The band Phish have engendered a loyal and dedicated fan base not seen since the glory days of the Grateful Dead. And like the Dead, their appeal seems to stem largely from their marathon live shows. In his new book, The Phish Book, the first and only authorized book about the band, author Richard Gehr offers phervent Phish phans an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at their phavorite band.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||9.19(w) x 10.24(h) x 0.73(d)|
About the Author
Phish is an internationally renowned musical group based in Burlington, Vermont.
Since forming in 1983, they have garnered a reputation as one of the world's most exciting and successful touring acts. They have released nine albums on Elektra Records, including three gold records and one platinum record.
Read an Excerpt
In February 1997 Phish followed their first all-arena tour with a fourteen-show run through Europe, the group's first headlining tour on the continent. The band and a pared-down crew relived their first years together by working exclusively in clubs and small theaters, playing to a funny melange of locals and itchy-sweatered Americans abroad in assorted venues, many of which converted into discos as soon as the musicians left the stage. The tour offered Phish the long-awaited opportunity to perform "You Enjoy Myself" in Florence (2/21/97), the city that inspired the song's most inscrutable lyric. Stuttgart (2/25/97) was a hard-core fan satisfier that included such scarcities as a "Camel Walk" opener, "Tube," and "Magilla." The show in Hamburg's Markthalle (3/1/97), on the other hand, was momentous for the band, marking a musical turning point that was edited down and released in October 1997 as the album Slip Stitch and Pass. . . . Seeing Phish in a Rome theater or a Florence disco during the February 1997 European tour, I thought while savoring these shows, was the perfect way to experience the band as they might have appeared a decade earlier. Only better. In Europe Phish toured exclusively in clubs and small theaters for the first time in more than five years. When we spoke afterward, the band members reflected on some of their earlier forays outside the Burlington area.
Mike: My fiance Cilla Foster was responsible for our first tour. In 1988 she was waitressing in Telluride, Colorado, for a guy named Warren Stickney. I didn't know her very well at the time, but one day she called and said Stickney wanted us to come play in his bar. We'd never played furtheraway from home than New Hampshire at the time, but Stickney promised to book a monthlong tour across the country. It took another six months to get him on the phone again, but I finally spoke with him about a week before we were supposed to hit the road. He said something like, "I don't know if I can get you any other gigs, but you can play my place and I'll pay you a thousand bucks." I couldn't get him on the phone after that, so the six of us--including Paul Languedoc and Tim Rogers, who was doing lights--decided to go for it anyway. We finished playing a Nectar's gig at 2 a.m., took a vote, and decided to head west then and there. Our friends Ninja Custodian subbed for us the next night at Nectar's, and we took off across the country with turkey ham, cheese, and apple butter. It was the middle of summer, and we were traveling in a windowless truck with only a foam mattress on the floor. We didn't even stop at a rest area for forty hours, so the truck got pretty disgusting.
When we got to the edge of Colorado, maybe eight hours away from Telluride, we met some people who'd heard of Stickney, and learned about his reputation as a guy who didn't pay either his workers or his taxes. When we got to Telluride, there were posters with pictures of him all over town that said baby huey go home. Everyone wanted him to leave, but he wasn't even around and we didn't know if we had a gig or not. So we made our own posters advertising us as new england's most naive rock & roll band. we drove 2,000 miles because warren stickney promised us a thousand bucks. Stickney seemed kind of bummed about them when we finally met him, but he admitted that, given his reputation, we had a point. He ended up actually paying us a thousand bucks--except for a $155 check that bounced--but we had to play ten nights to earn it. We stayed on the floor in a house called the Purple Palace. Cilla had lived there, but she'd moved away before we arrived in town.
Fish: We played to the same dozen people at the Roma for ten nights. The whole town was boycotting the place because of Stickney's reputation. We didn't realize the impact the boycott was having until someone said, "A lot of people want to see you, but they won't go to the Roma. We're not boycotting the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, though. Why don't you play there?" So on our day off from the Roma, we carried our equipment across the street and played at Fly Me to the Moon, which was owned by somebody else. It was a weeknight but the place was completely packed, and they ran out of alcohol during the evening. The next day we moved our gear back across the street to the Roma and played the rest of our gigs there to more or less empty houses.
Mike: Stickney managed to get us a gig in Aspen on our way home. We stayed with a friend of a former roommate of Fish's, but we made the mistake of leaving all our money in a folder in the kitchen, and someone stole it. Other than that, our first tour was a raging success.
On Tuesday, November 10th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Mike Gordon to discuss THE PHISH BOOK.
