Friday 06/03/2022 by phishnet

HOOK, LINE, AND STINKER: STARING IN TRAIN-WRECK HORROR AT THE CULT OF PHISH

[This article was published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 1999, so is Copyright © 1994-99 San Francisco Bay Guardian. It is being re-printed here, and now, because it is hilarious and its author Summer Burkes is a great writer. Special thanks to Philip Zerbo (co-editor of the Third Edition of The Phish Companion) for posting the text of this article to Rec.Music.Phish in October 1999. Also want to thank Josh Martin, whose recap of Charleston1 reminded me of this article and how I'd wanted to try to locate it and post it to the blog. -charlie]

Hook, line, and stinker:
Staring in train-wreck horror at the cult of Phish

By Summer Burkes

THEY ARE PHISH, I am chum

I must admit, I'd been unfair. I'd hated Phish with a passion since the
moment they entered my consciousness, even though I couldn't ever recall
actually hearing one of their songs.

Not only is liking any sort of hippie music, to a music journalist like me,
about as high on the faux pas list as owning Ace of Base records, the whole
touchy-feely, herd-mentality surrounding the cult of Phish proves both a
turnoff and a scary prospect for the future of humanity. Why, I ask, did this
post-Grateful Dead tradition, equal parts frat and nomad, have to continue?
Why follow them around? Why not Polkacide or Crash Worship? Why, in fact,
follow any band around the country at all, as my cousin – my blood relation –
is doing right now?

Being the half-assed student of cultural anthropology that I must be when
dragged to events under duress, I accompanied my cousin to the Phish show at
the Shoreline when she (and they) breezed through town last weekend. And did
I renounce my former Phish-loathing and amend my snooty rock-critic ways?

No.

I solidified. I solidified, I remained sober, and I suffered for my art. Here
is my mildly tragic tale.

Music rumbles awake from inside the tent as my cousin and I approach the
Shoreline. Spinners in patchwork pants make beelines for the turnstiles. We
enter and hurriedly navigate our way down to the tenth-or-so row. Clouds of
patchouli and cultivated body odor hit me like a punch in the face. The rows
and the aisles are packed with bodies, and they're all dancing the same
artless dance. Nobody is doing the Satan hands. Everyone is doing drugs.

Phish are on stage and standing virtually still as they play, they're
obviously a jam band: The crowd is older, almost all white, and the noodly
guitarist appears to be experiencing a perpetual orgasm.

The expensive stage lights flicker and whirl. I sit down (the only one in the
audience doing so) and take out my notepad. A malodorous woman with good
cheekbones tells me the names of the first three songs we missed – after my
quizzical stare she figures out I'm not keeping a written set-list record, as
many Phish-heads do.

"Is this your first time at a Phish show?," she asks me beatifically. I nod.

"Welcome," she says, friendly in a Stepford Wife kind of way. A woman who
looks like the mom from That '70s Show fires up a huge bowl next to me. I
survey the bobbing heads and reaffirm my hatred for nasty, white-people
dreadlocks. The music drones on and on ... it stinks ... the walls ...
they're closing in ...

Up on the amphitheater lawn, quickly, I still can't get away from the stench.
There's more room to dance, and people take it. The music is repetitive and
the songs are long. In fact, the music is what the audience is: naïve,
gentle, white, cynicism-free, and overly concerned with vaguely ethnic
accoutrements and patterns that clash. It could make the crossover to Sears
intercom soundtrack swiftly and easily. I do the
math:

Reggae + mushrooms + the Dead + muzak + Yes + bluegrass = Phish.

For some reason, the music does seem to turn people's clocks back to kid-time
in the physical movement category. One short-hair even stares at the sky and
spins 'round and 'round until he falls down. As my cousin twirls, I stretch
out and try to shake the vague, smart-assed scenester notion that my entire
musical being is somehow superior to that of every Phish fan.

