Jürgen Fauth’s The Ashakiran Tape is a novel set at Jones Beach in 2009, and the following excerpt opens during the second show of the run, 6/4. After he’s had to deal with hapless noobs, sketchy scenesters, and a yacht full of strung-out tech millionaires, hardboiled lot detective Quentin Pfeiffer is finally trying to enjoy his first shows since Coventry – but the dark events of the previous days are threatening to overshadow the music.
EXCERPT (from Chapter 14)
Of course they played "Drowned."
In The Who’s Quadrophenia, the song marks a desperate moment for mod hero Jimmy — but according to Pete Townshend, it was originally intended as a love song: "I wanna drown in cold water" wasn’t a death wish but an expression of ecstatic abandon. Out of the structured section, an urgent jam exploded, teeter-tottering between stadium rock grandeur and darker undercurrents that lashed the audience like an elemental force, like the rain that came pouring down for most of the show. For a second, Quentin thought he heard the band tease "Jumpin’ Jack Flash" — it’s a gas, gas, gas! — but it dissolved before he could tune into the significance of it.
Walt and Q watched the show together from the taper's section, where it was considered good form to keep the chatter to a minimum as to not ruin the recordings. Q danced carefully, forever worried he’d bump into a 12 foot mic stand or step on someone's MacBook Pro, the situation complicated by the tarps people were using to protect their equipment from the weather.
Phish seemed much more in sync now, but the vibe was ominous. Q figured the band would have to know about the dead body fished out of the bay a stone's throw from the stage, and death hovered over the music all night long — from "Grind," a cheerful a cappella number that changed lyrics every time to count out the actual days the band members had been alive, to "Squirming Coil," "Dirt," and "Ghost." The joyfully silly dance tune "Meatstick" couldn't seem to find its bearings and was played in a wrong key and "You Enjoy Myself" was lacking its usual, blissful nirvana section. Mike Gordon was wearing purple pants, which was neither here nor there — his sartorial choices often left fans befuddled.
The show concluded with another cover, the Velvet Underground's anthem "Rock and Roll," which seemed like an attempt to find salvation in the music: "Her life was saved by rock 'n' roll," the song went, and the crowd dutifully roared at the mention of "a New York station." All Q could think about was the Skipper's horrible swollen face, lying down by the bathrooms, and the cold stare Chuck had given them, but finally the images resolved into the rousing final chorus.
"They'll need some time," Walt said as he packed up his gear after the show, "but they'll get back to where they were, and more. I'm sure of it."
"Searching for a way forward," Q said. "They seem horrified by the idea of repeating themselves, trying to relive past glories and failing. I think that's why Trey ripcords jams. Either it's fresh or he cuts it short."
Some dude wearing Mr. T levels of Mardi Gras beads around his neck had overheard them and sneered. He sang a line from "Time Turns Elastic:" "I'm a submarine, a submarine, sinking beneath the ground," and broke out into drunk giggles.
Walt invited Q over to his hotel for a beer while he tracked the show and got it ready for seeding, but Q declined — he had to get back home.
"How's the little one?"
"She's awesome. It's hard, but I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Spoken like a real daddy."
"It's a cliché because it's true, man."
Walt nodded. Q didn't know what his story was with kids, and he'd never asked. He’d known some of Walt’s girlfriends over the years, yoga instructors and nutritionists, Waldorf teachers, all of them quite fetching, and some of them had kids now with other men. Their friendship covered more than just the music or the scene, and Q could have easily asked — but he never had, and now it seemed too late, somehow.
"Speaking of which, I gotta check in with Em — "
Walt nodded and bought two beers from a vendor while Q dug out his cell. The battery was on its last legs, but it'd do for one more call. Em picked up on the second ring.
"Quentin Pfeiffer," she said, and the way she used his full name told him everything he needed to know.
"Two house guests are quite enough for me, thank you very much. I’m not running a home for hippie chicks in distress."
"It's only for tonight, I promise. I gotta go, my battery's dying. I’ll head back now, okay?"
After he hung up, Q found himself lingering on Shakedown rather than heading straight for the car. He meandered aimlessly down the main drag and the surrounding lanes, which slowly emptied out of cars — but enough people were still hanging around, drinking beers, enjoying their highs. The mood wasn't euphoric, exactly, but the faces Q saw seemed to know they'd seen a better-than-average show with some profound moments that managed to speak, however imperfectly, to the vibe of the place and time, that addressed the mysteries surrounding the day, the death on the beach, this peculiar moment in Phish history that was, like any other day, cyclic yet utterly unique, never to be repeated in its singular configuration of hopes and dreams, disappointments and possibilities.
Unwilling to let the night end quite yet, searching for something he couldn’t put his finger on, Quentin turned and ambled down Shakedown one more time. From way beyond the far end came the telltale hiss of a tank — someone was selling nitrous. Hippie crack, they called it. The high didn't last, it was terrible for your brain, and a fucking balloon of the stuff was up to what now, $8? The margins were astronomical, and the people selling it were famously profit-driven and somewhat less than invested in the health of the scene. Q hated the stuff, but already clusters of people with moronic grins, some of them holding two or three balloons each, were stumbling his way or slumped out on the ground, like a kid's birthday party gone stupendously wrong.
He found a curb at the edge of the lot to sit down for a moment, closed his eyes, and breathed in the cool air. He attempted to read the moment, feel his way through the remaining crowd to get a sense of the secrets still hiding out, but he couldn't find the right place to do it from — couldn't get time to slow down and stretch, couldn't get a handle on the night.
His phone beeped, not with a message notification but a battery warning: it would be out of power shortly. He flipped it open and dimmed the display to squeeze a few extra minutes out of it and noticed that he did have an unread message after all: a text from Dana.
Q had tried to call her before the show to see if she'd gotten the news and if she was okay, but when she didn't pick up, he’d only left brief voice mail.
Her text read: "Need to talk to you. At the marina. URGENT."
He tried calling, but his phone went dark on the second ring. Quentin Pfeiffer stood by the edge of the emptying parking lot and cursed.
The Ashakiran Tape (HEAD CASES Vol. 1)
From the author of the historical thriller Kino, a "fast, complex, exhilarating roadster ride through history and time" (Frederick Barthelme) comes a gripping psychedelic mystery steeped in sex, drugs, and rock ’n' roll.
When legendary improvisational rock band Phish returns to the stage after a five-year breakup, longtime fan and hardboiled hippie sleuth Quentin Pfeiffer has to be there — even though he is older, wiser, and the father of an adorable baby daughter now.
But not everything is sunshine and rainbows in the freewheeling circus surrounding the band's summer tour: after the millionaire skipper of a drug-drenched luxury yacht goes missing, Q and his crew are drawn into a dangerous intrigue of dreadlocked dames, shady tape collectors, and spun-out wookies chasing after the long-lost recording of a mysterious late-night jam.
Inspired by Raymond Chandler and set during a series of concerts at Long Island's Jones Beach amphitheater, The Ashakiran Tape takes readers deep into the spiraling ecstasy of Phish's epic shows and the seductive underworld of the obsessive fans following them.
Jürgen Fauth’s first Phish show was 4/26/96, New Orleans Jazzfest. He is the author of the novel Kino (Atticus Books, 2012) and Raves (2014), a collection of movie reviews. He has been called “for better or worse, the only person to ever provoke Robert Hunter to write a semiformal explanation of one of his songs” (Jesse Jarnow). Jürgen holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and divides his time between Berlin, Germany, and Dakar, Senegal. You can find him online at jurgenfauth.com, and on Twitter at @muckster.
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Mike Gordon: February 19, 2018
21 minutes ago
Belly Up Tavern
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