The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 11 October 2002

A Long Strange Trip

The Inside History of the Grateful Dead

by Dennis McNally

This "inside history" of this band and its epic journey closely parallels the life story of Jerry Garcia. While the band had a socialistic approach to its own operation and management, Jerry still came out on top as the default spiritual leader of the group. Dennis McNally, as the band's publicist in its later years, did indeed have an insider's view of the way they operated. His history of the Dead is sensitive and adoring, but not fawning. It is a broad overview of their lives together, with the greater detail falling upon the early years. Later routine is more lightly treated and even Jerry's death, the end of the band and the book, is somewhat quickly described. Still, there is much here to recommend the book. There are great historical details of life in the 60s, the band's connection to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, the drug culture in which they immersed themselves, and the terrific symbiosis and synchronicity that defined the fusion of jazz, country, bluegrass, rock and folk styles that gave the band a cultish following. The Deadheads themselves come to life in this book, though McNally isn't always praising of their behavior, either. At times, I wanted to read more about the interactions between band members, which were often fractious and irritable. McNally, perhaps, doesn't explore this side of the story enough, though the book is even handed and enjoyable. Interspersed between chapters of history, McNally also inserts vignettes of band life and a typical Dead concert. These chapters do capture the mad social beauty of those shows, and enlivens the connection between the reader and the subject of the book. I haven't read other books on Garcia or the Dead, so I am in no position to compare. Yet, I'd say this one is quite good on its own. Recommended.

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