As many of you are aware, the Mockingbird Foundation has produced two volumes of The Phish Companion to date with a third volume on its way. In other words, my collaborators and I are to some standard or another fairly accomplished in the field of literary works about the band Phish. Although these works are predominantly fact based, there is a certain amount of leeway that is inherent in writing about the art of another. Art, whether it be visual, auditory, theatrical, or literary, can be experienced both objectively and subjectively. It is almost impossible to separate one from the other. Add social media to the mix and stir in a little bit of the natural tendency toward competition and the whole notion of crowdsourcing the quality of a given piece of art tends to become far too personal and self-serving. I therefore find myself in a predicament as I attempt to launch what will become a sporadic yet semi-irregular blog series wherein I am tasked with providing a literary review for another author’s work that is somehow related to the music of the band Phish.
In short, I guess I am announcing my candidate search for the Poet Laureate of the Phish nation. Where is the Ken Kesey, Rock Scully, Philip K. Dick, Hunter S. Thompson, Pamela Des Barres, Danny Sugarman, or Lester Bangs of our scene? Has anybody amongst us yet produced a work of fiction or fact that somehow revolves around Phish and is also itself as moving as the music that inspired the work? I fear not (yet?). And that seems somehow wrong. We have all witnessed miraculous and unbelievable things...both on stage and off...during the course of the last 30 years. It is time some of these stories get told. By good writers. Writers with the ability to engage and entertain. Writers with the ability to enrage and incite disdain. This is a call to action...and a request for suggestions. If you think there is a work out there that has what it takes, please let me know about the book and its author. I will then take the time to Just Read It! and let you know what I thought. This blog series was inspired by the great and knowledgeable Icculus and a personal request from the first candidate.
William Hrdina is a long-time Phish fan and a professional author that I camped next to at the Gorge this past summer. During our time there we got to talking about our respective Phish related interests and he asked if I would read his book and post a review on phish.net afterwards. I was fairly confident I couldn’t get a one time review past the boss...so therefore a commitment to some periodic book reports seemed like the best way to go. As we proceed, if you have read any of the books I discuss and feel strongly that I lack complete understanding, please feel free to chime in on my less than adequate reading comprehension skills.
The Diary of Bobby Stoner: Tour Tales From the New Millenium - by William Hrdina
Clocking in at less than 150 pages of relatively large type and written with a conversational tone, The Diary of Bobby Stoner is nothing if not a quick read. We all have our favorite moments that have occurred, either on the way to, while at, or whilst departing from any given Phish show. If you have spent any time “on tour” these stories can sometimes run from one to the next with a pretty easy flow. They are the experiential segues that bridge the gap between the band’s performances. We meet new people, we make new friends, we try new intoxicants, we try old intoxicants in new places, with new people...or old friends. No two trips through or for that matter on Phish lot are ever the same. We could each probably recount a dozen or so quality stories from our adventures at shows. We probably all have some go to material depending on the venue and our neighbors for friendly set-break conversation.
The Diary of Bobby Stoner (originally released under a pseudonym in an abridged form as The Diary of Bobby Steiner) is a simple peek inside the tour journal, and as follows the private thoughts, of the 22-year old protagonist as he makes his way through Summer Tour 2000. It is the literary equivalent of a set-break conversation with a particularly wordy but amiable dude that really wants you to know what an amazing time he had while travelling to and from those shows. The focus is not so much on the music...but the experience involved in getting to hear it. Bobby reached a new state of enlightenment during the tour. He is eager to share his new insight about himself and the universe. The book is kind of like Zen and the Art of Phish Tour for Dummies. We’ve all probably been Bobby Stoner at one point or another. If not, then we’ve certainly talked to Bobby Stoner during set break. Good natured, well meaning, but someone who is trying a little bit too hard to be part of the scene...they seem strangely uncomfortable in this endeavor...rather than just being themselves. It takes a while to relax and surrender to the flow of energy and find our place in the bathtub. Eventually it happens or you will likely move along, certain that you were never really part of the experience in the first place.
I won’t get into a thorough dissection of the plot in case you want to devote a couple of hours before, during, or after an upcoming show reading the book. It is fairly straight forward though. Bobby goes on tour, Bobby meets cool people, one of those cool people is a hot wookette, Bobby falls in love, Bobby doesn’t know if he will ever meet her again, Bobby gets high, Bobby and the wookette settle down, dim the lights, turn on the Allman Brothers, and raise a bunch of baby wooklings, or not...you know the story. You may have lived the story. If you haven’t and you would prefer to get a feel for it without actually committing to putting eyes to paper, there is a choose your own adventure electronic version of the story on Mr. Hrdina’s website. Although, I will caution you that the electronic version is a work in progress...there be dead ends there. Much like life.
But that brings us to the point in the literary review where we actually provide an opinion on the writing. This summer I attended two Phish shows with Bill, I had the opportunity to see the author interact with his readers on Shakedown while slinging his books, and spent some time talking about Phish, their music, his personal philosophies, and our scene with him. I also, after reading the book, got back in contact with Bill and we briefly discussed Bobby Stoner’s adventures. The piece is obviously semi-autobiographical, but Bobby Stoner and Bill Hrdina just don’t seem like the same person. After finishing the book, I was stuck between thinking it was either a very well crafted caricature of some Nietzschean uberwook or that Bill has learned a lot about himself and the universe since Summer Tour 2000. I’m pretty sure that the truth lies somewhere in between. Either way, The Diary of Bobby Stoner is a light but worthwhile piece of historical fiction to distract you from your own experiences on tour for a short time. You will laugh. You may learn something. You will recognize Bobby. You will talk to Bobby some time soon. Be kind...because life is not all Hood...life just is.
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