Thanks to John Greene, Matt Laurence, and Clinton Vadnais, Phish.net is pleased to announce the release of the previously-uncirculated video footage that was shot 30 years ago last week for the planned-but-never-completed Gamehendge CD-ROM. This video comes from a VHS cassette labeled "John's Special Tape":
I had the pleasure of interviewing John Greene (formerly of yeP!, currently of Chum) over beers last week in Marin County to get the straight dope on the backstory of this footage. I transcribed the important details and worked them into a more linear narrative, with John’s blessing of course. Here's what John told me:
When I was a college student at UMass (‘88 to ’93), I worked in this animation lab – this is where I met Jack [Carson] from yeP! – my concentration was computer animation, and Jack and I wound up doing music and sound for all these computer animated educational videos. That’s what funded the lab, we made these videos, and that’s how Jack and I essentially started yeP!. Back then, in 1990, the computer software for the Mac IIfx was terrible. These guys in the animation lab had started their own software company to make a better computer animation package for the Mac than what existed. The short version is that they got to demo their software in the Apple booth at MacWorld in San Francisco – this was like January ’91.
I wound up coming out here [to the Bay Area] for MacWorld, and I was demoing the software, and this guy came up and asks “whaddya got going on here?” and we’re demoing this software for him. The company’s called Specular International, and the program’s called Infini-D, and it’s an animation program for the Mac. I took him through this whole demo, and it turns out the guy’s name is Greg Deocampo, who was the CEO of CoSA (The Company of Science and Art – the company that produced the “Esther” music video). He gave me his card and it said he was located in Providence, Rhode Island, and I told him I was from the East Coast too, and mentioned that I was just in Providence, and I asked him “did you see Phish?” and he says “WHAT? You know Phish? We’re doing all this stuff with Phish!” I tell him I’m a student at UMass and he says we should keep in touch…
I was supposed to go to that Smith college show – 2/9/91 – and I was supposed to meet Greg and Phish backstage to talk – he had told me to just come up after the show and tell them I knew him. That footage [at the beginning of the video] from Smith College? I didn’t shoot that. I did go to that show, as a fan, and after the show I walked up to the stage to talk to – I realized afterwards – it was Pete, the monitor guy. And I say “hey, I’m supposed to meet this guy Greg Deocampo, he told me after the show to just talk to someone and they’d let me back,” and Pete blew me off like I was some kid trying to sneak backstage. I tried again but no one would help me, so I went home – I didn’t know what to do, it was like my 4th Phish show.
I email them afterwards and say “I don't know what happened, but they wouldn't let me backstage” – fast forward to May 1991, and I go back down to Providence, to meet him and the CoSA guys, and Trey and Page. We’re there to talk about the Esther video [which aired at setbreak 30 years ago today], and I’m this hot shot college kid majoring in computer animation, and Greg is telling them I'm going to work for them in the summer – he's selling me to Phish, and he's selling Phish on CoSA. Greg calmed me down before the meeting – I was already a huge Phish fan – and I’ll never forget him telling me “these guys put their pants on one leg at a time just like you. Just be cool, talk about what you do in school – this is a business meeting.” I showed Trey some of my work, and he was so into it. You know how whenever you see Trey talking about stuff, he’s so enthusiastic about it? Even then, he wanted to know everything about what I was doing. We showed him all this stuff, and they were all psyched, and we got the go-ahead to do the “Esther” video.
The concept for the Gamehendge CD-ROM was all Greg – he was a visionary – you gotta remember this was ’91. Greg said, “in two years, every Toshiba laptop is going to come with a CD-ROM. Everybody’s gonna have them. We should do a CD-ROM.” The thought was, what kind of a story or arc could we do? The answer was Gamehendge, the story. What he wanted me to do – the reason that we have all this video – was go shoot all this video. If you notice in a lot of the footage, it's like super close-ups, because they were going to create a story – and what video games were like back then, like CD-ROM adventure games, you go from place to place. There was no space for longer videos – CD-ROMs hold what, like 650 megs? – so they wanted short close-up clips that they could use. That's why there were only a few complete songs – they wanted clips. And by the way, it’s not like I was holding a phone, I was holding a big-ass video camera! I did get a couple full songs – songs like “Sloth” and “Foam,” my favorite songs back in ’91 – but that’s not what they were looking for. That’s why there are so many little clips and cuts, and why they’re all zoomed in. They wanted hi-res images of Trey’s face, stuff like that, for the game.
