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Published: 2002/07/24
by David Kleinman

Bid you to have any spliff? Phish plays Springfield

{Editor’s note: the second of our Phish on TV articles for the month. This episode aired again on July 21]
Ding ding ding ding. Marge calls order, knife striking water glass. The Simpson kitchen hums happily through its morning standards. The main characters are all there, so the subjects enter sans splash: three themes will interleave throughout start on their swim: humor—botanica—wildlife set into the narrative flow facilely. The genius of it is how like a dream the story proceeds: each event floating effortlessly to the next with a kind of ambiguous logic, each theme fires up the storyline mountain effortlessly. The head need not consider much to understand and enjoy, but the head may consider everything drawn in and implicated if so inclined. This makes great pop art. The Simpsons can be enjoyed by those looking for light entertainment to pass the time as well as those of us looking to catalog, analyze, sift through, talk, write, and think about the show, its subtle connotations, its relationship to Phish, America, and when is all this hiatus b.s. going to end?
Phish on the Simpsons was a long awaited event for us, wasnt it? Us Phishheads, I mean. Two foudroyant leviathans of our consciousness having a soiree at Burnsies for reefer—the air couldnt smell sweeter. Im sure you prepared for the episode as I did, with lots of pushups and power bars. By myself from 6:40 Central Daylight Savings Time onward, I procured the time in order to deliberate over the thirty minute show ahead of me. I thought slowly, like Abraham Lincoln, pondering over the subject matter, arguments pro and con, the salience of Phish playing to keep marijuana legal for medicinal purposes on the steps of the capital of Springfield, where so many awards have been given, so many town holidays affirmed, so many riots and dolphin coups have gone down. Ask any soccer mom, trixie, wrestling fan, or super model, Phishhead = Pothead (pronounced Po theed). Think of Wigum: makisupa policeman. The connection between Phish and the Simpsons is a given, but until recently, I hadnt ever stopped to wonder why these two were naturally linked in my head. Each has a long and detailed history; each stands out as intelligent entertainment in a monstrous culture that always plays the most common occurrences; Ive been at four shows or so where I was invited by the band to shout Doh!; the Simpsons cast Phish into their discourse when Lisa camped in a tree, which, of course, was based on the story of Julia Butterfly Hill, which is the inspiration for the song Kissed by Mist.
No matter the rationalizations I conjure, Phish to the Simpsons seems as absolute and inevitable as chocolate to milk, angst to Indie Rock, Kid Rock to Pamela Lee. I questioned Foxs not advertising the episode as having Phish in it, but then I realized how surprising of a moment it would have been had I not known months ahead of time (this is perhaps a fault of the Phishnation information superhighway) that the band would be making an appearance on the Simpsons in an episode that featured some of the best pot humor in recent years—Dave Chappelle, Andy Dick, please?—as well as significant developments in Homers relationship with his family and his neighbor. The enormous list of producers running almost to the first commercial signified just how seriously the Simpson organization took two great icons of American pop art amalgamating over an increasingly puzzling issue of twenty-first century America, why isnt marijuana legal for medicinal use?
Tracking down all the details of an episode such as this (a truly monumental episode in the history of the show) is for some comicbook guy. (Did anyone notice the girl with the balloon from Bittersweet Hotel in the crowd when Phish plays?) I prefer to sift through the themes and details like a Spanish pensioner. But I have used the fastforward, reverse, and pause features on my VCR in order to pool some of the mound of information jammed into one of the chock-a-blockiest Simpsons episodes ever. So if its no bother to you, Id like to get into the nugget in my head right about now.
Crows, like ravens, have hefty tokens attributed to them. Their appearance anywhere is never to be taken literally, but for the tropes they are. One of the devices the Simpsons use that Ive always been fond of is the introduction of a false plot to start the narrative. Considering this, my head is always ready for a curveball from the get go. So I thought, as Homer became the alpha crow, This doesnt have anything to do with the eventual storyline. But the crows had everything to do with everything. No fallacious introduction here, instead the themes and plotlines interweaved from beginning to end with a hemp yarn as strong and yet as relaxed as the tomfoolery of any Seinfeld episode. Mr. Burns looks like a crow. The Simpsons door thingee has been crow-shaped for a long time. You comicbook guys could probably list a hundred more crow connections to the Simspons, but Ill leave it at that.
