Army of One
Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx)
Last Update: 2016-02-10
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" – 3/8/09, Hampton, VA
“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.
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 the joy that is a Phish festival (IT, 8/3/03). A stunning version was offered during the acoustic set at Festival 8 (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.
Other 3.0 versions of note include the excitement of the return run at Hampton (3/8/09), the rescheduled Toronto gig (7/22/13), another festival appearance at Magnaball (8/22/15), and a performance on the beach in Mexico (1/17/16).