If there’s one thing Phish fans love about going to a show as much as being totally entrenched in the pocket of a jam, it’s interacting with their neighbors in the lots and taking part in the traditional roaming of Shakedown Street. While the music plays an overwhelmingly leading role in all of our fandom, more broadly, it’s about the community spirit that the four guys from Vermont have spawned and the atmosphere that comes along with going to a Phish show. Admist the wafts of herbal aromas that rush through Shakedown, the vendors selling their assortments of craft beer, and the delicious array of veggie burritos, hamburgers and grilled cheese, you’ll find one of the kindest, most devout and welcoming crowds in all of music. One solitary collective sharing in the groove.
One phan, Jürgen Fauth, has gone so far as to take his love for Phish and couple it with his professional background in creative writing. The results are an exciting new mystery novel, The Ashakiran Tape (HEAD CASES Vol. 1), set at Phish’s 2009 Jones Beach shows in Wantagh, NY. Says Fauth, “I first got into Phish in 1996 [Jazz Fest], so it’s definitely a world I know well. I always wanted to write more about the band and the scene, but I could never quite figure out how. So somehow I hit on this idea of making it a murder mystery – there are yoga mysteries and horse racing mysteries, so why not a Phish mystery?”
“It seemed ridiculous at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. There’s so much going on at every show, the way this traveling circus pops up wherever the band goes, all that handed-down lore and insider knowledge – it’s a great backdrop for all kinds of shenanigans. It just seemed like it would be lots of fun, and it turned from a joke into a real thing before I knew it.”
The story follows Quentin Pfeiffer, a long-time Phish head bordering jaded vet status and “Shakedown Sherlock” who has just become a family man with the birth of his first daughter. “Q,” as he is commonly referred to throughout the book, is set to take his niece Sara and her boyfriend Jon to their first Phish shows. However, not goes all as planned when they meet Ashakiran, “Goddess of Peace.” Fauth writes:
He’d met girls like her before, girls who swam the parking lot scene like remoras, always quick to make friends, always so stoked, a little headier than thou. There was something calculating about her, some sense that she wasn’t only appreciating this alternate world, this more gentle society, this community if that’s what you had to call it, but that she was working it somehow, seeking and usually finding her advantage. It sure didn’t hurt that she was quite beautiful in that weathered hippie way.
Through Ashakiran, Q, Jon, and Sara are implicated into a scenario in which they could never have dreamt of. Not only does Jon end up missing the second set of his first show thanks to Ashakiran, but his phone is stolen, along with the emails to Q, Jon, and Sara’s remaining tickets for the Jones Beach run. Quite the scenario to find oneself in, but the plot thickens deeper with the death of a boat owner and the emergence of a missing cassette tape.
The contents of this tape contain a mythical jam session only whispered about in circles. It’s up to Q, who has a knack for connecting the dots, to seek out whomever has the tape, return it to a couple sketchy characters, and to replace the stolen tickets, all the while having to juggle the responsibilities of a father and husband with a sick baby at home and a skeptical wife, Em, who knows Q’s tendencies to want to crack the case. Through all the drama, Q is reminded why he keeps coming back to see Phish shows.
“In a way, writing this book was an attempt to answer this question – what exactly is it that keeps us coming back to see the same band over and over again, and how do you keep the kind of excitement alive over so many years?” Fauth says.
For one, it’s certainly the people. Everyone always looks forward to getting together with their tour buddies and going to see their favorite band play. It’s what makes all the memories more savory. Fauth even admits that the roots of some of his characters are “straight up rip-offs of some of my best friends. Others are sort of Frankenstein creatures assembled from various parts of people I’ve known,” and they’re kinds of characters that any Phish fans can identify with upon reading.
In addition, it’s the elements of unpredictability, spontaneity and the evolution of Phish as a band over the hull of thirty-plus years that has keeps fans coming back and that Fauth so cleverly crafts into The Ashakiran Tape. “Phish is an evolving thing, and we keep evolving as fans, too,” Fauth explains. “On the one hand, we have this long shared history and deep personal relationships with songs and so forth, but at the same time…you want to try and enjoy each show fresh. When you get stuck wanting Phish to do a certain thing, you’re probably going to be disappointed.”
“I think of Phish as kind of a cosmic mystery. They have so many styles and registers that you never know exactly what kind of band you’re going to get on any given night, and one reason I keep coming back is that I enjoy this not-knowing. So here’s the corny answer after all: I get the most out of a show when I let go of all my expectations and just listen and dance as hard as I can. It puts you in touch with the present, and that’s a gift.”
Enjoy a small excerpt from The Ashakiran Tape below:
Em gave all three of them a dirty look from the living room couch when they stumbled in.
“What the fuck?” she mouthed to him, more conspiratorial than angry.
“Long story,” Q said. “Show was pretty good, but — “ he waved his hand at Jon and Sara, who were admiring a poster showing details of the mosaics at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The intricate patterns used to fascinate him back in the day but it had long since become just another thing hanging on his wall.
“Yes?” Em was waiting for him to finish his sentence.
“Well — they got into a fight, took a bunch of acid, missed the second set, and got their phone stolen, along with our tickets for Friday night. So there’s that.”
In the car, Sara had managed to log into Jon’s email account on her phone and found that the tickets had already been deleted — almost certainly after Chuck had forwarded the pdf files to himself.
Em gave Quentin a funny look, and it took him a moment to read it. Em knew that this wasn’t the first time weird shit had happened to him at a show. For most people, Phish was just a good, mind-bending time, a chance to leave everything behind for a while, an opportunity to run away with the circus, meet friends, and give themselves over to the ancient forces of rhythm and ritual. But for Q, it had always been more complicated than that, and that’s what Em’s look was telling him now: this was exactly the kind of trouble she’d asked him to stay away from. Em knew what had happened at Big Cypress, she knew about summer tour ‘95 and Halloween in Atlanta, and he’d even told her about Prague. She’d been there at 2/28/03, and she was right to worry.
Jürgen Fauth’s The Ashakiran Tapes (HEAD CASES Vol. 1) is available now at Amazon here.