Table of Contents
Also written or cowritten by Parke Puterbaugh
Moon California Beaches
Moon Florida Beaches
Rhino’s Psychedelic Trip
I Want to Take You Higher: The Psychedelic Era, 1965-1969
The 100 Greatest Albums of the Eighties
Bruce Springsteen: The
To the troubadours from Gamehendge
t took just over a year to do the actual writing, but in many ways this book has been almost fifteen years in the making. That is to say, I first met and interviewed Phish in 1995 and continued to do so with relative frequency to the present day. It all began with a story assignment for
and evolved into much more than I ever could have imagined. Phish’s management thereafter recruited me to write for them on an as-needed basis—album bios (group and solo projects), liner notes, “Halloween playbills,” Web site interviews, and more. I spoke at length with them numerous times over the years. Thus I accumulated an oral history of their career in real time from 1995 forward, filled with reflections and reminiscences about the preceding years as well.
Even with a case full of taped interviews, it didn’t occur to me that I might wind up writing a book on Phish. That’s where Ben Schafer, executive editor of Da Capo Press, and Sarah Lazin, literary agent extraordinaire, entered the picture. A year after Phish’s 2004 breakup—or second hiatus, as it turned out—Ben began casting about for someone to write a biography of the band and contacted Sarah for suggestions. She knew of my work with Phish and suggested me. All the pieces seemed to fit: I had plenty of firsthand material and, if a book was going to be written, I wanted to be the one to do it. I firmly believe they are one of the great American bands—and not just
bands. A number of things over the years have struck me as miraculous: word processing, the Internet, compact discs, Google, hybrid
cars, the Hubble space telescope, the Mars Rover, the Big Sur coastline, a breaching blue whale, and Phish. So let me tip my hand: I believe that Phish is better on their worst night than most bands are on their best night. Despite some bumps and bruises, I see Phish’s career as a four-way street of envelope-pushing, risk-taking creativity undertaken at the highest level of effort and commitment. And this story definitely has a happy ending, with their triumphant reunion in 2009.
The Phish organization—band, management, and past and present employees—have been helpful and supportive of this project. Beyond extending their approval and cooperation, the group members allowed those who’d worked for them to speak to me. No conditions were imposed or strings attached. My candid conversations with longtime employees and associates only reinforced my deep respect for the band and the culture of their organization.
I’m especially indebted to Jason Colton, John Paluska, Tom Marshall, Beth Montuori Rowles, Amy Skelton, Kevin Shapiro, Chris Kuroda, Paul Languedoc, and Brad Sands. Jason has been my point man with Phish since 1995, and I got used to the calls from out of the blue: “Do you have time to talk to the band about the new album (or whatever)?” (Hell, yes, I have time!) As regards this book, Jason was extraordinarily helpful in all possible ways by opening doors, making contacts, offering insights, and much more. John generously made time for a lengthy interview, troubling himself to rise in the early-morning hours so that it could happen. Tom gave an illuminating interview atop the fabled Rhombus—brilliant suggestion, that—and subsequently answered piles of e-mailed questions in his witty, incisive way. Beth and Amy tendered lengthy interviews, sharing perspectives and recollections that brought the world of Phish on the road and in the office to life.
Anyone familiar with Phish understands how important Chris and Paul are to the band—the fifth and sixth Phish(es), without question, for many years. I got to watch them work their visual and sonic magic from the board on a few occasions and also got to talk with them
along the way, including a memorable interview with both men at Paul’s rural Vermont homestead in 2008.
Kevin Shapiro was an extremely important source. He can answer virtually any question about the band and its history off the top of his head. He gave up considerable time to be interviewed, to help track down photographs, to point me to the worthiest shows, and to share his opinions, information, and insights (and not just about Phish) with me. Our first talk lasted six hours. That was the beginning of not only a series of interviews but also a genuine friendship.
Others in the Phish camp also gave generously of themselves and their time to talk to me. I had illuminating interviews with Megan Criss, Ian McLean, Tony Markellis, and Eric and Jill Larson. Ditto Jim Pollock, Dominic Placco, Todd Phillips, and Sue Drew. Also within the band’s sphere are Dave Werlin (of Great Northeast Productions) and Ellis Godard (of
The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music
), who shared their informed perspectives on Phish and their particular corner of that universe. Though I regrettably didn’t get to speak with her specifically for this book, I have had pleasant encounters with Julia Mordaunt in years past.
