Pebbles and Marbles
Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Trey (lead), Page (backing)
Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx), Katie Holloway
Last Update: 2013-11-26
A perfect companion to “Waves,” “Pebbles and Marbles” begins by describing a watery muse who is fire starter, fish lover and stargazer. Like one of Homer’s sirens, she is dangerous and compelling. Light is an apt metaphor for inspiration, and she craves all forms of it, candescent, and stellar. She respects above all the sources of light farthest from her, the stars themselves. She gives the poet ideas he would not have otherwise considered; planting seeds and illuminating things that he otherwise would not have inspected. He mulls over her independence from him (she’s on her own course) and his satisfaction with that state of affairs; he tells himself he wouldn’t have it any other way, although he doubts she knows it, which calls into question for the first time her tangibility; is she actually a real friend, or simply the writer’s muse, a projection of his imagination?
Tom Marshall compares the yields of inspiration, the “things on his mind,” to pebbles and marbles. These physical objects are tangible and accessible but dull and lifeless, so unlike his lady friend’s sea creatures, stars and fires. Pebbles can be picked up on a beach and held tight, but are made of cold stone. Marbles reflect and internally refract light but don’t create it. The very random and transient nature of the creative process is accented. Left alone with his little pieces of stone and glass, he wonders: Did the marble fall from his own hand? Does the muse even exist at all? The wistful final verse extends the query to relationships, and the listener is invited to consider not only Marshall’s relationship with his muse, but all our relationships and the spoken and written words that glue them together. Are they real bonds, or just transient mutterings, meant for the moment? The final lines contrast the listener’s paradox with that of the poet’s; is a poem or song we relate to really about our own lives? Is it a pebble left just for us? Or is it our wishful minds projecting patterns on a random rock in the sand?
“Pebbles and Marbles” started its musical life in Trey’s solo band as the instrumental “Nothing But an 'E' Thing.” While doing a radio promotion for his Trey Anastasio release on WBOS on 4/30/02, Trey played a new song. It started out as “E Thing” but then went into a section with Tom’s lyrics added. This version of “Pebbles and Marbles” – performed solo by Trey on an acoustic guitar – was reprised a month later on a KMTT appearance in Seattle before the first show of his band’s spring tour. While this performance was unfortunately overshadowed by his throwaway on-the-air joke about a Phish reunion in Hartford on November 17th, it got enough attention that people were expecting to hear it at that night’s show at the Paramount. “Pebbles and Marbles” was indeed played, but rather than the solo version that people were expecting, this was a full band performance. The song was played six times on this tour amidst rumors that Trey really thought of it as a Phish song.
Those rumors turned out to be well founded. In October the Phish community – already excited over the end of the hiatus – was stunned to learn of a surprise studio album to be released. The first track on the album would be “Pebbles and Marbles.” Three versions of this song already existed but none of them seemed likely to be how Phish would perform it. Sure enough, the Phish version marked yet another change for this song. Even that wasn’t the end of the story, as an orchestral version of the “E Thing” intro was released on Trey’s album Seis De Mayo under the title “Prologue.” If you’re wondering what kind of rock the pebble in “Pebbles and Marbles” is, it is obviously metamorphic.
The studio track demonstrated both the advantages and disadvantages of the Round Room recording process. Unfortunately, there are a few minor flaws (such as Trey coming in late on a vocal) in the composed section of the song. This is not something that people expect to hear in a studio album and it was cause for complaint. On the other hand, the jam section at the end captured Phish’s energy in a way that few studio tracks ever have. "Pebbles and Marbles?" More like molten lava!
It didn’t take long for “Pebbles and Marbles” to make its live show debut. It appeared late in the first set on 1/3/03. The Round Room version of this song was so strong, an unusual question for Phish fans was asked: would the live version be as good as the studio? Fourteen minutes later no one was worried about anything other than finding some water to rehydrate after dancing to that jam. With an interesting opening composition, a fascinating set of lyrics, and a jam akin to “Down with Disease,” it’s not surprising that this song quickly became a fan favorite.
Alas, Phish setlists too frequently have lost their marbles. "Pebbles" has always been one of the rarer Round Room songs; even the much-disparaged “Friday” was played more frequently. One can only hope that this trend will be reversed in the future. Perhaps the post-breakup return on 8/7/09 – appropriately enough while the audience gazed upon the basalt that forms the Columbia River Gorge – or the 11/29/09 rendition at CCCC will reverse that, as it would be most unfortunate indeed if Phish have taken their marbles and gone home.
"Pebbles and Marbles" – 11/29/09, Portland, ME