Manual A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead

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These riffs range from backstage preparations and fan babble ''The Grate ful Dead represents the high-water mark of civilization'' to musical parsings that, even when they overreach, evoke the rap ture with insight. On an improvisational passage: ''Garcia's guitar simply squeezes out the lead, the same sure descent but with overtones of pathos and majesty,'' and then the band members ''send it up one more time and then speed it up and split it into a shimmering waterfall glissando of grace notes, tears from the goddess muse. And a little.


McNally also salts in Dos Passos-ish newsreel bits that connect the exploits of the largely apolitical band to the culture at large. He notes the Dead's F. By the mid's, however, the bloom is off the hippie-era rose.

A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead |

Garcia -- who would have turned 60 this month -- was burdened with the status of subcultural guru, and de veloped a taste for heroin. As the band suc cumbs to the quintessentially American tendency toward overexpansion, the story takes the familiar arc of a ''Behind the Music'' episode. McNally doesn't skirt the ugli ness of Garcia's decline although readers wanting to wallow in full details are re ferred to Robert Greenfield's oral history of Garcia, ''Dark Star''. Yet writing your employers' biography must be a touchy business, and by the time the author begins appearing in third person as ''Scrib,'' the book begins to bog down in tour shenani gans and trivia, leaving latter-day muck largely unraked and even breezing by po tentially fascinating events like the band's extended collaboration with Bob Dylan.

Garcia's death in ended the band as it ends ''A Long Strange Trip,'' which de spite its flaws remains the most complete Dead chronicle we are ever likely to get.

But as the author notes, the band's legacy per sists. In addition to projects by its remain ing members, there is an entire subgenre of ''jam bands'' who, like the Dead, use im provisation and dance rhythms as their modus operandi, drawing fans who collect live recordings and follow their favorite acts from show to show.

The psychedelic idealism of rave culture, the online world of MP3 file-sharing, the annual American freak-fest known as Burning Man -- all re flect the sense of radical community the Dead engendered.

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Those seeds of gentle anarcho-utopianism continue to sprout in unexpected places, promoting what one critic called ''the quaint notion that art can save your life. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers.

Deadheads, drugs and a band beyond description

By Dennis McNally. New York: Broadway Books. Written with the same zeal and spirit that the Grateful Dead brought to its music, the book takes readers on a personal tour through the band's inner circle, highlighting its frenetic and very human faces. A Long Strange Trip is not only a wide-ranging cultural history, it is a definitive musical biography.

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