Those of us with English degrees know it is fruitless to try and guess what an author, or, in this case, many authors, meant by some symbol. However, that does not deter the clever essayist (i.e., me) from gleaning some intendment from these crows. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols is a handy tool for doing such things, and indeed it does say, Thus in both China and Japan [the crow] is a symbol of filial gratitude, the Han considering the fact that it feeds its parents as auguring the reinstatement of the social order. In Japan, too, it is taken as the expression of family affection (789). Just to refresh your memory, one of the crows, perhaps it was Gregory Peck, tries to feed Homer a donut, but as crows are want to do, he shoves it down his throat. Homer doesnt like this. Then Homer looks up and sees Maggie in the window flapping her arms in imitation of the crows. Homer pays attention to her, and so one may guess that the crows have caused some filial gratitude, but, no, they fly off with and drop her. After she lands safely though, the crows clash with Homer trying to get at his sweet, sweet eye juices. This causes Homer to go on the Yes I Cannabis program, which in turn peaks his interest in Lisas saxophone. (Did you ever hear the one about the Phishhead who ran out of pot? He says, This music sucks!)
One could then postulate that the crows have brought the family together; and they eventually trigger an important character development in Lisa when she says, I want my old Dad back. The one who was yelling all the time, and. . .You know, Im not really sure what I want anymore. Lisas struggle to obtain attention from her father with her artistic talents finally came to a head, something she has been trying to do since the show began. But perhaps it is not best this was obtained with a drug. Especially since Homers chosen tonic, chronic, causes him to sign a petition for and then forget to vote against the reefer-endum. Throughout the episode, the negative effects of marijuana smoking are satirized; the positive effects are brought to light; its status as the healthy alternative to alcohol is made clear.
Ned Flanders has yearned for Homer to be born again since the Simpsons conception. To sum: Ned and his boys pray to the cross that eventually becomes the scarecrow that Homer beats with a bat after he regroups at Red Lobster, which makes him the Alpha crow; he is then gouged by his once loyal murder(sp?), for which he starts toking, which puts his mind in the right frame to listen to the entire bible in one sitting—I prefer Whitmans Leaves of Grass —to each his own. This is a significant event in their relationship. Christianity, like Duff for Homer, is the central fixation of Ned Flanders life. Homer asking Ned to read him the bible would be like your long time Indie rocker of a sibling finally learning how to play guitar and then exclaiming, This music sucks! Play me Junta. The question Homer poses about the burrito is one that has troubled theologians for quite some time. Can that which is all powerful be more powerful than itself? Could Trey write a song he himself could not play?

Maybe theres a connection, maybe not, but Im sure many of us remember Trey introducing Fish as Russell Crowe at Deer Creek in 2000. Funny enough to mention, I watched a new episode of South Park later in the night in which Russell Crowe was lampooned beyond belief as the host of a show about beating people up that the boys watch to see a commercial for the new Terrence and Phillip movie. These sort of puzzling connections are innate to American pop culture. Just as Otto is Otto spelled backwards, on the same night that I caught my short, redheaded, Irishmen of a roommate masturbating, I heard the lines from Zappas Apostrophe, The night before behind the door a leprechaun had stroked. . .he stroked it! And, actually, when you think about it, a lot of beating, abusing, and wiping goes on on that album—a lot of beating (this time of a scarecrow) goes on on the Simpsons. Its silly to (split infinitive) not acknowledge these connections, but they seem strange nonetheless: I think this is because there is no meaning in the connection between Phish and the Simpsons, they just are connected, inenarrably yoked together by the magical forces of popular culture. There is no meaning.