In addition, I struck up a lively e-mail correspondence with Jesse Jarnow, jam-band expert and fellow scribe, about Phish and related bands. A word of thanks is due to Beth Jacobson, Phish’s former publicist at Elektra Records, for all her help in the mid-1990s, and to Kaytea McIntosh for polling a pile of her Phishhead friends for thoughts on the band. Rebecca Adams and Matt Russ shared their erudition on the connections (and differences) between Phish and the Grateful Dead.
About the time I started writing about Phish, I also got to know Trey’s sister, Kristine Anastasio Manning, because we were both, coincidentally, working on graduate degrees in environmental science at adjacent institutions: she at Duke University, me at the University of North Carolina. In a sense, she was Phish’s first manager, arranging their earliests shows in New York City and starting up their newsletter.
In addition to having interesting talks about environmentalism, I learned much about Phish’s early days from her. Sadly, she passed away from cancer in April 2009.
The Phish Companion
, I should offer a word on sources. Any outside sources I’ve used are credited in the text. All un-credited quotes are drawn from interviews I’ve conducted. Because I’ve spoken extensively to the band members and those around them—I transcribed nearly a half million words of taped interviews—I didn’t need to go far afield from firsthand sources in researching this book. The notable exceptions are
The Phish Companion
, which is the Encyclopedia Britannica of all things Phish, and Richard Gehr’s
The Phish Book
, a band-authorized oral history published in 1997. In my opinion, every Phish fan must have a copy of the
close at hand. I’ve thumbed through mine so much that it’s literally taped together.
The Phish Book
is an endlessly illuminating overview of the first half of their career. Moreover, Richard generously shared with me his raw transcripts from that project, which included much unpublished material.
I mentioned that this whole enterprise began with a
feature, and I’d like to thank Karen Johnston for making the assignment and Mark Kemp for editing the article. More broadly, I’d like to express my gratitude to Jann Wenner, Jim Henke, and the late Paul Nelson for making my career in music journalism possible.
With regard to this book, I am extremely fortunate to have Sarah Lazin as my agent and Ben Schafer as my editor; it is reassuring to know that your work is being handled by the best in the business. The combination of Ben’s editing and Antoinette Smith’s copyediting resulted in a better book, and I am grateful to both of them. Beyond his editing ability, I appreciate Ben’s patience. I admittedly put him through the wringer of several blown deadlines, but I think it was ultimately worth waiting for. Collin Tracy expertly handled the book’s production in its later stages, and Trish Wilkinson oversaw the design and layout.
Alan Bisbort, my collaborator on book projects and reckless antisocial mayhem dating back to our college years at UNC, provided useful
advice and support. Old friends Mark Peel and Anne Zeman offered hospitality on one of my interview trips, while Bruce Eaton, another longtime pal (and fellow author), helped arrange a crucial interview. Ken Richardson, my editor at
Sound + Vision
, organized an expedition to Burlington, Vermont, in 2002 that yielded another opportunity to hang out with Phish and write one more article on the band. Mark Yates filled in some critical gaps in my live Phish collection.
My wife, Carol, and daughter, Hayley, abided my lengthy absences while I labored on this manuscript. Preoccupied in the extreme, I don’t think I was particularly good company for a year or so. Thanks for encouraging (and putting up with) me. I love you both. A similar shout-out is due to Helen Puterbaugh, Mark Puterbaugh, and Anne and Tobe Sherrill, and to all my helpful homies in the Bull City and the Gate City, especially Mike Smith and Robbie Schultz.
Would it be too bizarre to thank a mountain? For a half-year, I hibernated atop beautiful Beech Mountain in western North Carolina to work on this book. It’s a ski resort in winter and deserted hideaway at most other times. I am drawn to the quiet power of the place, and have now written two books there. I leased a ski condo that, purely by coincidence, was filled with pictures and knickknacks related to fish and fishing. It really helped when, casting about for inspiration while writing about Phish, I’d look around and see fish on every wall.
On a more serious note, Trey Anastasio—Phish’s guitarist and mainstay—would often make references to intentions in our conversations. For many years Phish ritually engaged in critical self-assessment of every aspect of their work. It all boiled down to gauging and ensuring their purity of intent. In my estimation, their intentions have been unimpeachable and the creative effort expended by them extraordinary. My intention with this project was simple: I wanted to write a book about Phish that was honest and insightful.
I thank Trey, Page, Mike, and Fish for letting me write
them over the years and for trusting me to write
them in the pages that follow.