"Wilson" may be the most important song in Phish history.
In Phish: The Biography, the song's cowriter Tom Marshall says Phish was built upon the song. "It was the seed of the whole thing."
Marshall wrote the song with Aaron Woolf while in junior high Latin class. They weren't looking to accomplish anything too significant or serious. After writing the lyrics, they sang it to friends, who all found the song amusing but didn't get it.
Future Phish frontman Trey Anastasio saw it differently. He asked the pair to sing it again. When they asked if he "got it," Anastasio said, "Oh yeah, I get it."
Phish started performing this song in 1986; it has gone through a number of iterations over the years. A studio version was never released, but a live rendition did appear on the 1995 album A Live One.
The song was originally titled "Wilson, Can You Still Have Fun?"
The name Wilson was taken from Wilson's Leather Shop in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
"Wilson" is a part of the multi-song saga titled Gamehendge, which stemmed from Anastasio's Goddard College senior study project titled The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.
Gamehendge spans about 10 Phish songs, but that number has never been officially set. The work mutates over time. In what is generally considered the unofficial storyline, "Wilson" is the fifth song, coming after "Tela" and before "AC/DC Bag."
The narrative in "Wilson" isn't all that important to the broader Gamehendge narrative. Its place, more than anything, is important to the flow of the music itself.
As a straightforward rock tune, it's a good transition between the sweetness of "Tela" and the relaxed groove of "AC/DC Bag."
The character Wilson is a symbol of corruption, unchecked ambition, and greed.
According to Phish.net, the character singing "Wilson" is meant to be an enraged Errand Woolf, who helped Wilson lead a revolution over the fascist Lizards and now finds Wilson to be the same kind of power-hungry monster that he originally fought to topple.