Not being a fan of the famous Vermont band, I originally thought when I heard about this book: Why a biography about Phish? The band members never struck me as the types of band who led a glamorous rock and roll lifestyle, which is usually the reason why such books exist. To me, Phish is a band that was known for its trippy music, live performances and huge following. They were never flamboyant—maybe except to their rabid fans—and were more loose and cerebral musically than their peers.
Obviously author Parke Puterbaugh and Phish’s loyal fans knew something that I obviously didn’t through this book: Phish’s life story is quite fascinating. Written in a way that engages non-fans as well as the die-hards, Puterbaugh, a former Rolling Stone editor, traces the history of the group beginning with their roots as college friends back in Vermont in the mid ‘80s. From day one, you can tell this band was destined to be successful because of their talent and strict dedication to the music, led by the drive of guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio.
Over time, the group built a dedicated following while filling a musical void for jam band fans as the Grateful Dead was winding down. At the same time, unlike some other bands, Phish really struck a chord with its fans through gestures whether it was a sense of humor or allowing them to tape their shows. It reached the pinnacles of greatness from memorable shows to being a huge organization with in-house staff.
Still, Puterbaugh doesn’t let his admiration for Phish cloud make him gloss over some of the problems that led Phish to take a hiatus in 2000 and then to its breakup in 2004: changing musical direction, drugs and the overwhelming growth of Phish’s business ventures. Of course friendship won out in the end as Phish reunited for shows in 2009 and is still playing.
Aside from his conversations with the band members, Puterbaugh also interviewed close associates of Phish including managers, crew and the early fans who saw something in the group before everyone else. He also discusses in good detail Phish’s discography, shows and tours in addition to what makes this band really tick. For all those things, Phish: The Biography is an excellent and lively read and a good lesson for young artists in learning how to remain dedicated to their craft and work extremely hard.