Rock biopics tend to take one of two paths: the rote, career-spanning victory lap or the salacious “Behind The Music”-style tell-all. “Between Me And My Mind,” which profiles Trey Anastasio of Phish, does neither.
In the film, which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday night, director Steven Cantor instead draws the curtain on Anastasio’s unrelenting, borderline obsessive creative process. It’s a fascinating deep dive into the methods of Anastasio, who early in the film says his intentions were to become a composer, not a rock musician, and an intimate examination of his personality and relationships.
Cantor (“Dancer,” “Chasing Tyson,” “loudQUIETloud: A Film About Pixies”) traces two parallel and very different threads that dominated Anastasio’s work in 2017: prepping for Phish’s New Year’s Eve concert at Madison Square Garden and creating a new solo album, “Ghosts of the Forest,” which was released two weeks ago.
“Between,” screened before a sold-out audience at the Beacon Theatre, opens with Anastasio waking up in his New York City apartment. It’s a picture of urban domestic tranquility, as he prepares coffee, pats his cat and sits down on the couch to work on music as a stack of Broadway Playbills sit in a basket nearby. He phones Phish drummer Jon Fishman to discuss adding new songs to their repertoire for the Baker’s Dozen, a 13-show summer run at MSG in which the band vowed to not play the same song twice. Anastasio begins work on a new song, “Soul Planet,” as part of the group’s annual “New Year’s gag”; this one will involve a giant pirate ship, cannons and turning the audience, wearing timed, light-up bracelets, into an ocean. He visits Fishman, keyboardist Page McConnell and bassist Mike Gordon at their homes to show them the new song, and we are given some insight into his relationship with each band member. The easy banter and laughter between Anastasio and Fishman is nonstop.
While “Soul Planet” is a celebratory rocker with lighthearted lyrics, “Ghosts of the Forest” and the inspiration behind it is the opposite. Working in The Barn, his Vermont studio, Anastasio is struggling with the news that his best friend, Chris Cottrell, is dying of cancer, and is pouring that confusion into the music. The passion he shows with his Phish bandmates is still there, but it’s darker, more focused and, hopefully for the singer/guitarist, cathartic. A sick but still jovial Cottrell is shown joking and reminiscing with Anastasio about an LSD trip. Later, Anastasio strums his guitar next to his friend’s hospital bed.
Two days later, Cottrell would die.
One-on-one scenes with Anastasio and each Phish member, his mother, father and each daughter are poignant and find Anastasio expressing his doubts about his parenting. Sitting with his mom on a bench in Central Park dedicated to his sister, Kristy Anastasio, they talk about the difficulty of Kristy’s passing, also from cancer. Over ice cream, the musician and his father — his parents are divorced — revisit the pressure that his dad put on him as a youth hockey player. During a stroll down the Asbury Park, New Jersey, boardwalk, Anastasio and his wife, Sue, starkly address his drug addiction, arrest and subsequent recovery, with Sue telling him, “I thought you were going to die.”
Following the screening, the Trey Anastasio Band performed for an hour and a half, with Phish’s McConnell joining in for the encore. TAB will perform sold-out shows at Brooklyn Bowl on Sunday, April 28 and Monday, April 29.