Is This What You Wanted

Originally Performed ByLeonard Cohen
Original AlbumNew Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)
Music/LyricsLeonard Cohen
Phish Debut2014-10-31
Last Played2014-10-31
Current Gap372
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2016-08-18


While reviewing Leonard Cohen’s fifth album New Skin for the Old Ceremony for a February 1975 issue of Rolling Stone, rock critic Paul Nelson opined that “there comes a time in all of our lives when we realize we cannot be to others all that they and we expect us to be, and that moment is often tragic if there is love involved. For me, the art of Leonard Cohen is about that moment, repeated into infinity.” 

For Phish, that moment most likely played out on stage during their 2013 Halloween performance of songs from their yet-to-be released album “Wingsuit,” subsequently released as Fuego. In so doing, the band had abandoned their tradition of covering another artist’s work for their Halloween costume set. Having admittedly grown weary of this self-imposed trap, they had eschewed the mantle of “World’s Greatest Cover Band” and taken what they must view as the necessary steps toward cementing their legacy of being simply great on their own merits. Although this move was without question the right choice for the band, it left the many fans who expected Phish to Eat a Peach in the tragic position of wanting Phish to be something they no longer could be, despite the undeniable love in the relationship.

Leonard Cohen, “Is This What You Wanted”

The selection of Leonard Cohen’s “Is This What You Wanted” as the first of two encore songs to their chilling and thrilling 2014 Halloween show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was a fitting conclusion to the night Phish’s Halloween tradition was reborn. Bowing to the will of the people, Phish had relented and elected to cover a classic album from 1964 for their costume set. From a year that offered such celebrated works as The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, The Rolling Stones’ eponymous first release, and Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’, they of course chose to reimagine a Walt Disney sound effects album, on top of a haunted house, as tuxedo-clad zombies. It was simultaneously a trippy trick and a tantalizing treat. To answer the question, it may not have been what we expected, but it was exactly what we all wanted.

As Mike indicated before playing Cohen’s “Who By Fire” during his 9/9/09 show at the Somerville Theater, he had listened to New Skin for the Old Ceremony a lot as a child, because it was one of the albums his mother owned. Mike was therefore a natural to deliver the vocals for “Is This What You Wanted” during its prominent Phish debut. The song’s lyrics delve deep into the interpersonal psyche of a relationship that is a ghost of its former self. While one partner clings to the past the other wants to change and grow. The lesson being that for the continued viability of the relationship, we must allow the ones we love to be who they are, not who we want them to be; otherwise the relationship is doomed to becoming a house haunted by the ghosts of who we both once were. 

The message seems clear: if you don’t like what Phish has become and who they want to be on Halloween, find somebody else to boss around. They just want what we all want… to be Free to be...You and Me.

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