On Tuesday, October 23, 1984, in the garage of a house on 69 Grant Street, the band performed what is believed to be their first gig (so billed as Phish). We know that “Makisupa Policeman” was played, but that’s about it. The setlist is incomplete. Hell, even the date—while possibly correct—might have been a few days earlier, or a couple of days later. Not that this much matters. What seems to be certain, however, is that “Makisupa Policeman” is the first known Phish composition publicly performed. And this is significant.
As Phish.net’s “Makisupa Policeman” song historian Jeremy Goodwin explains, the song’s rather elemental lyrics were penned by Tom Marshall in grammar school – circa 1969 – a fact which prompted Trey, during the Philly segment of the band’s 2003 Anniversary Tour, to cite “Makisupa” as Phish’s “original” song.
The surprising reality of a Phish song “written” in the halcyon heydays of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix has prompted Trey to dub “Makisupa” as Phish’s “60’s” song, though those familiar with the tune and its pseudo-reggae stylings are quick to point not to Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix, but, rather, to Bob Marley and Bunny Livingstion, musicians slowly giving rise to what is often considered the new reggae movement.
The origin of the distinctive word at the heart of the song – ostensibly an imaginary place name – comes, Goodwin notes, from the distant memories of Tom’s early childhood. He took to issuing a singular nickname to all of his older sister’s boyfriends, of whom he was in awe due to their perceived coolness (based largely on the music they listened to and the occasional guitar-strumming ability). The inscrutable nickname was “Macky.” He penned these words while writing a song with childhood chum Chris LaRiche: “Hey Macky Super Policeman.” Years later, Trey misheard the first two words as one, and “Makisupa” was coined. Although this tidbit – recounted many years after the fact – seems in fact to be a genuine recollection, one should take note that Tom has provided fallacious explanations for lyrics many times in the past, seemingly as a form of sport.
What can be documented, however, are those keywords that Trey has incorporated during live performances of the song. Today, thanks to the tireless volunteer efforts of Phish.net users Dave M. (@doglogin) and Jam Charts Guru @raidcehlalred, with the help of Phish.net tech whiz and content junkie Pete Skewes-Cox (@ucpete), we are pleased to announce precisely that: the first (to our knowledge) document containing every one of the so-called “keywords” (or perhaps, more accurately, “key phrases”). And what better day to announce the “Makisupa Policeman Keyword Chart” than on April 20th?
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