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  • Written by Dennis McNally
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The Inside History of the Grateful Dead

Written by Dennis McNallyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Dennis McNally

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List Price: $15.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 704 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41877-7
Published by : Three Rivers Press Crown Archetype
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Synopsis

The complete history of one of the most long-lived and legendary bands in rock history, written by its official historian and publicist–a must-have chronicle for all Dead Heads, and for students of rock and the 1960s’ counterculture.

From 1965 to 1995, the Grateful Dead flourished as one of the most beloved, unusual, and accomplished musical entities to ever grace American culture. The creative synchronicity among Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan exploded out of the artistic ferment of the early sixties’ roots and folk scene, providing the soundtrack for the Dionysian revels of the counterculture. To those in the know, the Dead was an ongoing tour de force: a band whose constant commitment to exploring new realms lay at the center of a thirty-year journey through an ever-shifting array of musical, cultural, and mental landscapes.

Dennis McNally, the band’s historian and publicist for more than twenty years, takes readers back through the Dead’s history in A Long Strange Trip. In a kaleidoscopic narrative, McNally not only chronicles their experiences in a fascinatingly detailed fashion, but veers off into side trips on the band’s intricate stage setup, the magic of the Grateful Dead concert experience, or metaphysical musings excerpted from a conversation among band members. He brings to vivid life the Dead’s early days in late-sixties San Francisco–an era of astounding creativity and change that reverberates to this day. Here we see the group at its most raw and powerful, playing as the house band at Ken Kesey’s acid tests, mingling with such legendary psychonauts as Neal Cassady and Owsley “Bear” Stanley, and performing the alchemical experiments, both live and in the studio, that produced some of their most searing and evocative music. But McNally carries the Dead’s saga through the seventies and into the more recent years of constant touring and incessant musical exploration, which have cemented a unique bond between performers and audience, and created the business enterprise that is much more a family than a corporation.

Written with the same zeal and spirit that the Grateful Dead brought to its music for more than thirty years, the book takes readers on a personal tour through the band’s inner circle, highlighting its frenetic and very human faces. A Long Strange Trip is not only a wide-ranging cultural history, it is a definitive musical biography.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

1

Introduction: Power. The Stage as Alembic

(MID-1980s)

Shortly before every Grateful Dead concert, there is a luminous, suspended moment. The doors are still closed. The band has not yet arrived. Bathed in the subliminal hum of the stage's electric potential, you smell the ozone of 133,000 burning watts and realize that the elegantly arranged castle of equipment around you is alive--not just stuff, but a sentient alchemical sculpture. You are surrounded by an enormous electronic beast that can link the group consciousness of six musicians and an audience of thousands to transmute notes, thoughts, and volts, fusing boogie dancing, high-tech doodah, and the act of performance into a subtle, profoundly human ritual of celebration. This stage is a giant alembic, the fabled alchemical chamber where the magical transformation took place. It is a portal to the mysterious world beyond daily life.

This monster lives. The equipment cases that define the rear stage are its skeleton, extruded daily as it is assembled for its labors. It breathes through the pulsating speaker diaphragms, the interconnecting cables are its nerves, and it hears through a $30,000 harmonic analyzer originally designed by NASA to evaluate the aerodynamic strength of metals. The ears and the brain, a forty-eight-channel sound mixing board, are positioned in a booth eighty-five feet away in the center of the hall. From there, the stage seems a smooth, powerful monolith, its base draped in black, the undecorated equipment atop it set in a symmetric arc. Backstage, the seams are more evident.

From the top of the center-rear stage stairs, you stand behind and between the two glistening drum sets that anchor the setup. At far left front-of-stage sit Brent Mydland's Hammond B-3 organ, a Yamaha synthesizer, and his own small mixing board. Next to Mydland's corner, moving toward the center, is guitarist Jerry Garcia's equipment cabinet, essentially a frame that holds a sound effects rack, a preamplifier, a McIntosh 2300 amplifier, and four JBL speakers. A floor strip with two foot pedals and seven switches, labeled "Mutron, Oct, Boss, Wah, Dist, Phase, Delay," sits in front of Garcia's vocal microphone. It is secured to the worn Afshar-style stage carpet with gaffer's tape, the unique product of a small New Hampshire company, which is the secret ingredient that binds together all live rock and roll. Some seven hundred pounds of Sonar drums and Zildjian cymbals make up each of the two trap sets played by Mickey Hart on the left and Bill Kreutzmann on the right. An exotic array of other percussion instruments is set up behind them. The front row, the "amp line," continues to the right with rhythm guitarist Bob Weir's Godzilla 1000 amplifier and a cabinet holding eight Gauss ten-inch speakers. Phil Lesh's Godzilla and a sound processor bass monitor, essentially a small computer, define the right side. A mixing board for the monitors, the floor speakers facing the musicians which allow them to hear themselves, fills the stage's right front corner. Both sides of the stage are walled off by the boxes that carry the ninety steel-jacketed NASA surplus cables ("snakes") and twenty-seven Crest power amplifiers that energize the system.