The band lights into a polyrhythmic, vaguely African number, and the
jerkiness of the graceless crowd increases exponentially. I smirk. I make
efforts to stop smirking. I try to play nice. I fail. I begin to doodle in my
pad. I make a top ten list of interpretive dances I see:

10. Oh No, I've Lost My Skeleton
9. Get It Off Me
8. My Blood Is Turning Into Cement
7. Elbow Tug-Of-War
6. The Woodpecker
5. Sexual Air Guitar
4. Rolling Paper Keep-Away
3. Four Turntables
2. Drying The Hands
1. Someone Put A Sandbag On The Back Of My Neck

Thankfully, after a mere three-and-a-half hours of genuinely invariable
noodling and covers of "Misty Mountain Hop" and the theme from 2001, it's
over. Though I'm aching to split and have a recuperative drink, cousin Phish
and her homies feel the need to cruise the parking lot scene.

Amid the dusty trails of thousands of cars exiting the lot, Trustafarians and
runaways mill around purposefully and a bit creepily. They're not getting
high together or spinning in wanky drum circles, they're moving product.
Falafel, glass pipes, organic juice, beer, and drugs drugs drugs. They don't
socialize except to sell things, and to tersely see what they can bum off
other people. Someone begs a swig from my Coke. Trapped, I just give him it.

The "kids" (as the hard-core nomadic Phish-heads are called) are supposedly
latter-day Deadheads, and I'm sure "original" hippies must engage in the same
what's-the-world-coming-to blather that the Baby Boom status quo does.

See, the Bay Area frat-children and lifetime hippies in the audience – who
are the majority, and way friendlier – have had their harmless,
rhythmically-challenged good time and then gone home. This small core group
of people, though – the ones who couch themselves in hippie rhetoric – strike
me as shifty, parasitic, and completely self-absorbed. I remember something a
traveling Deadhead told me once about his ilk: Most of them pack guns.

We finally (thank God) head for the city, and I insist on stopping in at
Stinky's Peepshow, "home of the large and lovely go-go girls" and some
kick-ass punk rock. I've never been happier to be there, but my Phish-head
cousin and her sweaty friends sit in the corner, bewildered and grimacing.

Neener, neener. Turnabout is fair play.

Copyright © 1994-99 San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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Comments

, comment by Flubhead
Flubhead Wow, what as asshole
, comment by hdorne
hdorne Fellow .netters, anytime you doubt your abilities or competence at something, just remember: someone got paid to write this.
, comment by Doktahgonzo
Doktahgonzo Most of the time when people would write these articles, they would attempt to try to “get it.” I appreciate that she made absolutely no pretenses about doing so, though I’m not sure it does much for highlighting her perspective or “better” musical taste/understanding. She does totally mail how embarrassing a lot of folks were back then though, ya dirty hippies.
, comment by Unit_Monster
Unit_Monster She is kind of spot on about the lot "kids" in 1999...

"This small core group
of people, though – the ones who couch themselves in hippie rhetoric – strike
me as shifty, parasitic, and completely self-absorbed."
, comment by That_Naked_Dude
That_Naked_Dude I can't stop laughing at her list of dances, particularly the "Oh No, I've Lost My Skeleton", and the "Get It Off Me", a dance I witnessed first-hand at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta during a particularly feverish, dissonant, chaotic, and fucking brilliant Maze. The guy was having a really bad trip. We locked eyes after the song; he was all bug-eyed and sweaty. I, in the throes of a trip wholly different than his, told him everything was going to be okay; and then came Guyute. I didn't see him again after that.

To Summer's credit, she's very self-aware, and that's a trait with which most of the population are unfamiliar. She knows she's a music snob, and she is aware that she is doing her damnedest not to enjoy herself.
, comment by RobPJohnson3
RobPJohnson3 I am going to politely disagree with the idea that any Phish fan has anything to gain by reading this article.

She leads by saying "I have been unfair" to Phish, then continues to be unfair to them for the remainder of the article. She also isn't nearly as funny as she thinks she is.

