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Gamehendge is a legend about the fantastical land of the lizard people that has been taken over by the tyrant Wilson. Wilson gained control by taking possession of the Helping Phriendly Book, a sacred text containing all the knowledge inherent in the universe, and locking it away in a castle. The lizards had always lived in peace and harmony with each other and with nature by following the teachings of the Book (which was given to them by the prophet Icculus); when Wilson first came to Gamehendge as a traveler and asked to live among the lizards, they gladly accepted him. However, after a few years, Wilson (who had also studied the Book and the ways of the Lizards) hid the Book and declaired himself king. Since then the lizards have been active in a resistance movement, trying to free the Book and restore Gamehendge to its former peace and tranquility.
The Gamehendge legend tells the story of a man from Long Island, Colonel Forbin, who was out walking his dog (McGrupp) one day when he found a secret door that led him to Gamehendge. Once there he meets Rutherford the Brave, a knight "on a quest to save the people from the fate that lay before them," who catches him up on the history of Gamehendge (apparently now called Prussia) (listen to the song "Lizards"). We meet various characters involved in the revolution to overthrow Wilson, discover traitors and spys, and finally watch Colonal Forbin climb the sacred mountain to petition Icculus for aid. With the help of the Famous Mockingbird the Helping Phriendly Book is retrieved from the castle, and the Sloth is dispatched to kill the king.
But Icculus had warned Forbin, up there on the mountain, that "all knowledge seeming innocent and pure becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice and greed." The chorus of "Col. Forbin's Ascent," "The sacred greed will be yours/If you wait until tomorrow/The sacred creed will by yours/To seize/And to obey," is strangely recalled at the very end of the legend when, after the Book is rescued and Wilson is killed, we see Forbin in a prison cell and hear, in the distance, the repeated calling of "Errand, Errand, Errand," the name of Errand Wolfe, former leader of the revolutionaries. I should note that the whole saga begins with the repetition of the name "Wilson, Wilson, Wilson."
So, Gamehendge tells this story through narration and includes a number of songs that relate to the legend. Most of these songs are played by Phish today. When the band plays "Col. Forbins's Ascent" Trey usually tells a story that takes place in Gamehendge, taking us there through the magic door of narrative that relates the venue or recent events to the world of Gamehendge.
The following paper by Jake
I had to write a paper for poetry that was at least 10 pages long. So after months of searching for stuff on the net, talking with people who know the band as well as people who've studied the text I wrote the following. It's a pretty crappy piece of composition (I'm only shooting for a passing grade as it is the 4th quarter of my senior year) that is long but Rosemary, bless her heart, will probably read this all the way through. It's got a twist at the end that even suprised myself.
"Gamehendge, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" is scripture, and poetry that describes and feeds off of human nature. It has become pure poetry. Like Carolyn Forche¢ it seems a bit unreal for poetry to sound like it does but in reality after one or two sittings it becomes just as powerful as "The Colonel." Unlike more conventional poets like T.S. Elliot the sections of this poem are comprised of a combinations of stanzas and paragraphs. Within the text there is a harmony and mix of narration and surrealism. Yet it's the balance between the two that creates the religion of the piece. While eastern and western cultures and poets, philosophers, and musicians have been trying to express their viewpoints on life's balance it is this twentieth century musical thesis that meshes it together for the common person, musician, and scholar.
This is the tale of the lizards, a race of "…people practically extinct from doing things smart people don't do." The lizards live in the land of Gamehendge which depending upon how you interpret Col. Forbin's stepping through the door might just be another time or even another dimension. The tale of the lizards is not a new one to the modern reader who has seen others step through to alternate worlds in Lewis Carroll. It is this same reader who finds the common parallels to Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, and American Culture a comfort rather than a nuisance. It is not so much the plot, or the music that brings such a tale together so beautifully but rather how it is brought together.
"Ahhhh, Divided sky the wind blows high." A division of the sky between two forms of unearthly dwellers. A divided sky could mean simple a stream of clouds in one portion of it, or the natural division of atoms and molecules in the atmosphere based upon atomic weight. Rather the divided sky refers to the rhombus which stretches to divide the sky and separate it. The rhombus also bridges the gap between the division. "The Divided Sky" is what begins the saga but the rhombus is only the face behind the meaning of the words. The divided sky is a representation of the division between Icculus, the god of the lizards, and the lizards themselves. Which is the division within society, and religion that bases the common man below either a god or even a famous figure. Division is a key factor for the story because it is the transcending of divisions that lead to the climax, the round, and the fluidity of theme in this tale.
