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Performances Song History Lyrics

Makisupa Policeman

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio/Marshall

Vocals: Trey (lead); Mike, Page (backing)

Albums: Live Phish 01, Live Phish 11, Live Phish 18, Sharin' in the Groove, High Neighbors: Dub Tribute to Phish, The Clifford Ball, Ventura

Debut: 1984-10-23

Historian: Jeremy D. Goodwin

Last Update: 2013-04-13

Those fans that try to draw an explicit connection between marijuana and the work of Phish find much of their evidence in this song. However, impressionable fans that try to interpret “Makisupa” as a straight-out drug endorsement need to pay more attention: the joking references are more an example of sarcasm – and possibly a gentle criticism of the fan base itself – than anything else. When Trey announced: “stay kind” in some 1997 versions, the admonition was probably not a heartfelt plea for fans to do so; more likely, a sign of perplexity at the sometimes cartoon-ish tour culture which has burgeoned in recent years. Also, the theme of the ever-shifting lyrics is a nod to the reggae flavor of the tune, which is Phish’s only original foray into the genre (though trace elements can be found in sections of other tunes such as “Slave,” “Harry Hood,” and “Windora Bug”).

Lyrically, “Makisupa” features a few lines of written material, augmented by a usually humorous outburst by Trey, which fans have taken to labeling as the “keyword.” This part often features some truly hilarious moments. Witness 12/14/95: “Woke up this morning... Khaddafi in my bed. So I smoked a joint with him.” On 12/28/96, the band mimicked a section from the classic song “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!,” as Trey exclaimed, “Stink! Stank! Stunk!” to bombastic accompaniment from Fish. After sound man Paul Languedoc was arrested the previous night for allegedly failing to vacate the hotel bar in a timely manner, Trey advised him during “Makisupa” on 11/29/98 not to “drop the soap.” The 7/25/99 version featured a blasé laundry list of tour kid buzzwords, as if Trey was mechanically fulfilling the desire for pot references. The 6/30/00 version alluded to the John Lee Hooker song famously covered by George Thorogood: “One bourbon, one scotch, and a big fat doob!”

The lyrical humor is not always limited to the “keyword,” however. Listen to the 1/3/03 version for references to Hampton landmarks like Waffle House and Hooters (and appropriate emphasis on the “house” background vocals by Mike.) In the 2/26/03 version, Trey follows up on a reference to a hotel fire several days previous by singing that the “policeman came to my hotel.”



"Makisupa Policeman" – 1/3/03, Hampton, VA

Makisupa is indeed the “original Phish song,” and was cited as such by Trey during the Philadelphia segment of 2003’s Anniversary Tour. The fixed, repeated lyrics in the song were written by Tom Marshall in Elementary School in 1969. The surprising reality of a Phish song written in the halcyon days of Zeppelin and Hendrix prompted Trey to dub “Makisupa” as “Phish’s ‘60s song.” Appropriately, “Makisupa” holds the distinction of the first known Phish original to be played publicly. This first known version came on 10/23/84, although it’s quite possible (if not likely) that the song was played even earlier, in a show or shows that have been lost to the ages. 

The origin of the distinctive word at the heart of the song – ostensibly an imaginary place name – comes in 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.

Musically speaking, the 11/19/97 version is definitely the strangest modern-day “Makisupa,” as it drifts out of regular territory into a unique ambient jam, and then finally back into “Makisupa” land for the closing verse. Several earlier versions are unfinished, drifting into a new tune after only the opening lyrics and a bit of spacey funking. With the appearance of Trey’s percussion kit in 1995, the middle section was refurbished, and “Makisupa Policeman” became something of a fuller tune. Similarly, the song became a regular showcase of Trey’s mini keyboard when that jam implement appeared in ‘99. Even without the percussion setup and extra keyboard, however, the song remained in regular rotation and in similar form.

The appearance of “Makisupa” in a set generally seems to be a sign of good things to come, or an exclamation point to an already impressive musical passage. A very rare tune through much of its existence, “Makisupa” received heightened attention in 1995 when the band dusted it off nine times, utilizing it on a handful of occasions as something to segue into after some exhausting jamming. Several very excellent jams have drifted into “Makisupa,” including the 5/7/94 “Tweezer,” 7/2/95 “Runaway Jim,” 11/30/95 “Tweezer,” and 11/19/97 “Wolfman’s Brother.” In its more recent incarnation,“Makisupa” has more often than not served as a set opener, having been tapped for that duty in about half of its appearances dating back to 12/8/94, sometimes in very high-profile situations (such as on 12/29/958/16/9612/28/96, and 8/16/97). The show-opening 8/16/97 version famously segued into the completion of the “Harpua” that was left unfinished a year before at the Clifford Ball.



"Makisupa Policeman" – 10/4/99, Normal, IL

Fans can check out the 9/9/00 version to hear a guest spot by trumpeter Michael Ray. Another version is worthy less for the actual performance of the song then for its context: on 12/30/03, in place of the usual “keyword” within the song, Trey started talking about how he would like to revive The Doors’ “Touch Me” that evening, but that the band lacked the necessary horn section, and didn’t remember it anyway. Instead of that, though, he had a better offer: a guest appearance by George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. After a twenty-minute romp through a medley of assorted P-Funk numbers, Phish exited the stage, returned, and then launched into a brief reprise of "Makisupa.”

While lyrical humor has always been a key element of "Makisupa," the solo acoustic version Trey played at his New Year's Eve show in 2006 perhaps pushed the black humor envelope, with the keyword, "Whitehall," referencing the location of Trey's very public drug arrest. Given Trey's subsequent probation and newfound sobriety, many fans wondered if the band would continue to play "Makisupa" and if the lighthearted drug references would remain part of the song. Indeed, the first 3.0 version of "Makisupa" on 6/6/09 was notably without a keyword. However, prankster-ism soon won out and the subsequent version on 6/20/09 contained a more lighthearted reference to Trey's probation when he sang, "Woke up this morning, pissing in jah cup / Woke up this afternoon, called my probation officer." 

Thankfully, the song's musical vitality has also remained, as evidenced by the 8/8/09 version where Mike and Trey switched instruments leading to a rare Mike guitar solo. The 6/20/10 rendition was also interesting, as Trey told an impromptu story about an encounter with a Makisupa Policeman that set up solos for Mike, Page and Fish. The 5/28/11 version set up a joke that would last the whole tour about Mike’s house and Page’s house.



"Makisupa Policeman" – 8/8/09, George, WA

It's also worth noting that – in addition to the occasional solo, acoustic performance at TAB shows – the "Makisupa Policeman" comes to Mike's solo shows fairly regularly. To hear Mike's band's take on "Makisupa," check out 8/15/08 (with Page), 12/29/08 or 3/6/10.

Finally, don’t miss the version offered by The Wailers with DJ Kkay on Mockingbird’s Sharin’ in the Groove CD.

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