I’ve read a few books about the Dead but this one is probably the best I’ve read. I just finished re-reading it after finishing it three years ago. It is their complete history from beginning to end. The book I enjoyed the most was Deal: by Bill Kreutzmann The Deads drummer. He has some great stories and Steve Parish’s book is good also…but as far as the history…this has been the best.
This is not like reading a book about the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, or even the Allman Brothers. The Grateful Dead were totally different in the way they came about and what path they took. They were such a hippy band but along the way they turned into a corporate organization…a different kind of organization but one all the same. Their crew was known to be loud and sometimes violent along with the Hells Angels by the mid-seventies and the craziness wore off on everyone around them.
I always thought of them as this loose ensemble that just loved playing. Yes, they loved playing but they weren’t above pointing fingers when something went wrong on stage. At one point Weir and Pigpen were “fired” although accounts differ on if they really were let go. In other words, they were human… like anyone else. They did however think differently and for a bunch of hippies…they were very ambitious.
Speaking of Pigpen (Ron McKernan)… that was a wonderful thing about this book…his importance is highlighted and you see how important he was to the Grateful Dead. Jerry wasn’t the key focus when they started…it was Pigpen. Although he looked like a biker…he was described as an incredibly nice and sensitive man. He was the showman of the band and Jerry commented that he was the best musician in the band in the beginning.
The book covers their entire career and along with the way, there are many twists and turns. They cover Garcia’s slide down until his diabetic coma in 1986 when he had to re-learn how to play guitar again. Less than a year later they were back on the road and then recorded the In The Dark album.
The band never had a big hit single and now…over 20 years of being together and touring they were suddenly huge with the song Touch Of Grey. They even agreed to play the game with the record company and they made a video. They were signed to Arista Records and the record company and band were at a meeting. Garcia suddenly asked, “I don’t have to do Dick Clark, do I?” With that, the executives laughed at the thought of the Grateful Dead appearing on American Bandstand.
There were points where it looked like Garcia would beat his addictions but the threat of him going back to heroin was always there. They also cover all the members rather well…Garcia wasn’t the only one with drug problems but his problem probably affected the band the most.
If you want to learn about their history…this is a really good read.