Historian: Jeremy Welsh (jwelsh8)
Last Update: 2014-08-06
Debuted as the third song of their Wingsuit set from 10/31/13 when Phish covered their future selves, the “moment of truth” song “The Line” could have been written by the band for that very evening. As Trey explained later in the set:
“Dedicated with much love to the incredible Darius Washington, Jr. that song is about his experience when he missed those two free throws at the end of the Final Four Michigan State game. We love him, and we can relate."
Actually, Trey, Washington missed two of three free throws while playing for the University of Memphis against Louisville in the 2005 Conference-USA tournament. But who’s counting?
2005 Conference-USA basketball tournament, Memphis vs Louisville
While the verses feature Trey singing over keyboard work from Page – alternating between organ and piano – the melodic inspiration for chorus reaches back before Darius was born, to the autumn of 1983. It is clear the main melody grows out of the soaring “Prolonged Exposure” from the project known as Bivouac Jaun, known to fans through the earliest known recording featuring a member of Phish. (In this instance, Trey on guitar with possible assistance from Marc Daubert). There is something fitting about Trey selecting a section of music from over 30 years ago for a song all about looking forward.
The lyrics are written from the standpoint of Darius, standing there on the parquet floor of the FedEx Forum in Memphis in front of his home crowd, just before the shots were taken. The line “Big D is watching / I remember what he taught me / don’t let him see you cry” references Darius’s father, Darius Senior, who firmly nudged his son to walk Beale Street that evening, not allowing him to dwell on the misses.
We have all been told how to handle times of stress where you are put on stage: You have done this before, stand tall, control your breathing. Take your time, nail these shots, and your whole future is in front of you… But that doesn’t always hold true. Sometimes, no matter the amount of preparation or skill that you may have, it just does not work out. The shots don’t fall. For whatever reason, the rim just continues to get smaller in front of you.
On that Thursday evening in Atlantic City, Phish stepped up to the line. They had debuted songs before, played in front of hundreds of thousands of people in sold out venues, taken chances and succeeded. But this night, when expectations of fans may have been elsewhere, the band stepped to the line not knowing if they would end up victorious. The future (of the songs that would be played, at least) was ahead of them. They clung to the notion that it would all be fine with a song about a tragic hero, taking melodic cues from the prehistoric past, looking to the future.
Did they end up winning in the end? That is still up for debate. What is not up for debate is that “The Line” has lived past that game in the Spring of 2005, and the one evening in October of 2013. Moving from third in the order, “The Line” was chosen as the second song on Phish’s 12th studio album, Fuego, following the dense title track. And after having been played its second time during the first set of 12/29/13, the third “public” appearance of the song came on 6/24/14, the day Fuego was released. Phish chose “The Line” to represent Fuego on their sixth appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
”The Line” – 10/31/13, Atlantic City, NJ