Fall 98 by Daniel Spero
Review by: Pete Mason, author of PhanArt
When Daniel Spero, author of Fall 98, contacted me regarding his book, I was skeptical, simply because I have read only one other book written by someone that went on Phish tour and the antics, hilarity and experiences that ensue. That book was Run Like an Antelope, and if you have read it, you know that it is pretty terrible. But Spero is a Phish fan, not a would-be reporter who can’t make it through three shows of a tour, and his book Fall 98 is a book that fans will recognize the authenticity of this book, identify with the characters and share in the ups and downs of the tale. The main character, Julian, travels from Asheville to Los Angeles to pick up Phish’s Fall 98 tour, following it all the way back east. Fall 98 is a great book and keeps you captivated as the journey out west and back east again unfolds, bringing sex, drugs and rock n roll along for the ride. This is late ’90s Phish Tour captured perfectly and is a must read for fans.
But in order to enjoy Fall 98 you first must picture this book from the view of a 21 year old on Phish tour in 1998. That means no Internet, only one cell phone among all the characters, an era where the cow funk of 1997 was so fresh, it carried over into 1998, and technology of the era didn’t make travel or communication as seamless as it is today. In short – if you read this book in the context of 3.0, the book’s story will be lost on you.
The main character, Julian, decides to leave job and girlfriend behind in Asheville, NC, to head west with local friend later turned scumbag, UltraFunk. They link up with G-Crew, highlighting one of the most positive aspects of the Phish community that led to strong relationships throughout the book. These two main characters branch off with their friends from past tours, meeting new people along the way and growing the touring family slowly but steadily. Kay-Dee, Amelia, Megan, Jessie, Harry, Orlando and other tour characters show up, and as they do, you can think of someone just like them from your time going to shows and traveling between venues. The relationships between these characters are complicated – all in their early 20s, for the most part, the awkwardness of the age is readily apparent. Spero even notes “For me, Julian really is conflicted with his abilities with women”, but who isn’t conflicted at this age with the opposite sex? Add in Phish tour, exhausted traveling and some drug use and these complications get complications. When Spero says “I actually wrote it with staying true to sex drugs and rock n roll”, he’s not kidding, and he succeeds in staying true to that throughout his writing.
During the read, you’ll smile, laugh, say ‘whoa’ and ‘what the fuck’ every so often – because that’s part of being on tour. There’s lots of laughs and some unexpected things that blow your mind. For me, I identified with the book because most of my life I have been single, traveling on the road to shows and festivals and fun, and the complications of being on the road while on a semi-schedule and hopping from place to place to meet friends and romances at each tour stop. Throughout the story, they are all in the thick of tour and living life.
Fall 98 is well written and very vivid. You can picture the entire tour from LA to Vegas, the E Centre in Salt Lake City, the drive from Denver headed east, along with tips for driving while tired (we’ve all been there) and especially the three day run at UIC will boggle your mind. This is a fantastic book and I encourage Phish fans, both old and new to read it.
Fall 98 by Daniel Spero
Review by Amy F. Fischer, creator of Touropoly
My friends and I often talk about how one of us should write a book about our tour adventures. No one ever actually gets around to typing, but the crazy shit that goes down is sometimes just too good to be forgotten.
Our author, Daniel Spero, attempted to capture just that in his book, Fall 98. Our main character and Phish fan Julian is in his 20s, living in Asheville, NC, working two dead end jobs and a seeing a girl who he has completely lost interest in. As many before him who lack direction, Julian decides to go on tour. His companion, Peter Grossinger, is a friend who Julian would visit most nights at the gas station where Peter worked. As a reader this made me assume he knew Peter pretty well, but there was no warning before they get on the road and suddenly you realize what a douchebag Peter is. On top of that, he now insists on being called by his tour name: “Ultrafunk.” I’m hoping Ultrafunk was just the author’s bad renaming of a better tour name; if a guy introduced himself as “Ultrafunk” to me on the lots, I think I would laugh in his face uncontrollably.
As the story continues, Ultrafunk proves page after page that he’s no one you’d want to be trapped in a car with for any significant amount of time. He has NO good qualities. Most of the stories he shares would reek of BS to most observers. He goes into detail about past sexual encounters with WAY too much excitement and lack of filter. A male reader may not be as bothered by such conversations between these two young men in the story, but it was quite a bit of overkill for a book about Phish Tour, in my opinion. It adds insult to injury that Ultrafunk’s view of the girls is completely degrading, referring to them as ugly bitches he has his way with and drops as he pleases.
Fall 98 is categorized as a book of fiction, which is disappointing. That could mean as little as individuals’ names were changed, but it could also suggest that things were completely embellished. I did notice that the 12 Tribes bus & crew were renamed the 13 Tribes, but Antelope Greg was mentioned specifically by name a little later (pg 143). All the songs and stops on the way are accurate, so there’s at least a little reality mixed in with the possible fiction. Could the story hold water?
If Fall 98 was 90% accurate and it happened to me, I’d feel compelled to write a book on it too. Do I believe that Julian made a poor choice to go on Phish tour with a psychotic narcissist popping Ritalin like Tic-Tacs, who somehow thinks people actually enjoy listening to his constant bragging of what distasteful things he has convinced females to do with him? Yeah, I’m sure there’s more than a couple 20-something year old guys like that in every town and on every Phish lot. Is it believable that Julian cheated on his girlfriend and enjoyed being a cuddle buddy to multiple girls throughout the book? Of course it is. Do I doubt that they raged hard each night on free Molly, dosed themselves a bunch on LSD, and smoked good herb during every waking hour? Not for a second. But in the hotel room between the G-Crew guy and the crazed Asheville cop??? I won’t ruin the best tale the author shares, but it’s definitely the craziest story I’ve ever heard happened on tour, if it happened at all…
I’ve been on a bunch of tours and mini-tours, so as a reader I am able to feel the author’s pain when he writes of having to travel with a person he now loathes, completely stuck there since it’s not his car and he’s more than a day’s trip home, feeling trapped. Good effort went into describing tour fatigue, something that inevitably happens when you are partying every night and driving all day, on very, very little sleep.
“There’s nothing exotic about the aftereffects of excess. Those are slow minutes. The merrymakers aren’t there for the drawbacks, but they resurface for the comebacks.”
I even understood why he felt he had to hop off early… sometimes enough is enough.
“Regardless, I was getting weary. This was Phish’s journey, not mine. I loved the shows, the tour, the people, the atmosphere, but in the grand scheme of things I had to take control of my destiny, not ride on the coattails’ of another. They had their army of hippie elitists; they didn’t need a guy like me.”
The most unfortunate reality of this book was that for all the great stories he wanted to share, in the end he doesn’t seemed to have learned anything he then applies to his life. For all the crap he put his body through and the insights he came up with along the way (often drug induced but still valuable), he came home to Asheville and went immediately to find his girlfriend he could care less about, wanting to take advantage of her clingy nurturing. What was the point? Did Julian sacrifice thousands of brain cells for no reward of an epiphany? Did he take nothing from his experience with other girls, different cities, new friends, being on the road, the lot community or even the music? I would like to doubt that, but the story just ends abruptly. Anyone going on a Phish tour should come home with some crazy stories. Crazy stories won’t automatically make you a good writer. What’s more tragic is not taking lessons learned home with you. That’s just a waste.