Original Artist: Mike Gordon
Original Album: Inside In (2003)
Albums: Inside In
Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx)
In 2000 Mike Gordon released a surreal movie titled Outside Out. While some people tried to explain the plot, were amused by the antics of Colonel Bruce Hampton (retired), talked about how the movie was a giant loop (the first scene actually takes place right after the last), or just coveted the giant blue button featured in the film, others noticed a very intriguing statement in the DVD packaging. A soundtrack album featuring "industrial-grade compact disc musicians" was promised to come out in 2001.
Excited Mike fans waited throughout the year. No album. 2002 came. Phish returned at Madison Square Garden, but no soundtrack album emerged. It took until August 2003 for Inside In to come out, but the delay was because it was a much more interesting product than a simple soundtrack.
While the actual movie has a few tracks from the album – Take Me Out," "The Teacher," "Take Me Outro" – the songs on Inside In mostly take snippets from background music and expand them into full songs. It's less of a soundtrack than an album inspired by the film. The result is an atmospheric disc which has a small but rabid fanbase within the Phish community, a cult subgroup of a cult subgroup.
"Couch Lady" tells the tale of a bit character in Outside Out. Described solely as "Pakistani Guitarist" in the credits, Mike's neighbor Virginia W. Herschede appears in the infomercial for the Outstructional Guitar Lessons that was the original heart of the movie. She sits on a couch out in the woods and reveals that she took 34 lessons from the Colonel in 1927 in only six minutes. It might not seem like her four lines of dialogue would be enough detail to create a song from, but Mike took the lead of 'fan fiction' authors everywhere and created a back story for an obscure character.
She's not just an old woman who has an outdoor couch and end table. Nope. She has superpowers! Those few minutes of instruction were enough to turn her into the greatest guitar player in the country due to her skills in rapid learning. If that's not enough for you, she also has some magical spaceship that restores her youth as she travels.
This song was a semi-regular in the rotation of the Mike Gordon Band and was also performed when Mike sat in with Tom Marshall's Amfibian on 5/7/04.
So, what's this all got to do with Phish?
Between Outside Out and Inside In, we had the release of Round Room. Twelve songs made the cut of the album but many others were rehearsed. One of the tracks that leaked out was a Phish version of "Couch Lady." The Phish arrangement is slightly different from the one that would emerge on Inside In. The track starts with a 30 second dark intro before dropping into the beginning of the song proper. As befitting the loose nature of the Round Room sessions, there is an extra jam between the final lyrics and the build. The song also has a different ending; instead of dropping into a percussive jam, all of Phish played while Mike sang, "Couch Lady" over the jam.
It's easy to see why this version didn't survive. Mike stumbles a bit over the lyrics and his voice croaks on the line "Some folks aren't good enough to be humble." Even if there were a better version performed, it's perhaps fortunate that it was saved for the solo work as it is a more natural fit on the quasi-soundtrack. However – much like the version of "Birthday Boys" – it shows an interesting glimpse into abandoned possibilities. Maybe if we mix up that bubbly potion we might experience them.