Moderator: Welcome, Mike Gordon! Thank you for taking the time to join us online tonight to discuss THE PHISH BOOK. How are you doing this evening?
Mike Gordon: I am quite well. Thanks for having me.
Brendan O'Neill from New Jersey: Mike -- I notice that you are playing more covers than in recent years. Why is that?
Mike Gordon: I think it is because we feel so confident about our own material now and we have so many songs of our own, that we feel like we can play a bunch of other people's songs without sacrificing our integrity. And it has been fun to learn the songs as we get better and quicker with songs. The biggest example is "The Dark Side of the Moon" this past Halloween.
Andrew Jacobson from Lewiston, ID: What influenced you and the rest of the band to write such an in-depth book? Or to allow one to be written about you?
Mike Gordon: The project evolved a few times. At first we thought we had many cool photos, and the main goal was to get them out. Then our manager, John, made us feel that the band is evolving in an interesting way, and we always analyze it, so why not share the analyzing? It was Richard Gehr's idea to stem it as one concert, then it evolved to a year with Phish. We knew we wanted to make a book, but we didn't know how important the text would be. We are really pleased the way it came out. We are in the process of making a film, hoping that it will turn out like the book and get to a place that we are really proud of.
Robert Crowther from Selinsgrove, PA: Mike, I'm over 40 years old and attend 20-plus shows a year. (Halloween was great!) The crowd seems all younger than me. Do you think there is any hope for a guy that can't seem to decide what I want to be when I grow up?
Mike Gordon: I am 33, and a lot of people say I haven't grown up either. It is hard to stay in touch with the child's mind, so I think it is a nice quality to be able to hold onto the child's perspective, but in terms of how our music is inspiring to people and what they do with their own creative urges is a different issue. In general that is how art works; people get inspired to do things for themselves and give things to the world. But not growing up is a good thing...
Jim Prudhomme from Detroit, MI: Mike, It seems that Phish is constantly touring. Do you have the time or any plans to do any more writing? I really enjoyed MIKE'S CORNER.
Mike Gordon: Thanks for the compliment. I have actually been spending all my time working on a film (not the Phish film), and I like to write, so hopefully at some point I will have another book out -- who knows, maybe a novel. It is hard to have a lot of different interests and find time to do them all.
Suzy Greenberg from Winsooki, VT: What is your favorite venue, and what is your favorite show of all time?
Mike Gordon: My favorite venue...hmmm, tough one...the Gorge in Washington is up there -- the acoustics are always good. These are hard questions...the band just keeps evolving every year. Sometimes I talk about my peak experience in 1995, but we were only playing to two people. I talk about it in the book. I always write things in my journal, then I have to go back and remind myself which shows I really liked.
Zzyzx from Seattle, WA: First, thanks for covering one of my favorite songs ("Oh! Sweet Nuthin' "); the "Loaded" set was amazing. I noticed the math joke in the PhishBill biography of you and was wondering if you wrote it or not. Thanks.
Mike Gordon: I did write it. I wrote the four band member profiles and a couple of the others, then Brad Sands wrote all the rest of them.
Brendan O'Neill from New Jersey: Mike -- I was fortunate enough to catch the "Sessions at 54th Street" recordings. Can you tell us how that went for you, and when it might be on PBS for us to enjoy ?
Mike Gordon: I am not sure when it will be on, but it was really nice, because it is such an intimate little environment to be playing in. There were people closer to Phish than I was to Phish.
Sean from Overland Park, KS: What are some of the inspirations for Phish's lyrics (like "Reba")?
Mike Gordon: That is a much older song. Trey was experimenting with ways to write songs, and in the case of "Reba" it was based on how each word sounded phonetically and having them be about the subject of meat. Kind of another lyrical writing experiment.
Steve from Boston, MA: How do you feel about improvisational rock or "jam" rock moving into the mainstream?
Mike Gordon: I think that is a good thing, because it just means that the times are swaying toward a direction of more spontaneity and experimentation, which is what improvisational music is supposed to be about. The '80s are long since over. I don't know how mainstream it is becoming. I guess maybe the only danger would be if there started being a jam band flavor of the week where it was capitalized on by the radio and trivialized, but it is not something I spend any time worrying about.
Doglog from New Jersey: Can you talk a little about the "Harpua" -> "Dark Side of the Moon" -> "Harpua" in Utah? Why did you choose to do that after the big Vegas weekend? I'm sorry this question has no PHISH BOOK content!
