Run Like an Antelope: On the Road with Phish
by Sean Gibbon
Review by Amy F. Fischer, Albany, NY, creator of Touropoly
I found this book on a clearance rack at a local bookstore about six years ago. The antelope insignia caught my eye and the back cover claiming “inspired by the offbeat road stories of Hunter S. Thompson” made it a done deal. I bought it immediately and read it that night. I am not usually one to make negative reviews about anything… I try to follow the golden rule of “if you can’t say something nice…” Not with this book; it was a terrible disappointment from cover to cover.
The author decides to go on the summer 1999 Phish tour… twenty shows planned, tickets already purchased. Personally, I have great memories of that run, making it to half of those shows myself. In the end, I saw more music than Sean. He didn’t plan his itinerary well, and would miss the show getting lost en route. He often overslept in his hotel room, or took too much time hanging by the pool or at breakfast. One show he even missed because he bought ganja food in the lot… it hit this guy so hard that he spent his show in the medic tent and then STILL insisted he needed to go to the hospital, thinking (and hoping) that he was going to die.
What annoyed me the most about the book was the poor quality of writing and lack of real content about his subject. He was able to acquire a contract to write the book before any words were written, which would initially indicate to me that this journalism major actually had some talent. However, instead of writing about the music, the scene, interviewing fans or security or the band, 85% of the book is literally him blabbing about the book… and his lack of motivation to write it. It was almost as if he was typing his random writer’s block thoughts on his laptop at the Waffle House, hoping the typing exercise would turn into content, and when it didn’t, he just submitted that lack of effort to his publisher.
The other thing that annoyed me was his constant stereotyping of the “Phishheads” on tour. I reread the book to write this review, and started to highlight every time he was negatively stereotyping the scene and its followers. I stopped when I realized every third page had a highlighted paragraph.
At the airport:
“A red-headed guy with a box of fruit, a hemp necklace, an old T-shirt, and an overstuffed backpack. The box of fruit was a dead giveaway – something to sell on tour for gas and ticket money.”
In the lot, a kid selling grilled cheese and asking for a cheap ticket:
“Scraggly haired little barefoot guy with a patchy beard and no shirt. Like a lot of Phishheads, this guy looks a bit like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.”
On tour dogs:
“I think I recognize the gray mutt from the grilled-cheese bus, but I can’t say for sure because they all look the same – small, striped like a tiger, bristly-haired, droopy-eared, panting, always panting.”
“If you had to put together a profile of a typical nineteen year old male Phishhead, a year out of high school and doing the tour, it would look something like this: on the small side, skinny, usually shirtless and quite pale, shoulder-length hair, kind of greasy and stringy. Not a jock or a nerd. More like the cool quiet kid, kind of distant, hanging out in the back of the classroom, considered by the other kids to be a burnout, a band guy. Smart but doesn’t study much. Or maybe he’s into Philosophy. He’s the one smoking pot before everyone else, before he’s even kissed a girl. A junior-high stoner. Probably had an older brother also into Phish or the Dead.”
And my favorite:
“This couple (making out) are definitely not on tour for the long haul. They don’t have the look: weary, dirty, scruffy. Plus, she has shaved armpits. Sorry, but it’s a dead giveaway. You don’t see women with shaved pits on tour very often…” and later… “Phishheads, men and women, seem to be oddly sexless. They walk around with very little clothing, sometimes even naked, but there’s nothing sexy about most of them. Their facial expressions are a kind of a mix between uninterested and spacey.”
I’m not going to claim that all his observations are wrong and totally without merit. Are there a lot of guys that look like Shaggy on tour? Sure. Do tour dogs generally have a mangy look to them? Of course. But the author seems to go on and on about “these Phishheads” constantly, and always in a negative way. I don’t remember a single time that he wrote a story about a great bunch of phans he met who helped him out or he had an amazing conversation with. If anything, the author was too scared to infiltrate any groups of people at shows, at least with any sort of open mindedness. This guy and his holier than thou personality makes me glad I didn’t meet him at a show. It’s the lack of these types of people on tour that make me love going to shows so much.
His lack of ability to flow within this alien environment was SO evident. This is the guy at the show who comes in late (constantly oversleeps in his hotel room with the AC cranking) and when he sees hippies dancing in his seat he looks perplexed, double checks his ticket, and kicks the people out, wondering why they look so put off for having to move during the middle of a song. At Camp Oswego, he tried his hardest to not eat: “I crawl back into the tent. This is the low point of the tour. Terrible, terrible, terrible. I can’t sleep. I can’t use the bathroom – I absolutely refuse to go inside a Porta Potty. I can’t even think. I want out of this place. Off this tour. Fuck this shit.”
As the tour is finishing up in Deer Creek, his very professional non-hippie doctor girlfriend flies to meet him. Her character’s arrival in the tail end of the book made me believe for a second that the plot was going to prove a little worthy. Guy doing research, lady friend stays at home, constantly worrying what he may be doing out there, etc etc…
So when her flight arrived, Gibbon felt odd talking to her about the tour… “Yesterday, sitting in traffic with people selling drugs and Dan gobbling mushrooms… well it all seemed very normal, and now just talking about it seems strange and I feel almost criminal.” This was, in my opinion, the best reflection of the atmosphere and environment you experience on tour. The Monday after a long Phish run, it is very common to have your head need to be nursed back to reality. What makes it the hardest? The explaining you end up having to do with your coworkers and bosses, hoping you remember not to talk about explicit drug use or a friend getting arrested.
The book’s ending is the worst of all. Sure, he finishes the tour, but no added reflection? No insightful thoughts? I shouldn’t be surprised I guess. Next time, Mr. Gibbon, I hope you will observe your subject matter a little more closely. Or not write reviews. Or maybe it’s just time you looked into a career outside of journalism.