Vocals: Trey, Page (lead), Fish, Mike (backing)
Original Artist: Trey Anastasio
Historian: Jeremy D. Goodwin
This may be the flat-out prettiest song in the Phish catalog. Inevitably, the fact has led many fans to dismiss the delicate tune as “cheesy.” Amid a roster of new songs debuted in summer ’03 with sometimes epic intentions and complicated changes, this chestnut gets its message across in a brisk four minutes, with no major musical excursions. Although the mood of the music and the overt meaning of the lyrics suggest a tender, pretty scene, it is possible that a dark wind blows beneath. The song describes a man and a woman, sitting outdoors and drinking red wine. Tom evocatively describes the sunset throbbing in the background, melting into the water: “the setting sun crochets the clouds with yarn so fine / and fills the ocean with red wine.” After Trey’s performance of the verse, the other band members join into harmony with the aching refrain: “Hold on, hold on, hold on.”
Is this a plaintive cry to savor the moment, or is it evidence that the wine is indulged in out of desperation, as a relationship dissolves with the fading light?
“I think whenever there’s a relationship apparent in a song, there’s also a despair there,” lyricist Tom Marshall commented in reference to this song, in an interview published in The Phish Companion. “I think that all truly great relationships are relationships where you’re sort of walking a line between despair and phenomenal bliss.” Marshall flexes his muscles a bit with this piece, making a rare classical allusion with a reference to Dionysus, the Greek God of wine and debauchery who was also the namesake for Phish’s former management company.
The intended mood of the piece may hinge on the meaning behind the evocation of Dionysus. When he is carried on the wind to the scene and refills the glasses of the couple, is it for a celebration of life, or a nihilist exercise in debauchery? “He’s the god of wine and that song was kind of about wine,” the lyricist reflected. “Well, it started about wine. It was actually called ‘Red Wine’ and Trey changed it to ‘Secret Smile’. For him it became more about hanging out with a girl and drinking a nice glass of wine. For me it was more about the sunset.”
“Secret Smile” was first played as a solo acoustic number on Trey’s spring ‘03 tour. The sunset inspired the second Phish performance of the song: during the first set of the already legendary Utah show on 7/15/03, Fishman remarked to Trey (listen closely on the soundboard) that he was just watching the sunset. Trey responded by calling for this most appropriate song, as the desert sun descended.
After hearing the debut performance, fans may wish to check out the version from the final set of the IT festival. Critics of the tune cite this as an excellent example of poor song placement. Decide for yourself. A new, slower arrangement debuted in Vegas on 4/15/04, in advance of the Undermind studio version which features the sweet sound of strings.
"Secret Smile" has, thus far, made just one post-breakup appearance, closing the acoustic set at Festival 8 on 11/1/09.
"Secret Smile" – 11/1/09, Indio, CA