Poet Conners (Emily Ate the Wind, 2008) revisits his eight-year odyssey following the Grateful Dead around America.
The Dead’s three-decade career, which ended with Jerry Garcia's 1995 death, was partially divided into two notable periods, pre- and post-MTV. In 1987, the video of their midlife anthem “Touch of Grey” spawned a renaissance and a new generation of Deadheads. That same year, 16-year-old Conners jumped “on the bus,” making the Dead a way of life. Here he details his journey as a diehard fan, reading Beat literature while consuming LSD, smoking pot and hopping from show to show. Descriptions of concerts and the bazaar-like parking-lot scenes are interspersed with memories of the author’s small-town upbringing in Pittsford, N.Y. Conners was a witness to the end of the Dead’s golden years. By 1990, the band had moved from playing relatively intimate venues to selling out huge stadiums, attracting an undesirable element looking for kicks rather than music that soon outnumbered the tight-knit caravan of traditional Deadheads. By 1995, it was all over, forcing the author to search for alternatives. A decade later he finds himself with wife and kids, working in an office, weighing his past. Much of that weighing is self-indulgent self-glamorization. One scene shows Conners tripping on acid and getting his thrills by laughing in people's faces; the author’s ex post facto explanation that he was an all-knowing trickster teaching those unaware people something about themselves rings hollow. Paragraph-long bios of each band member, plus CliffsNotes-style treatise of the Beat Generation, the Merry Pranksters and Woodstock, may be useful for neophytes but will likely annoy his principal audience of nostalgia-seekers who have been there and done that.
Insightful and entertaining at times, but frequently, aggravatingly hipper-than-thou.