“[Jerry] Garcia got Captain Trips. I got Bill the Drummer.”
Readers dropping into Grateful Dead drummer Kreutzmann’s stream of memory may be surprised by only one overriding theme: namely, the frequency of bitter episodes of discord, always roiling under the surface of a good-time psychedelic jug band that slowly emerged as a stadium-filler. Kreutzmann himself isn’t shy of dishing and of sharing wounded feelings. Whereas the late, lamented, outwardly thuggish Pigpen “was the sweetest guy anybody had ever met,” the band tensions were sufficient that he didn’t bother attending keyboardist Keith Godchaux’s funeral (“Brent [Mydland] was our hot new keyboard player and we couldn’t have been happier about that”), and he was incensed when Mickey Hart, the more inventive percussionist of the ensemble, was slated to turn up for a farewell concert, a moment of enmity that Kreutzmann doesn’t sufficiently explain—just as some of the patently evident bad blood between him and bassist Phil Lesh goes without comment. Much of the bad behavior, especially once the band started earning real money, Kreutzmann ascribes to cocaine (“cocaine has its place…but it’s a detrimental drug, make no mistake”), painkillers, booze, and, in Garcia’s case, heroin. Drugs, the reader will not be surprised to learn, form another overriding theme: “So, for the record, the drummer from the Grateful Dead smokes weed and thinks it should be legal,” he writes. “Is that any surprise?” Not in the least, and the chief problem with this unenergetic memoir is that there are no surprises, just a kind of grandfatherly “let me tell you, kid, back in the day we…” approach to events, repetitive, fuzzy, full of dropped names (Dylan, Belushi, Joplin), and mostly good-natured—though sometimes surprisingly peevish.
Die-hard Deadheads will be curious though not richly rewarded for their troubles.