An aisle behind the amp line gives access to each cluster of instruments and equipment, and the space behind the lane is defined by each crew member's tool case, surrounded by a fort of empty cases. Production manager Robbie Taylor's case stands at the top of the stairs. The left-hand drum set is backed by Ram Rod Shurtliff, crew chief since 1967, chatting with basketball star and NBC basketball analyst Bill Walton as he lays out some of Hart's "instruments"--an infant's windup toy, whistles, a kazoo. The left rear corner of the stage is the redoubt of Steve Parish, stage manager and squire to the two guitarists, just now catching a hasty nap on the crew bus. The other drum roadie, Billy Grillo, sits changing drumheads behind Kreutzmann's setup. The far right rear is the territory of Bill "Kidd" Candelario, who cares for the keyboards and bass.

Above, 144 state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Lab (MSL) loudspeakers hang five-deep from the ceiling. Still higher is a giant pentagonal truss holding two hundred lights. Though they absorb far more power than all of the stage gear and sound equipment, the Dead's lights are still only a fraction of the normal design for a rock band; Van Halen, for instance, carries fifteen hundred lights. Scrib (as in scribbler), the band's publicist and biographer, half listens as Taylor gleefully harasses the local union steward and reflects on his, Scrib's, conversation with Taylor during the previous night's drive. Taylor had interpreted his muttered "House lights"--the last command before a show begins--as a demand to resume an interview. Taylor replied, "How'd you know that 'House lights' means the beginning?"

"I just want to see what I'm rolling," said Scrib, "but getting back to what we were talking about, I was chewing on what you said about the crew last time. They come on so cynical, but if anything weird ever threatened Garcia, they'd probably attempt something silly and heroic, y'know, just because they'd have to."

"Yeah," Taylor had agreed. "And you know how embarrassed he'd be?"

Which is why this concert is more than entertainment, why the star syndrome doesn't exactly apply here, why the Grateful Dead isn't really a rock band and is only tangentially part of the American music industry. Garcia is indeed charismatic, but not the least remarkable of his contributions to the group is his general refusal to run it. "You can call me boss," he once said, chuckling, "just don't ask me to make any decisions." That is why the fans, the colorful, exuberant Dead Heads gathered outside, are members of a cult that at its best serves Dionysus rather than individual performers, and why the police, veterans of these parking lot festivals, understand the benign nature of their guests and are smiling at them.

A few days earlier the gig had been at a music theater out in the country. The endless sleepy commute, a forty-five-minute spin on an unfamiliar road from a generic RamadaMarriottSheraton, through endless geometrically identical cornfields, to a resort nowhere in particular, induced a feeling of absolute random disassociation. Conversation was desperately required, and centered on Lesh's newly purchased book about the anthropic principle, which posited the universe as a mind.

Obeying an unspoken protocol, Scrib had left the front seats to the band and retreated to the back of the van--limousines are thought too conspicuous--to consider the band's personalities in archetypal terms. Garcia is a powerful bohemian visionary, a shaman of a sort, and his personal style has largely defined the band's social and musical structure. Yet his role is nothing like that suggested by the automatic attention paid to a virtuoso rock guitarist or the guru figure the media have fabricated in his name. The band's candidate for Handsome Rock Star is Weir, the eternal Younger Brother. But on a day-to-day basis, the psychic pivot to the Dead is Phil Lesh, the most aggressive purist, the anti-philistine Artist. It is he who most often and most loudly demands that they dance as closely as possible to the edge of the nearest available precipice. Intellectual, kinetic, intense, he was once nicknamed Reddy Kilowatt in recognition of his high mental and physical velocity. Twenty years later his mind is still exceedingly agile, although on this day he was content to let Garcia dominate the rap.

"Why would the universe go through the trouble of evolving consciousness?" inquired Garcia. "If it wanted life that would succeed, just to create the most effective living thing, it could have stopped at bacteria. Or it could have stopped at vertebrates or sharks. But consciousness goes a quantum step further than just life. It might be that consciousness is the whole reason there is a universe. There might not be a universe apart from consciousness." Garcia lit another Pall Mall. "And who knows what it's like elsewhere in the universe? Local realities change enough, locally, that those Hindu guys can walk through huge, blazing fires and not get burned. It's got to be that consciousness modulates reality. Besides, the truth can't only be here, or you could stare at your toes and figure it all out."

