Five Years

Originally Performed ByDavid Bowie
Original AlbumThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Music/LyricsDavid Bowie
VocalsTrey, Mike, Page, Fishman
Phish Debut2016-10-31
Last Played2021-10-28
Current Gap115
HistorianParker Harrington (tmwsiy)
Last Update2023-11-03


Five years. Just five years. That’s all the time earth has left before apocalyptic doom and the end of time. Imagine getting that news out of the blue while strolling down a sidewalk.

Many people can remember an average day of going to school, or meeting a friend for lunch, or shuffling around the office, or walking through a marketplace when startling news comes on TV. Quickly, strangers, friends, acquaintances, tall-short people, somebody people and nobody people are all huddled together listening to a normally stoic reporter read horrendous news: 

Kennedy assassinated!  MLK assassinated! And now… RFK too? The steadfast newsman needs a second to himself, apologizes, clears his throat and maybe wipes a single tear. 

Likewise, space shuttle explosions, war atrocities, the four coordinated attacks on September 11th, and other gloomy, frightening and depressing news reports have been read over the years and made viewers anxious, melancholy, and sometimes even so desperate that it is tough for them to conceive pressing on with a normal life.

But imagine the story told in “Five Years”, the first track off of David Bowie’s fifth album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It is a stunning song, considered by many to be among David Bowie’s best, and most certainly one of the most compelling first tracks off of any rock album. “Five Years” paints a vivid picture when humanity is faced with the end of earth in five short years. 

News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying

David Bowie ”Five Years” – 06/72, London, UK. Video by David Bowie    

Ziggy Stardust, the glam-rock extraterrestrial who twanged a guitar, tries to find meaning in it all and make peace and give comfort to all those around him. “Five Years” begins the epic story of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and of course, so too begins the second set, the musical costume, of Phish’s Halloween performance in Las Vegas on 10/31/16

While not a surprise to many given the swirling rumors, leaked soundchecks, the death earlier in the year of David Bowie and the band’s known love of the album, the Playbill given to entering fans confirmed the pick. What was still unknown was how the band would choose to play the album.

If anyone hoped that Trey would become the impossibly larger than life sized front-man of Ziggy with an ego the size of Texas, after “Five Years”, they would have been disappointed. In fact, it was the polar opposite. After the opening foreboding thumps of Fishman’s drums, each band member took turns on lead vocals to near perfect execution. Even the backing string section and the trio of background singers offered equally compelling voices along the way. Phish absolutely nailed this opening number. 

There was still a possibility that the band would take a left turn later in the set and add their own spin with a “Phishy,” perhaps Type-II, interpretation on songs such as “Ziggy Stardust.” Being in Vegas, if you needed to make bets on that, most in the audience would have likely laid the chips down on a reverent, loving, and totally faithful execution of this classic rock album after “Five Years.” As far as betting on this song being reprised in the future, I’d be all-in on this being another one time Phish cover.

Hopefully, the apocalyptic end to earth doesn’t come five years after this performance. With the tensions of a US Presidential election unlike any in history only eight days away from this performance and global tensions including nuclear threats and terrorism at an all time high, imagining a teary eyed newsman reporting on the end of the world, does not seem as far-fetched as it would have five years ago. 

Thankfully, it feels equally unlikely to hear the reports of this band calling it quits. A band at the peak of their prowess. A band that skillfully, artfully, and faithfully captured the spirit of one of the best albums ever created.

Defying the sure bet, “Five Years” would indeed be played again, wisely employed for the “Numbers Show” on 10/29/21 nearly five years to the day of the Ziggy musical costume. 1,823 days later, the world was much as it was in 2016, with Phish still going strong and the world teetering. Used as a bit of a cool-down after the Phish debut “If 6 was 9” turned the MGM Grand upside down, the song fit the night perfectly.

Phish - “Five Years” - 10/28/21, Las Vegas, NV. Video by Richard Wolf.

Last Updated: 11/3/23

Submit notes/corrections is a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans under the auspices of the all-volunteer, non-profit Mockingbird Foundation.

This project serves to compile, preserve, and protect encyclopedic information about Phish and their music.

Credits | Terms Of Use | Legal | DMCA

© 1990-2024  The Mockingbird Foundation, Inc. | Hosted by Linode