I am guessing she went on to be one of the founders of Pitchfork, where her high ratio of snark to actual music analysis served her well.
, comment by Skeesip
Skeesip @RobPJohnson3 said:
I am going to politely disagree with the idea that any Phish fan has anything to gain by reading this article.

She leads by saying "I have been unfair" to Phish, then continues to be unfair to them for the remainder of the article. She also isn't nearly as funny as she thinks she is.

I am guessing she went on to be one of the founders of Pitchfork, where her high ratio of snark to actual music analysis served her well.
dude that started pitchfork likes phish
, comment by Jaimoe
Jaimoe Thanks for sharing. Spot on in many regards.. this was a very entertaining read. Some things never change…this past weekend my wife came up with a a few new dance move names.
, comment by Spudster
Spudster Face it, those dance move titles were both hilarious and spot-on.
, comment by shaunfunk
shaunfunk To be a professional music critic means you must have some serious ego, which is kind of the opposite of why you would listen to phish. Not sure if that makes sense, but it does to me.
, comment by RebaSox
RebaSox Made even better read in Haylie Duff's voice. Vote for Summer!

Image
, comment by BowieTimberBowie
BowieTimberBowie @Spudster said:
Face it, those dance move titles were both hilarious and spot-on.
I am worried about anyone that didn't spit their drink out at at least 2 or 3 of those.
, comment by Buddhaboy19
Buddhaboy19 really funny article. What is the state of Punk rock right now, lol. Talk about dead.

I really think there is a place for punk rock revival, with all of the culture morphing into one blob, a true punk rock rebellion could be there for the taking.

Can''t wait for the shows , have fun phans in Deer Creek.
, comment by TreysGuitar
TreysGuitar What is the point of this?
, comment by Skeesip
, comment by JMart
JMart With all due respect to Charlie, I didn't enjoy this article. I didn't realize that even way back in 1999 music "critics" were passing off cynicism as humor. What they don't seem to get:
1. phish fans listen to tons of other stuff besides phish
2. phish fans don't care what you think about them. there's never been any cred to gain from liking phish. I'm glad the days of Phish being in the mainstream media are gone.
, comment by Buddhaboy19
, comment by lysergic
lysergic I enjoyed reading this. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. This is not serious criticism; it's self-indulgent mockery of something the author makes no attempt to understand. It's punchy, but none of the barbs stick. I find it funny on multiple levels.
, comment by ThickerNHarder
ThickerNHarder Funny read. I enjoyed her comments on the lot scene and dancing, and that’s the only compliment I’ll pay to this article. I wonder if her opinions have changed 20 some odd years later. Being a millennial I was too young for 1.0 and am floored by her lack of appreciation. She’s also not that much of a music expert if she doesn’t know that the “theme from 2001” is a classical composition written by a member of the Strauss family. There was a time when I hated jam bands and loved punk rock too, but then I realized I was just being a dogmatic, narrow minded, sanctimonious shithead, just like the author of this gem. I was 19 at the time. What’s her excuse? My guess is that 20 years later, she’s still upside down.
, comment by Skeesip
, comment by Icculus
Icculus @JMart said:
With all due respect to Charlie, I didn't enjoy this article.
Thank you but I have never been due respect.

I re-published this article for reasons already clear from your comment and the comments of others: the article is hilarious, at times hilariously ignorant to be sure, but still hilarious, and it’s well-written and sort-of-thought-provoking, so one manages to get to her top ten interpretive dances list, every single one of which I’d seen at multiple Phish shows not only in the 1990’s, but in the aughts and 3.0.

Her top ten list of interpretive dances is timeless. Credit is due.
, comment by mikeytnyc
mikeytnyc @Unit_Monster said:
She is kind of spot on about the lot "kids" in 1999...

"This small core group
of people, though – the ones who couch themselves in hippie rhetoric – strike
me as shifty, parasitic, and completely self-absorbed."
That take and the names of dance moves are worthy of a drink on me. ????
, comment by chipre
chipre @RebaSox said:
Made even better read in Haylie Duff's voice. Vote for Summer!