Worms, like meatsticks, cucumbers, and veggie burritos, have cumbersome figures nailed to their every appearance in literature. To quote from another indispensable tool for the essayist, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols, Worms should be regarded as symbolizing the passage from Earth to light, from death to life and from larval stage to spiritual release(333). As Homer is attacked by his once loyal murder [Ed note: plural for crows] for swinging his dirty hoe at em, he screams, That isnt a worm! And one could propose that after the crows tug at his worm, Homer is given spiritual release from smoking marijuana; see Bob Marley. And at the end of the show, after Mr. Burns is revived by dancing (dancing doesnt have anything do with Phish, does it?), he says, So the worm finally shows his fangs. And thus Homer is returned to the dark tunnels of sector 7G, he no longer has any interest in Lisas saxophone, and he is still funny—just not as funny. I dont know what the Simpsons would be like if Homer smoked pot every episode and changed the lyrics to all our favorite Deep Purple songs, I am hungry for a candy bar/I think Ill have a mounds. Candy bars look like worms. Im kidding, really. Worms are another animal in this episode, the next, like Phish, is more important than worms.

Antelopes, unlike worms and crows, do not always symbolize something. But they do to us. The first lyrics Tom Marshall ever penned for Phish are perhaps some of his best. Indeed, the meaning of Run Like an Antelope is what has kept me coming back to Phish time and time again. I want to set the gear shift to the high gear of my soul and run like an antelope, out of control. These moments are beatific. The first time I heard Coltranes A Love Supreme; the very first time I truly made love to a woman; one time in the midst of unspeakable troubles, when I ran out into the corn fields of Iowa and realized I didnt ever have to stop if I didnt want to; hearing the song Run Like an Antelope at Deer Creek in 1998: all these times I felt as if my soul had truly shifted to its soaring gear. The sinewy liquid rhythm of life was gushing through my veins. So for me, and Im sure for you, antelopes will always have great significance when they appear, and it was not by chance that that song was chosen as the one Phish would play on the Simpsons. Wildlife casts the greatest thematic shadow over this episode. Animals, as you know, eat plants indiscriminately—whether they are the kind of mushrooms that go good in a salad, or the kind that make you laugh for six hours, animals will eat them the same—no ceremony or anything. In T.C. Boyles Budding Prospects, the greatest novel ever written about growing marijuana, a persistent bear eats the crops as naturally as he drinks the water from the farmers wells. Humans, for some reason, have laws that declare which plants can be consumed and which cannot. This brings us to our second theme: shrubbery.
Plants are important: They provide things for people. The plants people learn to use help define their way of life. Their perceptions of the world, health, the directions their technologies and economies flow, all depend on the plants they grow and use. Some plants, like corn, beans, or squash, provide food for nourishment. Some, like hickory, provide flavor when grilling out on a bright spring day. The hemp plant provides rope, clothing, detergent, remedy for people with cancer—it can even be an elixir for your love life. The domestication and cultivation of verdure was a great turning point in history. During the Neolithic era, some 10,000 years ago, nomadic groups scavenged, hunted, fished, and gathered plants in an unending search for food. Eventually they used reason, and decided to plant the native grains. The invention of agriculture required a commitment to the land and granted a steady food supply—enabling people to form permanent settlements and eventually civilizations.
Neolithic bands came in contact with marijuana often. The clothes the people wore, the nets they fished and hunted with, and the ropes they used in the earliest machines were all made of the long, strong, durable hemp fiber. As their culture advanced, these prehistoric people replaced animal skins with hemp cloth. At first, hemp cloth was worn only by the more prosperous, but when silk became available, hemp clothed the masses. People in China relied on marijuana for more than fiber. Marijuana seeds were one of the grains of early China along with river barley, millet, and soybeans. The seeds were ground into a meal, roasted whole, or cooked in porridge. The ancient tombs of China had sacrificial vessels filled with hemp seed and other grains for the afterlife. An interesting note from the Tung-kuan archives (28 AD) records the following anecdote: A terrible war devastated a people. A great famine was the result; food was so scarce, the people subsisted on solely hemp seeds and soy beans.