Mike Gordon: Utah was a gig where there weren't as many tickets sold and a lot of people had decided to skip it, whereas Halloween was the hottest ticket we had. So the original idea was to sort of tease the people who would have wanted to hear the song but blew off Utah. Sometimes inobscure things happen in obscure places. We didn't think of the idea until dinner time, at which time we started to learn it. We began to think it would be really cool to cover a whole album during Halloween then play the album the next night. We try to do things that stretch the limits of a band. It wasnt as well rehearsed as "Loaded," but it was fun; they both were.
Jim Daisy from Odenton, MD: My younger brother bought a Eumir Deadato CD with a very strange arrangement of "2001" on it. I compliment you and "los guys" for using it. Will there be banjo or pedal steel (please) at any upcoming shows?
Mike Gordon: Well, that would be unplanned if this were to happen. I did play the banjo at Neil Young's Bridge School benefit, but it hasn't been the focus as of late. It would be nice. We have been focusing a lot more on just sort of doing what we do best with less extra stuff going on, and since I don't practice the banjo very much, it ends up being somewhat novel rather than serious.
Sean T. Cercone from Frostburg State University: I have followed the rise of Phish since July 1992 (I saw you open for Santana at Big Birch, NY). You have incorporated many types of musical genre into your own style. What other musical genres do you (and/or speaking for the band) want to fuse into your eclectic blend? Where do you see the music going, or does it have its own entity and lead you?
Mike Gordon: We don't talk as much as we used to about infusing styles, although we do listen to a lot of styles. These days the influences are more blended together into an original sound, but we have ideas from time to time about funny mixtures, like doing a house music kind of album, for example. Who's to say what we will actually do?
Josh Zaretsky from Topeka, KS: Boxers or briefs?
Mike Gordon: Briefs.
Tom Korpas from New Jersey: Where did you learn to dance like you do in "Punch You in the Eye?"
Mike Gordon: Our friend Myndy taught us a couple of dance steps. We could use some more lessons, though.
Bob from Toronto, Ontario: Hey, Mike.... I was wondering what the chances of you guys heading north of the border are again anytime soon.... I realize that our dollar is not that strong, but you havent played Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto in years.... Hopefully soon, eh.... Sharin in the groove!!!
Mike Gordon: A lot of people have been asking about Toronto. There are a lot of places we dont play anymore; we haven't played in Vermont in years, so who knows?
Sean Nowlin from Athens, OH: Given your past experience with film, did you or are you having any input on the Phish movie?
Mike Gordon: Well, I can say we just watched a rough cut today and gave input today as a group. It is hard to know what direction the movie will go now. I don't have any personal interest in getting more involved creatively, because it is not my movie and I am working on my own movie, which takes all of my home time, but we are giving some input and are very interested in seeing what direction it might evolve.
Colin from Toronto: Hi, Mike. Did you do a lot of writing when you were younger? I love MIKE'S CORNER.
Mike Gordon: Actually, a lot of stories in that book are from when I was younger. It is a compilation of 15 years of writing. I could probably pull together another one if there is enough interest.
Loren M. from firstname.lastname@example.org: What specific song performance(please specify performance date) do you feel was the best "jam" ever (i.e., most adrenaline-pumping jam)? Thanks for your time :) Loren
Mike Gordon: I can speak for this tour -- I like the "Split Open and Melt" jam in Madison, WI.
Sarah Jeanne Van Cleve from Wausau, WI: So Mike, what is your honest opinion on the glowstick wars created by the audience? Have they become a problem? Are they a welcome audience participatory sport? There seems to be a great debate on this.... What comes straight from the horse's mouth?
Mike Gordon: We think it is a really cool thing, but at the same time it could be a problem. The first time it happened, people starting throwing up the glowsticks, and Chris(our lighting guy) turned out all the lights. It was spontaneous, and it is still cool. Then, this year at the Lemon Wheel, I got hit in the eye by one, right in the ball of my eye, and I saw spots for about an hour. I could wear goggles, it is not too much of a problem. The other night, Trey caught one during a guitar solo, but then again if he is going to catch them, then they will throw them, which could end up being painful in the end.
Andrew Latschar from Lancaster, PA: I have seen you at shows out mingling with the crowd and fans in the lot. Do you have any strange stories of anything that has ever happened to you in the lot? P.S. See you at Hampton!
Mike Gordon: A lot of people may know this, but also at the Lemon Wheel concert I was with my friend Pistol, and I decided to ask some of the skateboarders to hold onto the back of our golf cart, and at one point we had 46 skateboarders holding on to the cart. We had someone on the hood telling folks to watch out as some of those trailing fell. Then Pistol wanted to drive, so we switched drivers while moving, and we were swerving, so while Pistol was driving I walked off the cart and onto some people's skateboards, and I realized how hard it was for some people to hold on. There is one thing...