Image
A “Napoleon Dynamite” reference for the win! Well done.
, comment by CoolItDownBro
CoolItDownBro It's actually a hilarious article. Was living in SF at the time and was at those shows... vaguely remember reading that article then. Who gives a flying F if some pre woke dip shit doesn't get Phish. Good! It's really too bad one of their biggest problems with the scene is it's predominantly "white". Ever been to 90% of the rest of the live rock concerts out there? Especially during that time. Obvious where their insecurities lie. Rock on fam.
, comment by Hendrix_Phishinfloyd
Hendrix_Phishinfloyd Reporter seems awfully concerned about race amd labels. Whatever feeling they felt, I assure you it was mutual.
, comment by theincrediblepurp
theincrediblepurp not a hilarious article. and quite unoriginal. It's a person who hates and doesn't understand Phish letting us know how much they hate them. I don't come here to read this kinda pointless crap. i come here to celebrate and nerd out about my favorite band in the land. They keep destroying america year in and year out one show at a time!!!
, comment by landladyschosen1
landladyschosen1 God damn, Summer, calm down
, comment by Pibbs
Pibbs Imagine being a white woman gentrifying San Francisco in the 90’s and finding refuge in the punk scene and actually being this pretentious and emphasizing race at a Phish show. Sorry but this is pure self indulgent garbage. It reads as a person so confident that their brand of music is so superior that the notion that any music to the antithesis must be beneath their taste. Sorry but punk rock is about as interesting as white brand. The scene is filled with pseudo intellectual asshats that think style can make up for lack of talent.
, comment by SWANSON
SWANSON @Flubhead said:
Wow, what as asshole

.....but she does handstands in grand fashion.....
, comment by ColonelFichter
ColonelFichter This is GREAT!
Thank you for sharing.
A blast from the past too- if only everyone was fortunate enough to appreciate this.. so so many rotten/snobby comments about an article written MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO..
This is just a real & honest take on her experience.. There are hundred of millions of people in America- The fact that there is someone out there who despises Phish should not hurt your feelings lmaoo.
Times have greatly changed, the Phish listener/scene has evolved & changed, & even the band constantly grows/changes- I think it’s super important that we all try & lighten up when it comes to the words & opinions of other people, especially when it is stuff we disagree with.
& I believe that what’s truly important is that very last sentence! Get it? Slowwww down & read it! I thought this was fun to read & written very well, it also had me laughing to myself at times. Maybe I can enjoy it because I don’t have suppressed 1.0/2.0 Phish memories waging war on my better judgement!? Too many haters ????
, comment by ColonelFichter
ColonelFichter @theincrediblepurp said:
not a hilarious article. and quite unoriginal. It's a person who hates and doesn't understand Phish letting us know how much they hate them. I don't come here to read this kinda pointless crap. i come here to celebrate and nerd out about my favorite band in the land. They keep destroying america year in and year out one show at a time!!!
So celebrate & nerd out & go see as many shows as you can make it too!! Be thankful that you are able to understand the band & be sure to remember that every fan experiences Phish differently. You aren’t alone in the crowd, but there is only one of you in the crowd.. ya know?! At least she went to a show... that’s better than most of the people who talk shit on Phish!!
, comment by SawItAgaaain
SawItAgaaain "...the audience is...overly concerned with vaguely ethnic accoutrements and patterns that clash."

I think the best thing to happen to the scene is how 90% of folks grew out of the copping anything vaguely Indian and using it as their personality. The current callout of left-of-center folks for cultural appropriation and straight up vulturism is so long overdue; mad props to Ms. Burkes for making the call in 1999.

