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A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead Paperback – August 12, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The Grateful Dead forever changed popular music by ushering in the psychedelic sound of the 1960s as they valiantly toured almost nonstop for three decades and consumed loads of illegal substances. Yet the most fascinating, and revealing, thing about the Dead is their fans the Deadheads: tie-dyed, drugged up and devoted in a way that makes Beatlemania look rational. What did the Dead have that fellow San Francisco bands Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape lacked? As author McNally (Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America) explains in this entertaining and well-written book, the Dead built up their loyal following by treating fans as equals, as "companions in an odyssey." After improvisation, writes McNally, "the single largest element in the Dead's weltanschauung was their pursuit of group mind under the influence of LSD...." As the Dead's publicist for more than 20 years, McNally packs this 600-pager full of intimate details otherwise unavailable, such as the time the group's janitor vetoed a suggestion from multimillion-dollar promoter Bill Graham as too "commercial." On the other hand, McNally clearly dodges the more unflattering and controversial aspects of the musicians' lives offstage; indeed, every living member of the original lineup provides glowing endorsements on the book's back cover. But perhaps McNally thinks the Dead's underside has been done to death; in any case, with a little prettifying he still manages to pen the most exhaustively researched book on the band to date.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
McNally has been the Grateful Dead's official historian since 1980.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The book is long, but it's worth sticking with. It answered some questions I had puzzled over for years. I always thought it was odd that Bobby's guitar didn't present well in concert. Find out why on the bottom of p.549. If you're a real Dead Head, he is sure to mention shows or events you are personally familiar with. I found that incredibly cool. Another cool thing is that if you have a good collection of their music (Dick's Picks was very helpful), you can listen to albums and shows he specifically references and gain a much deeper understanding of what was going on with the band, and the world, at that exact time.
One reviewer thought he went a little easy on the drug issues, but I disagree. However, if you want more sex and drugs with your rock and roll, read Steve Parish's Home Before Daylight. Between that and this book, you'll know about as much as you can about my favorite band, the Grateful Dead.
I believe there are many more books which do more of the gossip thing, but this book is intentionally not about that. It carefully develops and follows the Dead, their music, and their cultural and musical upbringing. McNally does a great job of putting just the right amount of generic historical information within the story to give it some context and relevance.
The only thing I didn't understand, and wish he would have developed further are some internal conflicts within the band early on. He spends a good amount of time explaining that Jerry and Phil were pretty set on 'firing' pigpen and Weir. He never really explains why, except for a brief mention of Weir's general spaciness, and uninspired guitar playing. Pigpen was co-frontman in the early days, and for good reason. He was a great performer, and gave a side to the dead that was never replaced. McNally mentions they wanted a better keyboardist, but personally I loved Pig's minimalist approach, and organ sound. (Much better than Vince Welnick, who I believe ruined the sound of the Dead with his unchecked synthesizer 'percussion' banging away through all parts of every song)
Also, I was shocked when very little description was given to how Pig's death affected the band, aside from the fact that they held a huge party in his honor. Alternately, McNally describes Brent's death as a huge blow to the band and the individual bandmembers. If there was no great feeling of solidarity during the early days with Pig, why doesn't McNally say so? And if there was, why so little description of it? The abundance of recordings from these days shows that there had to be some serious commitment to the idea of The Grateful Dead, at least musically.
One more complaint I have is the lack of development of the 'management' side of the family. There were a number of sound people, management and organizing elements to the Grateful Dead family, which McNally spends a good amount of time describing. Their involvement in the development and events of the band is unquestionable; but McNally just keeps throwing their names around when we really have no image of who these characters are. Bill Graham is the exception to this, as at least his name is familiar to most Deadheads, and his character is well developed in the book. But, Rock Scully, and some others are often mentioned, but I never get a good image of what type of people they are, and why the Dead really had them around? What did they really do? I found myself mixing them up most of the time.
Otherwise, the pace of the book was perfect, especially for a relatively big book. I enjoyed every minute of it, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know where this beautiful music and culture came from!