Umbrage is important to this episode of the Simpsons. Foliage frames a lot of the action and is a major player in the plot. The connection between the opening credits and the episode of the Simpsons is at times direct, and others tenuous. Indeed, those who tape original airings and watch reruns, 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 p.m. in Chicagoland currently, will notice certain opening credits are not necessarily tied to one episode. This episodes overture opened the theme of vegetation up before the show even started. While no comment from Bart was left on the blackboard, the Simpson shaped hedge that was trimmed in front of their TV relates directly to the opening talk of mutated vegetables, and that relates directly to marijuana: we all know marijuana growers have been messing with botany like god for a long time, with quite pleasant results.
Leaves outline the scene in which Mr. Burns dies in the bath. Surely we remember the connection between marijuana and Homers children discussed earlier. I believe it was Maggie who first attempted to murder Mr. Burns. This time marijuana killed him. Marijuana made Homer able to laugh at his jokes. In desperation, Homer gives Wayland Smithers his last joint (hope he remembers his dentist appointment), and the joint persuades Smithers to put on his best Judy Garland and forget all about Mr. Burns, something he has perhaps needed for a long time, to realize he is gay and Mr. Burns will never be. Homer and Smithers space about the old man in the bathtub, and so he dies (almost).
These themes relate to each other in the episode in the same way that the Simpsons relate to Phish in pop culture. Their connections seem given and absolute, yet it is hard to pin down exactly why that is. Not being able to qualify is part of the modern experience. In order to illustrate the fashion by which these themes intertwine and the process by which they float around the popular culture and the complex dance that is Phish playing, I have sewn a fourth theme, history, into this essay. Humor, plants, and animals all have delectable histories. (Need I mention Edgar Allen Poe? or the cultivation of tobacco and the United States of America? or the Dodo bird?) So the fourth theme has been in their from the start, I just didnt tell you till now. This theme was sewn into the underbelly of this essay, just like a little melody line that is played during a Phish jam, which you dont consciously hear, but then you catch yourself whistling it and not knowing what it is until you hear the jam again and realize you were hearing it all the time just not knowingly.
The Simpsons are concerned with the history of humor. This episode in particular was all about comedy, referring to Heckle and Jeckle, Pop Up Video, Weekend at Burnies, and The Three Stooges. Phish, I would say, is one of the few rock bands to successfully incorporate humor into their shows and albums. Corporate America (though soulless) is no stranger to comedy. One could say the entire homosocial order of Hyperglobalmega Corp., Inc. is based upon circulating e-mails, watercooler buffoonery, and of course, generous guffaws for the CEOs unbelievably dry and outdated material.
Office Space and others have proved the lives of corporate drones to be hilarious, though sadly colorless. This episode begins its look at corporate humor with a joke the Simpsons have been using forever: Mr. Burns inability to remember Homers name—but this time he says it on accident. I remember hearing the hardly working joke at least once a week when I was a writer for McCommon, Schroeder, & Company; that was before I found women and/or grants to support my essay-writing habit.
This episode featured the funniest Bill Clinton joke ever, hes Jimmy Carter with a fox attitude. Donald Barthelme was known to say writing is always about itself. Clinton appeared on Fox with his signature fox attitude. Is this sentence about itself or about the previous one? The Simpsons is always about itself. Everything is always about itself, and Homers exclamation over the corpulent baby corn is actually one of Moes signature cries. Flanders does Wigum. Now, what youve all been waiting for.

With that mumbo jumbo out of the way, I may as well introduce the house band for medicinal marijuana. But first I want to introduce the bus driver: Otto is a great stoner. He loves music and little else. He even loves music more than women. This episode makes reference to his marriage, but as Otto has clearly forgotten, he did not get married, but instead chose his true love, heavy metal. I gotta question Ottos thinking there, which may be seriously effected by his smoking so much over the years. Nonetheless, Otto is a stand up guy in my book; his companionship would be more interesting than President Bushs—though I understand Bush was a pothead for quite a long time.