She's wrong about the music, but *shrug*. Part of the reason it took me a minute to get into Phish in 1999 was getting over the "shifty, parasitic, and completely self-absorbed" hippies and their "nasty white-people dreadlocks." This is wonderfully time-stamped and cathartic read. Thanks for the share.
, comment by stretch522
stretch522 Eh, kind of a waste of time to read. Would've been fine if it was at least funny. But it came off douchey and ignorant. Though I do agree somewhat about the late 90s lot scene. It got really sketchy and people were (are) not nearly as enlightened as they like to pretend.
, comment by grevart
grevart What a tool . Racist too
, comment by Daddo
Daddo @hdorne said:
Fellow .netters, anytime you doubt your abilities or competence at something, just remember: someone got paid to write this.
What are you kidding?
It’s fucking awesome.
, comment by the_vultures
the_vultures I utterly fail to understand why someone would find this overly on the nose race-baiting nonsense “cathartic” but okay, whatever you need to feel better I suppose.
, comment by PhishinMose
PhishinMose She begins with how she was unfair to Phish and the followers, and goes on to comment about the drugs- almost like she's already started to build her little "I'm like, sooo too cool to be here" pedestal. I feel bad for people like that. Those who would rather look down their shiny clean noses and judge others, because they don't understand (don't even TRY to understand). Maybe if she'd've taken a step back from her haughty pretentiousness and utter disdain for everyone and everything surrounding her, close her eyes, listen to the music and simply exist in that space of time without thinking of how clever her article would turn out, she may have discovered that nothing's changed, and she still possesses her abhorrent beliefs about it, but at least she would have TRIED.
- The dance moves were freaking hilarious though!! ???? That poor cousin! Imagine how she felt ????
, comment by Greasykeys
Greasykeys Get it off me. Drying the hands. ‘Nuff said.
, comment by Happyone
Happyone @Pibbs said:
Imagine being a white woman gentrifying San Francisco in the 90’s and finding refuge in the punk scene and actually being this pretentious and emphasizing race at a Phish show. Sorry but this is pure self indulgent garbage. It reads as a person so confident that their brand of music is so superior that the notion that any music to the antithesis must be beneath their taste. Sorry but punk rock is about as interesting as white brand. The scene is filled with pseudo intellectual asshats that think style can make up for lack of talent.
Our crowd is still mostly white and so what. People of all races can choose to like or dislike whatever music. I saw Kool and the Gang last night and the crowd was 80% black, but I still had a great time as a white fan. I will never let anyone try to divide us...as much as they try.
, comment by That_Naked_Dude
That_Naked_Dude @Happyone said:
People of all races can choose to like or dislike whatever music. I saw Kool and the Gang last night and the crowd was 80% black, but I still had a great time as a white fan. I will never let anyone try to divide us...as much as they try.
If they can't divide us by race, they'll try to divide us by religion
If they can't divide us by religion, they'll try to divide us by politics
If they can't divide us by politics, they'll try to divide us by class
If they can't divide us by class, they'll try to divide us by sexual preference
If they can't divide us by sexual preference, they'll try to divide us by gender
If they can't divide us by gender, they'll try to divide us by vaccine status
If they can't divide us by vaccine status, they'll divide us with hacksaws in the basements of gulags maintained by the Ministry of Truth.
, comment by pittphanAJD
pittphanAJD There is nothing more obnoxious than a pretentious, try-hard music writer who thinks they are funny. This person clearly defines themselves as better than others based on their taste. There is genuinely no lower life form. What's more the "music critic" thinks all the songs sound the same and drone on because they genuinely don't understand music beyond over produced commercially engineered music designed to "hook" you in for a brief melodic high.
, comment by pittphanAJD
pittphanAJD @lysergic said:
I enjoyed reading this. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. This is not serious criticism; it's self-indulgent mockery of something the author makes no attempt to understand. It's punchy, but none of the barbs stick. I find it funny on multiple levels.

That's the point. Trashing something you make no effort to understand is low brow, even for a music writer. It's one thing if you are a comic, then by all means. But as a music reviewer, this is the definition of hack journalism.
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