Author:Joel Selvin with Pamela Turvey
Subtitled “The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip” this book deals with the history of the Grateful Dead after the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. That’s right, after the band had effectively finished. My first thought was that it was likely to be a bit dull – a duty read – not one bit! This is, somewhat unexpectedly, one of those music books that transcends the subject. What we get is a compelling, well-paced saga of grief, friendships lost, back-stabbing and, ultimately, redemption (of a sort). You don’t actually need to know or like the Grateful Dead to enjoy this book (though it certainly helps).
Garcia was central to the band to the extent that, when he died, each of the remaining 4* members thought that they alone had been his best friend. It was not, as Selvin points out, an illusion that they held about each other. There then follows an account of the vicious wrangling over Garcia’s will and estate, taking in a tragi-comic account of a boat trip to scatter his ashes.
The band members are left with an income-generating business but don’t know what to do with it or with each other. A grandiose-sounding scheme for a sort of Grateful Dead theme park gains traction but is eventually killed off by bassist Phil Lesh. While none of the Dead come out of this book exactly well, Lesh comes in for particular pelters. This is not entirely fair and no doubt reflects the fact that he did not cooperate with the author, while other members did. Time and again we see Lesh painted as a kind of baddie – vetoing schemes, rationalising the sprawling business that is leaking money and generally imposing order on chaos. In other words, being the grown-up in the room. Somebody had to be.
After a series of musical meetings and partings, including the 4 of them touring as The Other Ones, just when things look to have irretrievably broken down, the band reunited in 2015 for a series of 5 concerts in Chicago – the Fare Thee Well event that gives the book its title. The 70K seater stadium sold out in minutes. Onstage for 17 hours, they played 88 songs (with only 2 repeats). It was a musical and financial success. It had taken them 20 years but they finally gave things a proper ending.
*There were actually 5 surviving members. Keyboard player Vince Welnick didn’t get much of a look in, Dead keyboards having a similar turnover to Spinal Tap drummers. Reduced to waiting by the phone while his erstwhile colleagues reformed and toured without him, he eventually took his own life.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
One thing you’ve learned
Problems don’t go away if you don’t talk about them. Who knew?