What a Long, Strange Trip It Was: a comprehensive, thoughtful anthology depicting the phenomena and foibles encompassing the 30-odd year “unending tour” of the Grateful Dead.
Husband-and-wife editors Dodd (The Grateful Dead and Deadheads, not reviewed) and Spaulding shrewdly cast a wide net in addressing the Deadhead phenomenon, and the plurality of perspectives and information helps even neophytes understand the band’s tenacity in outlasting the Haight-Ashbury days, their development as an underground phenomenon, and their dedication to musical experimentation (as reflected in everything from idiosyncratic side projects to their obsession with live sound and encouragement of tape trading among their hardcore fans). Though these pieces do not dispel a conception of this Deadhead subculture as solipsistic and clubbish, there’s much fine writing here nonetheless. Key pieces include Tom Wolfe’s account of an early “Kool-Aid Acid Test,” essays on the Dead’s beginnings by pioneering pop journalist Ralph Gleason, and accounts of the 1970-era period (when it became evident the band had evolved beyond being a mere California rock group into something more unpredictably fluid) by Steve Silberman, George W.S. Trow, and novelist Ed McClanahan. While contributors like Silberman, Mary Eisenhart, and Blair Jackson are connected within the Dead organization (and, to their credit, find insiders’ insights), the rock critical establishment is represented by short, lively pieces from Robert Christgau and Richard Meltzer, as well as writers not associated with the Dead’s milieu (like screenwriter Charlie Haas and fiction writer Lee Abbott). Substantial interviews with key Dead members Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and lyricist Robert Hunter also appear. While many pieces hew to depictions of the Dead-related lifestyle as an elaborate traveling utopia, fan-magazine editor Jackson portrays darker qualities in his 1990 depiction of a scene consumed by both overindulgence and undercover drug warriors looking for easy prosecutions.
Although the book ends abruptly with saddened consideration of Garcia’s 1995 demise (without discussing the Dead’s influence upon current cultish, touring “jam bands”), it remains a satisfying and thought-provoking compendium of countercultural commentary.