28 June 2006

Searching for the Sound, My Life With the Grateful Dead, by Phil Lesh

June 28 2006 (22:01:00) ( 0 views )

In the attics of my life I remember buying a Grateful Dead LP that had, among other things, "The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "Cream Puff War," "Viola Lee Blues," and a picture of Jerry Garcia wearing an Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes tophat on the cover -- oh wow... I was in love and it never ended. On through the years. I'm no Dead expert, and the 'net abounds with such, but I had the Skull and Roses, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, Europe '72, Wake of the Flood, and Go to Heaven. I've been to a few GD concerts, although it's a long long time ago.

Sometime in the early 1990s I was driving through Seattle on my way home from a day on the road as a sales rep. I was wearing wool slacks, a dress shirt, maybe a tie, shiny shoes, the whole salesman outfit. I had samples, catalogs, order forms, paperwork and a cellular phone. I don't remember why but I went past the Seattle Center. I was only dimly aware that the Dead were in town doing a concert, and at that point in my life had little interest in going to such an event. With age my tolerance for crowds and random noise has really deteriorated.

I drove past sidewalks loaded with young and old people dressed in tie-dye and denim. Many hundreds of them. Long hair, headbands, suede vests. Girls in long cotton dresses twirling, crazy hippies with hand drums. Sandals, incense, and what's that smell? I had the strangest feeling of being thrown back into 1967. Dead Heads were everywhere. There were people there younger than me that looked like I looked when I was their age. And I'm sure if any of them looked at me in my air-conditioned car and Establishment uniform they thought the kind of thoughts that I would have thought back in the Summer of Love. It was a funny feeling.

And then not long afterward, again as I drove along on a business mission of some sort, came the sad news of Jerry Garcia's death. Now, I know that that was 9 August 1995, as it was very easy to Google. (When exactly that concert was is not so easy, but there are those of you out there who will look it up.) And it really, really hit me. It was physical.

I am not one to be involved with celebrities, but this was Jerry, and it was different. I loved the sound of his guitar, I loved his voice, and I loved the Grateful Dead. Sure, my love had taken a back seat as I became preoccupied in the rush of "adult" life and "important things." But it was still there, and I knew it was there when I heard that Jerry was gone. My sadness surprised me, and as I listened to the obligatory tribute plays of his songs on the radio I couldn't stop the tears. There I was, a middle-aged fat salesman peddling automotive products on the Freeway, crying for one of my rock 'n roll heroes.

Phil Lesh has written a 333 page book chronicling his time with the Dead, which is pretty much the whole life of the band. Phil joined Jerry, Pigpen, Bob Weir, and Billy Kreutzmann way back in the time of Haight Ashbury to form what became arguably the most innovative, quirky, loved, improvisational rock 'n roll band in the electric music movement of the late 20th century.

Lesh tells us of the early days of crazy camraderie, travels with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and the early involvement of Owsley as their sound technician. He takes us throught the whole story, through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. "What a long, strange, trip it's been."

His writing is only a little bit self-conscious. Phil is obviously a nice guy that I'd enjoy knowing and he's a fabulously good musician. The fact that he produced this book and that it is, after all, very readable and thoroughly enjoyable, is quite an accomplishment. And it's just un-polished enough to make me doubt that a "ghost" writer was involved.

The edition of the book that I read was a Back Bay Books paperback, and it includes two photo sections, which are delightful.

If you have enjoyed the Grateful Dead and have any curiosity about them, I'd strongly recommend you find a copy of this book. I found it to be a very pleasant nostalgic side-trip for a 54-year-old hippie with nearly no hair.

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