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Book Reviews

Phish: The Biography

By Published: April 10, 2010

Little wonder then that Puterbaugh also circles ever so timidly around the group's self-indulgences in its later years without coming right out and calling it what it really is: the same surrender to demons (self-created or not) that has crippled so many other artists. Certainly, the less said about such phenomena the better, in part because it can't help but be rooted in gossip and innuendo, but also because it's redundant to anyone who's followed the exploits of bands such as the Grateful Dead, Aerosmith or The Who. Even more important, it's not enlightening in the context of this book because it's not placed in the proper perspective of the band's history, including its hiatus early in the 2000s, its pseudo retirement in 2004, and the process by which it reunited between then and Hampton 2009.

Puterbaugh's interview with Anastasio skims the surface of that latter interval because the author doesn't probe even in the most healthy way, seemingly reluctant to alienate one of his heroes. The conversation with road manager Brad Sands, in contrast, is extremely illuminating, because Sands is so matter of fact and non-judgmental about his subject, but also because he is simply a good interview. He is ready and willing to talk.

Rather than appear in hardcover form, Phish: The Biography might better have remained a special edition of Rolling Stone, accompanied by plenty of photos and other features, like the appended interviews. It's far too superficial to be a serious treatment of the band's history, such as the more organic The Phish Companion (Villard, 1999) or The Phish Book (Mockingbird Foundation, 2000), despite the length of time covered and the relative insider details. Parke Puterbaugh doesn't motivate himself to dispense the sort of genuinely discerning insight that would enlighten his readers (or himself), and there's no sense of discovery in his writing here (in stark contrast to the best Phish jams).

Ultimately far too cautious, the writer's standoffish approach defeats his chances of depicting Phish in the rarefied light the band deserves. Granted it's difficult to write a credible biography of a subject still living, but Phish: The Biography doesn't radiate the vibrant nature the group retains after over 20 years in existence.

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