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Sweet Chaos : The Grateful Dead's American Adventure Hardcover – November 3, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; 1st edition (November 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 051759448x
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517594483
  • ASIN: 051759448X
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,629,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What a long, strange trip it's been, indeed. Carol Brightman's examination of the Grateful Dead's history supports the widely held belief that it was more than just a psychedelic band. The Grateful Dead was a cultural phenomenon from its beginnings in the late 1960's up until its untimely demise following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995.

Brightman does more than just present a chronology of the band's history. She explains how the Grateful Dead both influenced and was influenced by the turbulence of the events unfolding around them in the 1960's. Rather than just telling the same old story of how the band evolved from a house band for Ken Kesey's infamous Acid Tests to the top-grossing act of the early 1990's, she presents detailed histories of the band members, their families, their friends, and everyone else they came into contact with. It is also a fascinating look at the emergence of the 1960's drug culture and the involvement of everybody from Timothy Leary to the CIA.

Whether you're a baby boomer Deadhead who has followed the band since its beginnings or a Generation X Deadhead who jumped on the bandwagon when the band hit the Top 40 in the late 1980's, this book is a must-read. Sweet Chaos is a compelling report of a period in United States history and of a band that is truly beyond description. --Michael Mariani

From Publishers Weekly

Though their music may have drawn mixed reviews, the Grateful Dead's ability to survive the musical and cultural tumult of most of the last three decades remains uncontested. The renegade rock band's creation of a uniquely tribal audience base; the band members' belief in the mystical possibilities of their music, especially when accompanied by hallucinogens; and the wry resignation of their lyrics may begin to explain the Dead's longevity. But in this ruminative, entertaining memoir/cultural history, Brightman, author of 1994's NBCC-winning Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World, suggests that the philosophical, aesthetic and personal factors that allowed the band to outlive, at least in influence, even its most famous member, late guitarist Jerry Garcia, are far more complex. Locating the Dead within the historical crosscurrents of the period, she limns the grassroots American musician traditions that influenced the band, the idealized community of hangers-on and fellow travelers they encouraged, their Emersonian desire for spiritual transcendence, and the surprisingly middle-class sensibility of their adherents. Using her sister Candace's career as a lighting designer for the Dead and her own political activism and journalistic encounters with the band as reference points, Brightman weaves together the subterranean connections among the spiritual, drug-driven 'heads; the politically active, rapidly disillusioned radical "New Left," and the larger society both subcultures reacted against. Brightman's argument occasionally grows as diffuse as one of the band's illustrious jam sessions. But she has produced a cogent, intelligent look at the Dead and the deep structure of American culture into which they so successfully tapped. 30 b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Sampson on December 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
Ms. Brightman is clearly intelligent and well organized. However, the goal of the book often appears to steer the writer to make this very observation. There is quite a whiff of ego in this work. While I did read the political sections out of a vague guilt or distant interest, I found them to be particularly self-indulgent. I knew I was in trouble when she quotes Robert Hunter leading her to examine "Ship of Fools," and she has to check sources for the words. Not a good sign, although perhaps this distance allows a decent critical eye instead of the heavy syrup often attributed to Dead books. Still, every few pages I get a vision of the author jumping from the page, saying "Look at me!" This book is worth reading, chiefly because Mr. Garcia is an endlessly fascinating character, but you will not read it twice. Go for the paperback...
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for more insight about the Dead, or even just some history, this book is certainly not the place to start. The Dead, who have always proclaimed themselves to be a non-political entity, find themselves (in this book) tied to political events in the 1960's and 1970's that had little or nothing to do with them. There is precious little about the band or the Deadheads in this book, and what does appear is generally a re-hashing of events that are well known to anyone with a passing interest in the band. The book lacks focus, wanders from the 1960's to the present and back, shows little insight and leans heavily on Rock Scully's book on the Dead (which came out in 1997, and is hilarious - you must read it). I ended up skipping many tedious passages about the Berkeley SDS movement and American radicals travelling to Cuba via Canada in the 1960's other random political triviati that had zero to do with the subject that this book purports to be about: namely, the Grateful Dead. A better title for the book would have been "Random Musings on the My Life, the 60's, and the Big Whatever. My Sister Ran The Dead's Light Show!" This is NOT a book about Jerry, Phil and the gang. Save your money.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Sussman on November 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is a bit of a hopeless mishmash. The author tries valiantly to put the Dead in the context of the times in which they lived, but she fails in a big way by spending an enormous time describing what they were not -- part of the radical political movements of the 60s and early 70s. And to make matters worst, she drones on endlessly about her own participation in the politics of the day. By the time I reached the end of the book, the whole thing had become a meaningless drone.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William Kennedy on June 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The combination seems appealing: the sister of the Dead's lighting coordinator and an award winning author -- one and the same -- and out of it should come some insight into the long strange trip. It is clear that the author is "not on the bus" and misses the target by a few feet. Her insistence on connecting the Grateful Dead to the politics of the 60s and 70s is a far stretch and most of the focus of the book is not on the long strange trip, but the politics of the 70s. One leaves the book with little understanding of the "culture". That notwithstanding, the book is stimulating and thoughtful and well done and recommended for anyone serious about the GD phenomena. However, for the non-deadhead I suggest reading David Gans' books as he is about as dialed in as it gets. I think the definitive book on the Grateful Dead has yet to be written; maybe Rebecca Adams will pull it off.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Garcia once said, "We don't want to change the world. Whatever we changed it to would probably be worse than what we have now." This remark sums up the determined apoliticism that the Grateful Dead maintained throughout its 30 year history. Activism, after all, is about confrontation; and, to quote Garcia again, "avoidance of confrontation is almost a religious point with us."
Carol Brightman's book is not about the Dead, except tangentially, insofar as the author knows some people in the Dead's family in virtue of being the sister of the band's lighting designer. Rather than a book about the Dead's American Adventure, we get a book about Carol Brightman's American Adventure -- in the Berkley radical scene of the 60s, a scene that the Dead clearly did not identify with, actively shuuned at times, and by turns found amusingly deluded and numbingly boring -- but never particularly important.
To the extent that the book does deal with the Dead and attendant phenomena, like the band's famously devoted fans, it adds very little to the mountain of literature on the subject which has appeared since Garcia's death in 1995. If, like the author, you are someone who embraced 60s political activism and was baffled by the psychedelic apoliticism of the hippies, you may find something interesting in the book. But if you are looking for a book about the Dead, you will be irritated by the author's relentless self-reference -- which really borders on narcissism -- as well as her vaguely condescending perspective on the band's fans and their concerns.
After reading the book, it is difficult to shake the cynical sense that its title had more to do with marketing strategy than with the book's subject matter.
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