The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
Also Known AsTMWSIY
Phish Debut1987-05-11
Last Played2023-12-31
Current Gap5
HistorianMark Toscano; Mockingbird Staff
Last Update2012-07-28


Though The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday is the official name of Trey’s Senior Study for Goddard, that title is best known for a particularly sweet bit of instrumental composition he developed for that project. The Gamehendge saga (common parlance for The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, which is a mouthful) is a multi-song musical Trey conceived, composed, and recorded to satisfy Goddard's Senior Study graduation requirement. For the recording Trey needed an introductory piece of music over which the saga’s opening narration would be read; sort of an overture. He had been working on an arpeggio-rich instrumental composition in early 1987 intended for just this purpose. As the opening narration pulls the listener into the story, the piece – dubbed “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” (“TMWSIY”) after the song-cycle it would inaugurate – was designed to create a sense of forward motion.

It’s a gorgeous tune, rivaling “I Am Hydrogen” and “Leprechaun” in its rhythmic beauty; even “The Inlaw Josie Wales” may not compare to “TMWSIY’s” sheer expression of feeling and action. The song starts out with a pretty but uncertain repetition, described by Trey’s swirling guitar line and Page’s discordant accompaniment. Page’s line suddenly changes to complement Trey’s playing harmoniously, as if to describe the successful passage of the listener into the enchanted land of Gamehendge. The main melody follows, with Trey outlining a repeating structure based on arpeggios in various chords, while Mike complements each change with a single, well-placed bass note. Page arrives after the first go-round, adding pretty and sparse harmonic flourishes to the mix. Fishman comes in last, providing an unobtrusive but anchoring beat, mainly in the form of light cymbal brushes. The melody is both nostalgically sad and optimistic, and plays like an echo of a sweetly regarded time and place. 

Indeed, Gamehendge is a place out of space and time, existing only in the heart of Colonel Forbin, who looks back on his past with regret and misery. To him, Gamehendge and the events that transpire within its boundaries represent bittersweet memories on which he has no claim. He can only dream of them as he contemplates suicide. After all, in context, “TMWSIY” is basically a soundtrack for the Colonel’s miserable and self-destructive thoughts, as he is saved from oblivion only by the possibility of a better place and time. The idyll lasts for a spell, but just as the song seems to be getting too forlorn and introspective, the music rises, swells, and erupts into a more joyous evocation of lost memories found again. Colonel Forbin has found his answer in the “door” he discovered while walking McGrupp and, at the close of the song, steps through it. On the Senior Study tape, this leads the listener to the “Esther” flying jam that brings us to Gamehendge and all of its characters, stories, and songs. In the live Phish concert experience this is not the case. On every occasion it has been played, “TMWSIY” has been followed by “Avenu Malkenu,” a lively and popular Hebrew song. Often, “Avenu” is followed in suit by a “TMWSIY Reprise,” shorter than the song proper, but based on the same themes.

The appearances of “TMWSIY” were steady from its debut through 1992. After this, it took a dip in frequency in ‘93, made a minor comeback in ‘94, then dropped again from ‘95 onward, making only two or three appearances a year, sometimes less (only one in ‘97!). Early versions tend to be more straightforward and tightly interpreted, although the song usually only veers from its composition by degree of precise execution. The debut, 5/11/87, is recommended, and is introduced cryptically as “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday and I’m Going to Get My Head Sharpened.” Other excellent versions include 8/29/87, 12/3/89 (“TMWSIY” > “Avenu” > “AC/DC Bag”), 6/9/90 (into “La Grange”), 4/27/91 (into “Mike’s”), 11/28/92 (“TMWSIY” > “Avenu” > “Maze” > “TMWSIY”), 2/4/93 (inside “Mike’s Groove”), 10/29/94 (legendary “DwD” > “TMWSIY” > “Avenu” > “TMWSIY” > “Sparks”), 11/29/97 (out of “Simple”), 7/31/98 (flows out of “If I Could”), 9/20/00 (in the middle of a “Mike’s Groove”), 7/7/03 (“TMWSIY” > “Avenu Malkenu” > “Walls of the Cave”), and 7/4/12.

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