a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics

Army of One

Music/Lyrics: McConnell

Vocals: Page

Albums: Undermind

Debut: 2003-07-12

Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx)

Last Update: 2014-08-08

When Page started up Vida Blue in 2001, he was taking on new challenges. Not only was he exploring the role of band leader, but for the first time in his professional career he was responsible for the new songs. Page had written instrumentals before but lyrics were something new. Despite being an early endeavor, "Army of One" is surprisingly strong.  

“Army of One” is perhaps Phish’s bleakest original. Most of Phish’s depressing songs (e.g. “Frankie Says,” “Brian and Robert”) are written from the point of view of an observer who pities the protagonist, but tries to show that there’s more to life than the world that they’re seeing. Even the suicide interpretation of “Dirt” leaves a survivor to shout the name of the dead – an act that can be seen as much as celebrating the life as mourning the death. While there is an observer in “Army of One,” his role is the opposite of the ones that Tom Marshall tends to write. Rather that trying to cast perspective on the dark moments of the protagonist’s life, he goes after the few moments of light:

Sit in a circle
Facing the sun
Soak it in while you can,
Winter is on.

This worldview is represented even in the title. At the time this song was written, the slogan “An Army of One” was used by the US Army to get recruits. The idea that they were going for was one of self-reliance. Yes, you are part of a team, but you must depend mainly on your own resources to survive.

"Army of One" – 3/8/09, Hampton, VA

Here that term is used to mock an inability to form any connections with other people. This isn’t friendly empathy with depression. It’s a sneering attack on someone stumbling around alone in the cold, looking for answers to explain why his life has become a failure. It’s a far cry from the giddy happiness of singing, “FLUUUUUUUFF-HEEEEEEEEEEEAD!

It’s somewhat surprising that most performances of this song occurred in venues where it’s difficult to remember this sort of depression. The debut took place in the stunning beauty that is The Gorge Amphitheatre (7/12/03). It was then shelved for the rest of the summer before making an appearance during the second day of all of the joy that is a Phish festival (IT, 8/3/03). 3.0 versions included the excitement of the return run (3/8/09) and a stunning version in the Festival 8 acoustic set (11/1/09); the above quoted verse took on new meaning as we all were indeed sitting, soaking in the sun and regretting our return trips to colder climates. Maybe the goal was to try to represent a dichotomy of some sort, to make the joyous moments seem even brighter by being thrown into sharp relief, but the result of the placement is that this song doesn’t get much respect. This isn’t a summer song. Listen to it in February when the bleakness of the sky matches that of your emotions.

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TheWiggler Reply
To (certainly) a lesser extent, Army of One evokes the same sort of emotional, esoteric response I have to a lot of Bob Dylan tunes; the lyrics are bleak (as it says on's song explan) and they make me feel uncomfortable in the agitated way that Dylan songs get me. But I love it! It's hard to explain with words but it's like have a shot of teenagehood delivered with a bit of the day after shakes from a long night of partying... Anyway, in my opinion the music and the lyrics work real well together, and since it moves me (not in the way that most Phish songs, which elicit a bliss feel, and you gotta know how it feels to be uncomfortable to know how "You can feel good" I'm glad it's been in heavier rotation.
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RikersGhost Reply
RikersGhost I like what you wrote before the video, but you lost me on the last little part... new songs are always packed with potential and remember.... it might take a few listens or hearing the song at just the right moment for you to understand (perhaps) what they meant when they wrote the lyrics. I fail to see any Phish song as a "snearing attack" on any of the type of fans which may be stumbling around looking for "something". Instead it is as you said before, a song about finding lightness in the dark but also realizing that there will always be vultures at your back and that seasons come and go...tough times and the latter. Yes you must know that light comes within you but at the same time everything in turn, like the seasons. Its gets HOT! but it will get cold. I am so appreciative of this song, I love its obscure poetry. Its art, interpret it how ever you want. <3 \|m| <3
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spacecoyote Reply
spacecoyote Wow. That Hampton '09 version, on Leap Day's here in Brooklyn, damp and cold, invigorating weather, waiting for those summer shows to be anounced, really does hit the spot.

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