Coleridge began his tale of an ancient time with an old man greeting three Gallants on their way to a wedding. However in this instance the meat of our tale begins with a narration rather than an introduction of characters. In the background a sweet musical theme fit to be a part of a Vivaldi piece, simple and elegant. The lyrics of the narration as well flow within and without the musical theme. Although Coleridge had a different tale to tell the aspect of careful narration is evident in this piece as well as in his ancient tale. The narration to Gamehendge is quick and decisive moving from the establishment of the alternate world of the lizards, to the story of Wilson's coming to rule the land. Like the ancient rhyme parts of the story are from the beginning considered mystical and a bit far fetched. For example "Once upon a time there was a mountain that rose out of a vast green forest" which appears as the first line of the original narration, is begun like the in his voice the narrator begins to talk about rocks, lakes, and trees, similar to in the Hawthrone tale of The Scarlet Letter where Hester is out in the woods looking at her own reflection.
Much like the aging night who dove into the water, the reader/listener is enveloped by the first of many of the songs that make up the series, "Lizards." Although not spectacular poetry the text does flow in thought and vocal rythym. Much like the words of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" "Lizards" is only slightly stressed to flow as well as it does. Sections of the piece at the end of certain lines where the narrator will jump in and say things like "…and held the brave knight's body to the sky" mesh right in with the rhythm of the background music. In fact at the line quoted above it seems that the narrator could have sung the last part with the instruments but instead decided no to. So when it is said that the narration and rhyme scheme sound slightly stressed at points it is with intention not to emphasize certain words as much as it is to get the lines to flow together throughout. Although portions of the piece are rhymed it is the combination of free verse and rhyme that make it fun to listen to. Many of the other songs follow suit to this scheme, "Tela", "AC/DC Bag", and "Col. Forbin's Ascent." Songs like Wilson have a different musical sound altogether as well as differences in text. The rhyming for example is more evident.
By the time the thesis is done and the reader has noted Col. Forbin getting The Helping Friendly Book from the famous mockingbird, the overthrow of Wilson, and the completion of one of life's great cycles it is finally time to begin pulling apart the story and noticing how it combines the positive aspects of society. The main character, our hero, Col. Forbin has a great deal of significance as well as the famous mockingbird, Wilson, the city of Prussia, the lizards, Tela, McGrupp, the story line, as well as other portions of the tale all seem to have striking similarities in real life. An obvious example of this is the dog McGrupp. For years now kids have been exposed to the "Take a bite out of crime" slogan sponsored by a Chicago based organization. This organization has for its promoter a dog named McGruff. Although this is only a superficial similarity it's one that's notable enough to mention.
If "The Divided Sky" was to illustrate divisions in our own lives whether religious or otherwise the author of this piece has created a creature which can transcend these elements. The creature is the Famous Mockingbird who gets The Helping Friendly Book out of Wilson's castle and gives it to Col. Forbin. The Mockingbird of course did all of this after the instruction from Icculus the god at the top of the mountain that Col. Forbin had climbed. The mockingbird had transcended the barriers of the sky and the boundaries of man but it is our retired Forbin stepped through the first door that brought us into this story, he crossed the river in Gamehendge, and most importantly climbed the mount to reach Icculus. Bridging the gap between the divided sky, the trials in our own lives, and the caste system that is sometimes a part of society is no small task.
It is this fifty two year old retired NY native who has seen the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Mohhamid Ali, woman's rights activists, and a revolution in American society who makes a move within his heart to accept the plight of the lizards as his own. Forbin makes his change first within himself, and like a rock falling out of a mountain his momentum for change gains weight and carries on. When the Col. decides first to step through the door he realizes that he in on a quest for something new. After all of these years he knows he needs a change in his lifestyle. He steps through the door and finds the lizards. The lizards as far as we know may simply be humans of a different color of just of a different background, or the lizards could be green, leathery skinned intelligent descendants of dinosaurs. In any case Col. Forbin accepts their differences in culture and what difference their may be in appearance. Yet, while the Col. is making all of these changes "…in a world that had turned up-side-down so many times that he no longer knew which way was up" he still holds on to his roots. He sides with good and gets The Helping Friendly Book.
It has been said that it is not the goal at the end but rather the journey itself that is worth the trip. The journey up the mountain is symbolic of the Colonel's life tough, rugged, and at different stages nearly impossible. Yet somehow like most people he finds a way to exhalation. The journey up the mountain is the highlight of the story and the most important part in believing this tale as religion. It is the journey which the authors have stressed as the most meaningful point of the story. The journey is symbolic of mans quest for a better life. His journey is a lesson for all who read and listen. Even if your feet are in the quagmire to press on and climb your own mountain.