Walking down the street one day you, Otto, and your friends remember the rally. The rally? Yes, the big rally downtown, the very reason we got out of bed at such a dreadful hour this morning. Your legs are tired, but you proceed towards the center of town undaunted. As the houses get nicer and the brothels disappear you begin to hear music, rock music. Naturally your pace quickens; you shake out your arms and legs. Your kind-of-girlfriends boob pops out of her hippie chick shirt. You stare. You look up from your trance to see, yes, those are enormous marijuana leaves. Oh man, says Otto, We almost spaced on the rally to keep pot legal, medically. You run down close to the stage and hear the closing choruses of Run Like an Antelope.
Trey Anastasio calls time out in the middle of the song. Strange, you think, what could this be about? You hear something about pot, and you think Trey is up to one of his tricks; his sense of humor is not new to you. But as the situation progresses, you realize the band is demanding something of the audience. Page declares, If Phish doesnt see a prescription slip, were so out of here. You think of the irony: Phish objecting to pot being smoked at one of their concerts. If you piled all the marijuana that has ever been smoked at all the Phish concerts ever, you could fill all of the canals of Amsterdam with it. Jon tells the moleman like it is just before the band is counted back into Antelope by Trey. You being a true phan shout Doh! in time.
Who better to introduce Homer Simpson than Page? The mispronunciation of pothead could just be one of the best pot jokes I have ever heard. You know, when I saw Jon Fishman standing next to the moleman, I got to thinking. Jon and he are a lot alike. Fishman is the drum machine that keeps Phish popular; if the kids can dance, theyll come back time and time again. Yet he is constantly ridiculed by the groups Alpha, Trey. Always the buffoon in the dress, singing his silly, pretty songs, yelling and yelling and yelling, for some reason Henrietta reminds me of the moleman, and the two shall be forever tied. . .Of course Mike delivers the driest line of the entire episode: Uh, Homer, that was yesterday. Theres was a cameo. Perhaps it would have been funny to have Phish playing at the investors meeting, but they didnt. The short time Phish graced the screen emphasized the great disappointment of marijuana re-criminalized. Each member said something hilarious. They played a small role, a cameo.
The Simspons have a history with drug use. Barney is a John Barleycorn. Homer is a Duff addict as well. Alcohol has never been glorified by the Simpsons; even when it is prohibited by Rex Banner, and the town enjoys itself in re-legalization, the Beer Barron quoths Alcohol, the solution to and cause of all lifes problems. This episode confirms the truth about our drug policies, that alcohol is not the best drug to be legal. Lenny and Carl, everyones favorite minor characters, sum it up:
Lenny: Yeah, you were getting all spacey and everything. We were going to have intervention.
Carl: Yeah, but at the planning party, I got alcohol poisoning. I nearly died.
Marijuana has made many appearances on the Simpsons. Most noticeably when Bart gives Santas Little Helper away and a blind man adopts him. Wigum singing Jammin over the outro credits is one of the funniest events in Simspons lore. There are many positive effects on Homer from the Texas THC he smokes to help his eyes. His relationship with his daughter improves. Homer loves hearing Lisa play her sax while he is high. And while this is portrayed humorously, it is clear that the relaxed state Homer gets in while high is constructive to his family life. Homers relationship with his neighbor improves. However, loss of memory and the inability to concentrate are serious side effects of marijuana—not to be ignored by anyone.
Since I couldnt think of a conclusion, well, thats not entirely true, I wrote out several pithy and cordial conclusions, but upon further review deemed them all semantically sloppy, so I decided it was best to end with a list of things in the Phish episode of the Simpsons that could be possible news items, or parts of news items; these are all nuggets of our popular culture; search these stuffs on google—youd be amazed what you can find:
Andy Rooney
Bill Clinton appeals to semantics
Bill Clinton has fox attitude
CEO pisses money away
Danky-phat veggie burritos
Faulty accounting to blame
Genetically-altered vegetables
Gregory Peck
Heckle and Jeckle
Homosexual smokes joint
Hume Cronin
Investors are mollified
Judy Garland
Medicinal marijuana
Mercedes Benz
PopUp Video
Red Lobster
Scarecrow given a smackdown for family
Sixty Minutes
Stem cells
The Matrix
The Three Stooges
Weekend at Bernies
Whats that billowing down the stairs?

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