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Phine Art

Throughout the bulk of their storied career, there was little that the rock band Phish did, in either a musical or cultural sense, that could directly graft them to the punk genealogy, but in the sprawling web of their (ph)an community, there existed an implicit DIY ethos that was held at least as sacred as the music the band created. From songs that depended on audience interaction, to a copyright-spurning policy that encouraged live taping, the Phish experience neither began nor ended in the arena, at the concert. Phish heads were, and are (as the band will be reuniting next month for the first time in five years), interactive animals who fought passivity to the point of compulsive nomadic touring. While it was ultimately an in-the-moment musical experience that band and audience sought, the parking lot outside the venue was at least as important as the stage inside.

After four years of uncompensated collection and compilation, local teacher and long-time “phan” Pete Mason has put together a one-of-a-kind compendium of phan-created ephemera. Totalling more than 420 pages, Phanart: The Art of the Fans of Phish features 1,600 pieces of art ranging from T-shirt designs to paintings, posters, stickers and license plates, as well as 40 artist essays and interviews.

A far cry from the sort of nostalgic monuments the publishing world has erected for other pop-cultural phenomena, the book stands as an extension of what music journalist Benjy Eisen calls “the open source Phish code,” whereby there is no official story or objective history that will grow more singular with age. Instead, it is the amorphous mass of subjective phan experiences that constitute the Phish legacy, and that this book aims to capture. “Following Phish,” Eisen says, “wasn’t about feeding off of [the band’s] energy—it was about using a collective energy to fuel your own.”

This energy is channeled into abstract paintings, cartoon caricatures, fabric art, song illustrations, and all variety of homage. As Phish biographer Richard Gehr writes in the book’s introduction, “What fans often lacked in the hygiene department they more than compensated for in their alternative shirt, sticker, poster and ride/ticket/dose-grovel designs.” One of the most compelling and ubiquitous items documented in the book is the mock-corporate logo, whereby, for instance, the Apple logo is transformed into a rebus for the song “Mango,” or the Jiffy Lube logo is co-opted for the song “First Tube.” It’s not exactly the anti-establishment demolition campaign that DIY punk tried to wage, but embodies the cleverly subversive geekdom that allowed Phish to circumvent so much of the ’90s musical superstructure (i.e., radio play, MTV exposure) by pioneering community and Internet-based avenues.

In keeping with this collectivist ethos, Mason has decided to donate all net proceeds from the sale of the book to the Mockingbird Foundation, a nonprofit group started by Phish fans in 1996 that funds music-education programs for kids.

Saturday (Feb. 7) at 7 PM, Mason will unveil Phanart with a party at Revolution Hall in Troy. (Admission is $12.) Slated to perform are Phish tribute band the Flow, and the McLovins, a teenage trio who recently rose to YouTube stardom through deft, basement renditions of Phish’s complex early material—evidence, no doubt, that the Phish legacy has become a multigenerational affair.

—Josh Potter

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