Coming on its 50th anniversary and just after the band’s farewell tour, an engaging, near-comprehensive oral history of the Grateful Dead.
If “the Grateful Dead” and “disco” are not phrases that go together, it’s not for want of their trying. As Jackson (Grateful Dead Gear—The Band's Instruments, Sound Systems, and Recording Sessions, from 1965 to 1995, 2006, etc.) and musician Gans (Conversations with the Dead: The Grateful Dead Interview Book, 1991, etc.)—collectors and archivists who know as much as nearly anyone alive about the storied band—chronicle, midway into the 1970s, with albums such as “From the Mars Hotel” and “Wake of the Flood" under their belts, the Dead were enough under the sway of Saturday Night Fever to attempt a disco-ish take on “Dancing in the Street.” Chalk it up to Mickey Hart, one of the many thorns in this thorny narrative hide, whose return to the band wrought big changes. “We had to tell him [what to play],” said guitarist Bob Weir in 1977, “which means we had to be thinking about it, which means while we were thinking about it, we might as well rethink things in general.” As fans already know but will further note, the superficially peace-and-love demeanor of the Dead disguised all sorts of tensions, from personality clashes to money worries and differences over musical direction. But it all worked, despite Jerry Garcia’s drug use and increasingly erratic behavior. Says sound tech Bob Bralove, “The energy around [the last tour with Garcia] was kind of confusing, because there was this really positive energy coming from the band, but it was missing a key ingredient.” For all that, there’s plenty of peace and love here and lots of smoke and psychedelia, as well as the usual Altamont regrets, all voiced by people in and close to the band.
Worthy of Studs Terkel and an essential addition to the books of the Dead.