Caryn from New York City: Mike -- Now that I've seen the book, my perception of the band as people has changed. Did you know that this would happen to your readers? Was that the goal? The book is a success because it is so personal. Thanks for letting us in. By the way, After seeing your pictures, I can't help but incorporate them into this sexual fantasy where I'm in your high school -- I'm hoping you were shy...
Mike Gordon: Responding to the first part -- the book was a project that had to evolve, and there was one point where we got a packet of interviews of the band. When we first read the packets it was very enlightening. Even though we spent 15 years together and know each other very well, there were some new things we talked about with the interviewer, and we learned a lot about ourselves and made some progress in the group dynamic by talking about it. I think that is why people really like the book; you get this sense of this ongoing discourse among analytical musicians. A lot of times when we talk about some issue, it is sort of like we are jamming with words, and a lot of our jamming onstage is improvisational, and the book is a dynamic of that music in a nonmusical form.
Jim Seikel from Hudson, OH: Mike -- You seem to enjoy the bluegrass/folk songs that are done in concert (e.g., "Uncle Pen"), which bluegrass artists are you most influenced by?
Mike Gordon: The most obvious answer is Bill Monroe, not because he influenced me specifically but because he influenced the genre. Then there are other people who have been around for a while -- Ralph Stanley. And Dell McVory, whom we recently met, is a big influence on all the band, also Tony Rice. One of my favorites is Tim O'Brien and Hot Rize -- he just has a great voice. It was 10 to 15 years ago they toured around, and Allison Krauss. There are others that I can mention, but those are some that come to mind.
Jon from Greenvegas: How do you guys come up with the "Yem" vocal jam?
Mike Gordon: It is entirely spontaneous. We get there (to that part of the song), and we don't know what is going to happen, whether it will be long-held notes or words. I actually have to give credit to a singing teacher we had -- Jody -- she came to one of our concerts and said we do all this improvising and concentrate on our playing, why not infuse the singing with some of that energy? And it was her idea to do vocal improv, and we started doing that at our singing lessons. This is another example of the evolving -- however, we don't try to overanalyze things. There was a time that we were saying even during vocal jam it is important to start from a simple soft musical motif in order for it to go somewhere meaningful, and that is something we talked about.
Brian from Greensboro, NC: I really like the new direction that the band is taking in regard to more simple songwriting. At the same time, I love some of the older compositions and fugues such as "Fluffhead" and "Guyute." These songs are one of the things that really distinguish you from boring mainstream pop music. So my question is, Has Phish totally abandoned the idea of writing new complex compositions/fugues, or can we expect to see these in the future?
Mike Gordon: We go back and forth on that issue. There was an interviewer yesterday who said to Trey, "You are the one band that can go out and make a triple album and not have it be too pretentious, yet you concentrate on making three-minute songs." We thought he had a good point and we should go out and make a triple album; at the same time one thing that appeals to us are concise, well-crafted songs -- when we listen to music, that is what we are listening to, in addition to Miles Davis jams. We don't write songs like we used to when we were 18, we are just different people now so, we would have a different approach. Each album we make tends to be a reaction to the previous album, although we are very excited about our new album. There have been conversations about making albums with really long songs with a lot of different sections, plus albums that are more song oriented like the last two, but who knows.
Pete from Williamsburg, VA: in the book, you guys talk about songs that you wanted to quit playing -- Suzy Greenberg and Wilson come to mind -- but I see you are still playing them.... My question is, Why did you want to quit playing them, and why did you choose to keep playing them?
Mike Gordon: We wanted to quit playing them for a while either because we had been playing them so much that we needed to give them a rest, or we felt they were written a long time ago, and we don't feel genuine singing them any more. Sometimes giving a song a rest for a while is necessary in bringing it back again.
Mike G from Connecticut: In "Yem" the lyric is -- I think -- "Washa Uffize, Drive me to Firenze." I just want to know -- why??!??!
Mike Gordon: Because Art=Z.
Scott from Lagrange, GA: Was the Gamehendge story thought up by Trey or all of Phish? What inspired Phish to come up with these unique Gamehendge characters?
Mike Gordon: It was Trey's senior project in college to come up with a story.
Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us online tonight, and best of luck with both the new album and the new book. Do you have any closing comments for the online audience?
Mike Gordon: I will close by giving you a quote: "Expect the unexpected."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
an excellent book about phish (in my opinion the best band in the world). an excellent story about the how the band began to what they are today. if you havent heard their music, you should definitely hear it today.