Sadly, I never saw the Grateful Dead in concert before Jerry Garcia died in 1995; oddly enough, though, that same year, a high school buddy introduced me to the band. While my musical tastes have shifted over the past two decades, the Dead has remained a constant companion. The Internet has proven indispensable for listening to old shows from any era—nearly any show is available for free, most of them digitally remastered—and it has been a consistent joy to dig through the archives and occasionally catch a concert from the amoebalike lineups that bassist Phil Lesh has concocted over the years.
This year marks the 50th (!) anniversary of the Dead, which they will celebrate with a series of shows in Chicago this summer featuring the four surviving members—Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart—and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio (Phish is another of my favorites). While I won’t be able to attend, I have been refreshing my appreciation for the Dead with a couple of Garcia bios and David Browne’s new history of the band, So Many Roads, which we called “one of the better books on the band and welcome reading in this 50th anniversary year.”
Browne has written about music for Entertainment Weekly and other outlets for years, and he has penned bios of Jeff and Tim Buckley and Sonic Youth, as well as the group history Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970.
In So Many Roads, Browne recounts many stories that will be old news to die-hard Deadheads, but he is particularly insightful about the genesis of their sound and durability of their success. And as our reviewer notes, he “appropriately places emphasis on things other biographers have overlooked: the importance to the band’s sound of Robert Hunter as a lyricist and arranger, the incessant intellectual curiosity of Jerry Garcia.” —E.L.
Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.