The Squirming Coil

Songfacts®:

  • "The Squirming Coil" is the first track on Lawn Boy, Phish's second studio album. The lyrics are characteristically (for a Phish song) strange, but the sun and Satan are definite themes in this one.

    The song tells a first-person-perspective story of an unnamed character who hitchhikes to a beach. Nothing coherent happens, but surreal scenes are encountered along the way.
  • In the story, the "squirming coil" represents the sunset. That is stated explicitly in the opening line, "The squirming coil of sunset."

    Satan is referred to once ambiguously with the line, "I saw Satan on the beach." Satan is referred to again more subtly with the line, "Jimmy holds the tannis root." Tannis root is a fictional herb that appeared in the 1967 novel Rosemary's Baby and in the 1968 film the book spawned. The story is about a woman who is tricked into giving birth to the Devil. Tannis root is mentioned multiple times in the film and is secretly fed to Rosemary.

    Satan on the beach tries to catch a ray of the squirming coil (meaning the sunset), but fails.

    Another reference to the sun is made with a line about Icarus "with melting wax and feathers brown." Icarus is a character from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in his wings and sent him plummeting to the sea.

    None of it seems to make any real sense, but Phish.net says the song is cautioning listeners against "seeking favor, fortune, or fame, at any price." To grasp that, we just need to ingest the tannis root - difficult, unfortunately, because it doesn't actually exist.
  • Phish.net claims that this song links together not only Rosemary's Baby and Icarus, but also the Well of Souls from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the murder of John Lennon, and the adventures of Jimmy from the song "Harpua." Those other references though are either there in the most abstract and nebulous sense or aren't there at all. The site may just be messing with us, though Jimmy's name is indeed mentioned in the lyric "Jimmy holds the tannis root."
  • In Phish: The Biography, longtime Phish lyricist Tom Marshall said he thinks this was the first of his lyrics that Phish ever recorded. He also says that Phish frontman Trey Anastasio wrote the music alone while looking at Marshall's lyrics.

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