True Deadheads, rejoice! June brings two books related to the legendary Grateful Dead, albeit not in the most straightforward—or revelatory—manner. So let me get that caveat out of the way, since neither of these books is not likely to appeal to readers with no interest in the Dead. However, for longtime fans like me, each book, while not exceptional in any way, offers enough to warrant the cover price.
Fare Thee Well by Joel Selvin: This one is for the fans, to be sure, because it covers events after the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, which many consider the year when the Dead officially died—if not before, given Garcia’s rapidly declining health during those last few years. However, Selvin unearths enough information about the surviving members and their many permutations in the two decades since. As our reviewer writes, “though Selvin is ‘no Deadhead,’ he has seen his fair share of shows, and his job at the San Francisco Chronicle brought him into contact with the members numerous times across the decades. He has also done his homework, interviewing all of the major—and many minor—players involved in the band’s history….The book lacks the grace of a Greil Marcus, but the pages turn quickly enough to engage readers intrigued by the Dead’s mystique.”
Mother American Night by John Perry Barlow: Barlow’s memoir—which covers far more than just his role as a lyricist for the Dead’s Bob Weir or as a Timothy Leary–taught LSD crusader—is full of entertaining anecdotes about his eventful life in music, politics, and the early internet. “The storyline is a bit of a mess,” writes our reviewer, “but so was Barlow’s life…he writes with rough grace and considerable poetic power….A yarn to read, with pleasure, alongside Ringolevio and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.