"Yeah, but that's just solipsism, man, useless," interjected Lesh. "All you do is climb up your own verbal asshole."

"The real black hole," snickered Kreutzmann as Scrib reached for his pen while trying to imagine the members of Led Zeppelin in a rapt discussion of teleology and human consciousness.

Today the vans arrive at the usual 6 p.m. as Taylor finishes with the steward and sends Scrib to the crew bus to inform Parish that the band is onstage. Blond and sophisticated, tour manager Jon McIntire emerges from the lead van and heads for the stage. Wise to his rhythm guitarist's fondness for preshow tinkering, he tells Taylor, "Let's get the doors open. Weir might want to do something." Not all band arrivals have been so orderly. Once in the early 1970s, Weir and Ram Rod's wife, Frances, equipped with a guitar, identification, and sincerity, were unable to persuade a guard at one venue of their legitimacy. Ever polite, Weir waited until the gentleman no longer stood in front of the gate, then drove his rented car through it to the backstage area. Taylor turns to the promoter's security chief, whose shaven head and earring suggest a fierceness that is fortunately never displayed, and signals for the doors to be opened.

By 7 p.m. the crew members have taken their places onstage as most of the musicians digest dinner in a common dressing room. The drummers drill away on rubber practice pads and Weir works at his own exercise/etude, "Sage and Spirit." Garcia warms up in the opposite corner, his small, grubby hands bulging with muscle as they run endless scales up and down his custom Irwin guitar. Lesh sits onstage talking with his wife, Jill. A few minutes before showtime, a security guard shepherds Dan Healy and Candace Brightman, directors of sound and lights respectively, to their enclosure out in the audience. The anticipatory roar goes up several decibels as the crowd spots sound engineer Harry Popick taking his position at the onstage monitor soundboard.

McIntire finds his various charges and announces, "Time, guys." Weir has still not traversed the etude to his satisfaction, and calms his anxiety with a shot of brandy. Mydland gulps glycerin to coat his vocal cords and gets the usual reaction; the final backstage signal of an oncoming Dead concert is the sound of retching. Straggling out more or less in line, the musicians drift onto the stage.

Taylor leans over and murmurs into his headset, "House lights."


From the Hardcover edition.
Dennis McNally

About Dennis McNally

Dennis McNally - A Long Strange Trip
DENNIS MCNALLY graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and received a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Massachusetts. After being selected as the Grateful Dead’s official historian in 1980, he assumed the band’s publicity duties in 1984 and has been running that post ever since. He is the author of one previous book, Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. He lives with his wife in San Francisco.


From the Hardcover edition.
Praise

Praise

“If you want to know what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and what it was like in the Grateful Dead, A Long Strange Trip is for you. No other book on us comes close to it.” –Bob Weir

“Was it important to history? I’m not sure. Was it important to life? I know it was. A great read for those needing to know what happened between the cracks. . . .” –Bill Kreutzmann

“McNally has presented an evenhanded treatment of what is arguably the most complex and multifaceted phenomenon in the history of American music. I highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to know what we are all about.” –Owsley “Bear” Stanley

“It’s a simple tale, really. A band of misfit guys fall in love, stumble blindly onward and defy gravity, then try to kiss the face of God! This truth is better than fiction. I hope you all enjoy this odyssey as much as I have.” –Mickey Hart

“Dennis McNally knows the Grateful Dead as intimately as they know themselves. His historian’s eye, his immersion as a Dead ‘family member,’ and his crazed hippie heart have made this the book to read about the life, times, and twisted, double-helix road of the band’s evolution. It’s a great read.” –Peter Coyote

“As I read Dennis’s book, I knew he is the one person who could tell the history of the Dead, and why this band survived as it attracted everyone from the so-called hippie generation to those of us firmly in the establishment. It is a well-written and valuable history.” –Senator Patrick J. Leahy

“No novelist, sane or otherwise, could have invented the ethereal saga of the Grateful Dead. Dennis McNally’s backstage portrait of the world’s most liberated rock band is full of unforgettable images, wild and funny and fascinating.” –Carl Hiaasen

“The Dead has been an inspiring source of light for countless people. Dennis McNally’s riveting tale of the longest strangest trip will take you on a high-altitude training course and leave you prepared for the next lightning bolt of social and spiritual revelation.” –Bill Walton

“This is McNally’s view of what went down. It’s more often right than wrong and done with love, not a grudge, which goes a long way toward excusing another damned book about the Grateful Dead. Any view of us is necessarily a limited interpretation, like an aerial photo of Ground Zero. What Dennis loves and hates about us bears more weight than most interpretations because he took twenty years to get his facts straight. I’ll miss him when we kill him.” –Robert Hunter


From the Hardcover edition.

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