The plan was to figure out how to create an interactive Gamehendge experience based on Trey’s story. We’d figure out some art and somehow work in whatever footage I shot. So that’s why there’s close-ups of their faces, and there are those close-ups of Trey’s fingers, and those close-ups of Fishman's drums. But I don’t think there was ever a drawing board for the experience. I’m sure Greg had some kind of vision for it but I don’t really know what it was. We knew that if we're going to do this, we need a ton of videos, so they said “here's a video camera – go shoot.” And they told JP [John Paluska, Phish’s manager at the time], “make sure he has full access; tell all the venues.” All those shows that week were local to me: Keene on 7/12, BPAC on 7/13, Townshend on 7/14, and then there was Somerville 7/19. So that was that week, 30 years ago – and then I went to Arrowhead too, which was the culmination of that crazy week of my life. I was 20 years old.
At the end of the run we had a bunch of small tapes, and I don’t remember exactly how we got them to VHS, but I think I transferred them – I was so stupid and used SLP, the lowest quality, to fit it all on one tape, which unfortunately made Clinton’s job a lot harder. The source Video8s probably exist somewhere, who knows where that is? It’s probably much better quality. I can’t imagine where those would be, or if anyone has them. But I think “John’s Special Tape” was pretty much everything that I shot onto that one tape. I knew I couldn’t let it go to waste at the end of my internship – Greg and JP knew I had made a copy, and said I could show it to my friends, but wanted me to keep it for myself and not copy it so it wouldn’t undermine the release of the game (which was never made). For years people would say “you gotta release this, come on,” and I would always say no, and after a while they stopped asking, and eventually I almost forgot about the tape. I left it in storage and always made sure I had it when we moved, but I hadn’t watched it in probably 20 years.
And that's where the footage sat, until 2019... In September 2018, Phish.net co-founder and yeP! bassist Matt Laurence posted a thread on the phish.net forum about old Phish videos and shared clips from some videos he had recently restored from his collection, which included footage of all three sets at Amy’s Farm. After exchanging a few messages with Matt, he graciously agreed to announce the release of the videos on Phish.net, in support of the Mockingbird Foundation, when he had completed his restoration. In January 2019, Matt did just that, much to the delight of the fanbase.
Through my conversations with Matt we realized that I knew one of his close friends and former bandmates, the same John Greene, yeP!’s keyboardist. I had met John a couple times after seeing his current band Chum, the Bay Area-based Phish tribute in which he plays keyboards. A few weeks after connecting with Matt and connecting the dots between him and John, I saw Chum play at Terrapin Crossroads, and was excited to tell John after the clever “Terrapin” (Syd Barrett) > “Crossroads” (Cream) encore (pro-shot video from that night: Antelope, Mercury, Walls -> Crosseyed > Billy Breathes) that I had connected with his former bandmate Matt, and that Matt was preparing to release his old Amy’s Farm footage on Phish.net. John’s eyes lit up, and he started telling me stories about his time on tour in Summer of 1991 in the run-up to Amy’s Farm (which he also attended, and filmed in part). I emailed Matt the day after the show to relay what John had told me – here’s part of that email I sent on October 6, 2018:
[John] told me some more about the early Phish.net / RMP days, including the fact that he edited the original “Esther” video that was shown in between sets in July ‘91; he also told me some funny stories about [some of his] friends from that Summer Tour.
The most exciting thing he mentioned to me … was the Gamehendge CD-ROM. I had of course heard the stories about how someone was working on it, but it never came to fruition - I had no idea it was the company [John] worked at and the same folks that made the “Esther” video. Furthermore, he said he still had a tape somewhere with *hours* of footage they were intending to use for the game itself (I think that’s what he said the tape was for?). He said you guys rolled a ton of tape during Summer ‘91 of shows and fans and other goofy stuff, and he had edited a good amount of it together but never did anything with it. I asked him where the tape was, and he said he didn’t know but that he never would’ve gotten rid of it, and promised that a) he would look for it, and b) that if he found it, he’d turn it over to us for restoration and release. I’m drooling at the thought of releasing that tape too [in addition to the Amy’s Farm tape]... but I’m not holding my breath.
As it turns out, John did eventually find that tape, and he did send it to Matt, who had told John “I know a guy who can restore it for us.” Matt forwarded it along to professional video editor Clinton Vadnais (@cleantone here, @cleantones on Twitter and YouTube), who worked on restoring the tape (and splicing in higher quality audio) on and off for over a year. After connecting with Clinton through other channels, I realized he was the same guy to whom Matt had sent the video, and after a few more emails and texts in the run-up to the anniversary and a ton more work by Clinton, I met up with John last week to get the backstory, and Clinton premiered the video on YouTube Saturday night for all to see. We are ecstatic to finally be able to share this tape with the fanbase for the first time, and extend an enormous amount of gratitude to John, Matt, Clinton – and of course, Phish – for making it all happen.
Amy’s Farm and the Gamehendge CD-ROM footage are out there now – what’s next? Let one of us know if you’ve got any buried treasure you’d like to circulate – I know a guy…
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