Twenty Years Later
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2013-11-15
On June 5th 1989, the day after Liù-Sì Túshā (六四事件) brought the '89 Peoples Movement to a horrific conclusion in Tiananmen Square; a single unknown rebel, soon to be known worldwide as "Tank Man" took the bravest stance of his life, bringing to a halt the column of Chinese tanks advancing down Chang'an Avenue which runs east to west along the south edge of Beijing's Forbidden City. On 6/5/09, "Twenty Years Later," a song by Phish, debuted at Jones Beach. What became of "Tank Man," later identified as 19-year old student Wang Weilin, is uncertain. After his standoff with the tanks he was seen being escorted from the "Pathway of Everlasting Peace" by two men in blue. Later charged with political hooliganism and attempting to subvert members of the Peoples Liberation Army, he is believed to be one of many that were executed by the secret police following the massacre. Other stories claim he is alive and living in hiding in China or perhaps Taiwan. In either case, his actions were the embodiment of General John Stark's famous toast to commemorate the Battle of Bennington, a key point in our country's War of Independence. "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils."
Whether intentional or not, the debut performance of "Twenty Years Later" was a fitting tribute to the bravery of "Tank Man" in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The songs lyrics recount a series of experiences, choices, feats of bravery, and ideas its protagonist has had over the course of a score. Our past experiences make each of us who we are. As Wang Weilin may have discovered, despite what demons we may have vanquished previously in our lives, a challenge may come along that leaves us upside down and on uncertain footing. To live to see another day requires more strength and courage than we may possess. To know we may fail and pay with our life, yet have the courage to take a stand for what we believe is right, is the stuff of legends. We all start out small, those who dare can become truly epic.
"Twenty Years Later" is one of a handful of songs on Joy that displays this potential. With a conclusion that is musically reminiscent of "Saw it Again" it has inside its silent sea of words and deeds a thunderous strength that could allow it to evolve into a jamming monster where, as the "Tank Man" had hoped for his people, all are free.
Although the Jones Beach debut and some notable versions which followed (10/19/10 Augusta out of “Light,” 9/2/12 Dick’s preceding “Lizards,” and 7/26/13 at The Gorge, washed up on the “Waves”) in the interim had not done so, the Reading, PA version on 10/29/13 finally traveled the long road that leads to the lofty peak, put on its Wingsuit and jumped off; fulfilling the song's destiny to take flight with an almost 15-minute (approximately 50% longer than the previous longest to-date) excursion into the unknown. Phish had thereby transformed a mid-set bridge into a profound statement – a moment wherein the band and we lizards alike jumped from the cliff of uncertainty and in a personal act of bravery stopped merely clinging to the skin of the stone and flew free.
”Twenty Years Later” – 10/29/13, Reading, PA