Among other lives lessons the next one comes from the song McGrupp of a different feel. When The Helping Friendly Book is brought back to the camp Errand Wolfe begins his plot to rule the rich land of Gamehendge. He, like Wilson before him looses or flat out ignores his conscience and enslaves the lizards. When the time comes to learn the lesson it is given in the characteristic song "Possum." Icculus or some other mountain dweller drives down a road one day and views a possum getting struck. In the Gamehendge mantra, and mindset, killing animals in wrong. In a world where the idea is to live in harmony with the lakes and the rivers and the rocks and the tress and the animals certainly it would be considered a religious crime or sin to kill another creature. Yet as divided sky and the opening narration tell that the people would come to pray at the mountain and thank the God Icculus for all that they had including nature and all its surroundings. But even though you may pray about it unless you believe it doesn't matter. That's what the lines "There ain't no truth in action 'Less you believe it anyway" tell the listener/reader.
Then in another song that appears in the aftermath of the main story "McGrupp the reader/listener learns about cycles that appear in life. McGrupp although Forbin's dog seems to have stayed in Gamehendge and appears here reflecting on what has gone on in the past. Although not as evident in the text alone on April 22, 1993 at a concert in PA the author, Anastasio, tells the audience that this is so. The idea that life's cycles repeat themselves over again is evident in the initial enslavement of the lizards. Then as Wilson before him Errand Wolfe establishes himself as ruler over the lizards. While up on top of the mountain the God Icculus smiles for he knows that once the cycle began it can never stop. A record of the Ancient America's shows a similar establishment of good and righteous people becoming wicked and being taken over. The same is evident in even the Old Testament portion of The Bible as Moses wanders in the desert for forty years. Although certainly not an original idea including it in this soon to be classic tale certainly adds a great deal of character, dimension, and integrity to the saga.
Blake developed a concept that stated that good and evil where within one's own mind. In the instance of this story the idea seems to be a little less direct. With Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" he came right out and said what he was trying to do. Gamehendge is not written by William Blake. This tale has a similar message, it like Star Wars, MacBeth, Morte D'Aurthur, and thousands of other tales throughout time this one deals with the relationship between good and evil and like so many things in the 20th century the division between the two are not always as apparent as they should be. In the 1800's for example the good guys always wore white and the bad guys black. although not always true it seems the divisions were certainly easier to distinguish. To illustrate this one can use the division between the sexes. In the nineteenth century women wore dresses as opposed to pants and men wore what men wore. However now it seems the boundaries have been confused when we live today where men and women wear pants as appropriate business wear. In the story it's confused as well. Col. Forbin agrees to go and get the book siding "with good as he had done all his life" then when he gets the book Errand Wolfe takes it and enslaves the people. Certainly our Col. had known about the plot of Errand but he also needed to know from the good god Icculus what needed to be done. Also if Forbin had known that Tela was in fact a spy. [There is dispute.] I'm sure his feeling to fall in love with her would certainly have been lessened. Our hero himself noted the cloudiness of the eternal conflict when he called it "…a world that had turned up-side-down so many times" This is a true commentary on society a society that created this story by condemning a visionary man.
Our hero is in fact a Colonel but a prisoner. Not only of the bars and chains of society but of the bars of a prison. Picture if you will a daydreaming inmate outside noticing the animals and the environment around him. The inmate in fact goes into an extensive daydream which is this tale, and when he wakes the Col. is back in his cell. It is the inmate who is the Col. telling the tale as evident in the following quote:
Colonel Forbin stared at the fourteen bars that stood at the end of the cell. He ran his hand across the cold, damp dungeon wall and thought again about the door. He had traveled through the door out of necessity. Once he knew it existed, he simply couldn't leave it alone. Just like Wilson. Just like Tela. Just like Errand Wolfe. And he sat in the dungeon, and he realized that he was back again; through the door. And through the tiny window in the corner of his cell, he heard the distant strains.
So now the reader is left wondering how it all happened and more importantly what they should take. It's all another big ironic twist that someone convicted of a crime can create something for others that is so good. Again the irony that the division between good and evil is so blurry that even the supposed dreamer cannot distinguish between the two. But maybe it's not distinguishing but rather the crossing over. After all it's things like the divided sky, the river, the mountain, the stepping through the door that are the meat of this tale and the meat and marrow of life.
Gamehendge begins as a narrative poem in a musical thesis. The words are simple enough and familiar enough that after the first couple of lines the reader can tell they are going to be transported to a fairy written after the main body of the story, "Divided Sky" which tells of a journey of three chosen lizards. The journey though mystical is not told in words, but rather through musical expression. The text to the song is printed with it and the sounds created by the instruments allows the reader/listener to achieve the story through a balance between the song and text.
Note: Some contend, probably rightly so, that the FAQ should remain factual and refrain from being interpretive. I have no particular inclination, except to say that the two essays above (and perhaps this entire page) may soon be removed from this FAQ. (Factual and historical information located on the TMWSIY page will remain, obviously.) Your thoughts either way would be appreciated. Several folks have already voiced an opinion that they should stay; if there's dissenion, lemme know.
"All knowledge seeming innocent and pure becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice and greed."
-- Trey in "Lizards"