James Taylor?”]
Nah, he doesn’t belong in that group. I’d maybe see him get hit in the elbow just for writing “Handyman.” No, but really the current world leadership. And Sadam Hussein. Just line them all up and hit them in the nuts with hockey pucks and send them home to think about it. They’re all poor leaders with poor judgment and they’re getting all getting us into fucking trouble and we’re all going to get fucking killed. Idiots, fucking idiots. Bad people with bad intentions. Greedy, stupid. Children at playtime. They need to be spanked.
Top three influences.
Joe Moore (saxophonist for Pork Tornado) and my father.
Favorite cover tune.
Right now? “Zomby Woof” [Frank Zappa]. “Sexy Motherfucker” [Prince].
Foosball: offense or defense?
I am so bad at fuseball that it wouldn’t even be worth having me at either side of the table.
What upper body exercises do you recommend to keep those arms in tip top, sleeveless drumming shape?
These are really stupid questions. Well, I swim, that’s really what I do.
Did Col. Bruce guess your birthday?
He was six months off. He guessed everyone else’s birthday in the room correctly at the time.
Have you ever used a Flowbee?
I don’t think so because I don’t know what it is.
Desert island: beer or pot?
Do you prefer the drumstick or are you a breastman?
What’s your favorite album to date?
Of ours, I don’t know. I have to say, in all honesty, if it’s on by the time we put out by the time we put out albums… I listen to the original for a live thing if we’re thinking of putting out a show, the office sends me a tape, “well we’re thinking of putting out this show, what do you think?” On the occasions that I do manage to listen to it, I’ve ok’d them all, I like them. I don’t care. I don’t know. Like once it’s out, I don’t listen to our albums. The only reason I listen to our albums is to relearn something.
Have you had to do that lately?
Yeah. Our career is like one giant game of Simon, you know? It’s like you have to… cause there’s so many songs and you’re always learning the new stuff and you’re always into the new stuff the most at any given time, so you’re kind of focused on that. I’ll just go over it. I mean, something like “Reba” or something I’ll just listen to once and just to remember and, go, “oh yeah, let’s not forget that section.” Just to get it back together. It’s never difficult, it’s just sort of…I do have to have listen for review.
That was one of the points made by Relix recently. You guys are only getting together in December to work on material- no small thing given that you guys are playing four nights and will most likely not play the same song twice.
Right. The band is really good that way though. Everyone is a very quick study. Everyone takes their own responsibility for learning the old stuff on their own. We don’t practice “Reba” anymore, it’s like, do your homework, know it when you get to the stage. So it’s everyone’s responsibility to do that. I can’t… if I practiced “Reba” with those guys in the band room, I wouldn’t want to play it for another year, you know? [laughter] Or something like “Fluffhead” or something like that, you can’t rehearse that stuff anymore. You just have to relearn it on your own. But yeah, you do have to relearn stuff.
First album that you thought rocked.
It was a Queen album. I think it was probably the first one that… Queen II, I love. I think that was the first one. And the next one, really as a whole album that really rocked me, that I listened to over and over again, was a Mahavishnu Orchestra album, Visions of the Emerald Beyond. My mom got that at a garage sale for like two bucks. She got it because the cover was nice and it sat in my record collection, which was only about ten records at the time, for like a year before I finally put it on the turntable.
How old were you at this point?
I think at that point I was like 13. Queen II really got me, Led Zepplin I really got me, but I think Queen II was the first total album that I was obsessed with. I’m pretty sure. That Mahavishnu album I pulled out after a while and I just said, “oh, I’ll check this out” and I remember that one being more, “oh my god.” That was just an unbelievable… that changed my life, that album. I suddenly realized…. I figured out odd time is what happened.
Any New Year’s resolutions?
I am re-resolved to keep playing music. [laughter] I’m resolved, still to… I’m also going to try and be a good dad, good partner and all that stuff, but those aren’t really New Year’s resolutions, those are just timely resolutions. I think my resolution is always the same all the time: resolved to not take things for granted and play more music. They’re always the same- my resolutions are boring.
Who do you want in the Super Bowl?
Miami Dolphins. They’re my team.
[At this point I have left the venue and am walking down the street when Jon comes outside and calls my name. I return and stand under the awning of the venue with him as its raining outside]
The best thing about being a father, the thing I’ve learned most about being a father is that I get to relive all the best stuff from my childhood but I’m old enough, now that I’m the dad, I have the authority to not have to go through all the shitty stuff again. So now I can just edit all the bad stuff out and only do the fun stuff with my daughter. And my daughter gets the benefit of that. Ok, that’s it.