Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading Notes: Jackson and Gans 2015

Jackson, Blair and David Gans. 2015. This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead. Flatiron Books.

Blair Jackson and David Gans, like Dennis McNally and David Browne earlier in my reading year, exceed my very high expectations. I don't generally do book reviews, and won't here, either, but I did want to spotlight just how foundational these guys have been in helping us understand the Grateful Dead's world just a little bit more.

Jackson and Gans are to writing about the Grateful Dead as, say, TC is to the band's music. I mean that as a compliment of utmost seriousness. In thinking about Garcia's musical life, I consider the players, those musicians who shared a stage or room with Jerry, to stand at the closest, inner ring of the social Garciaverse. TC was around 14 months and made an essential contribution to the Dead's most essential music, Live/Dead (1969). You can't understand the Dead if you don't understand TC.

Same goes for Jackson and Gans with respect to the written word (to say nothing of Gans's many contributions via the radio and otherwise). But it's more than just the authenticity and aesthetic – we would have been lost without them. From the second half of the 1970s forward, as the Dead grew more insular, Jackson and Gans became increasingly central informational nodes linking the goings on in Marin to the wider world, sometimes even all the way out to far-flung Contra Costa County. J Through inter alia Dennis Erokan's Bay Area Music (BAM), they brought us the little tidbits of gossip and the long form journalism. Jackson and Gans were the indispensable Deadhead journos in an era before the internet, when information was scarce. In 1981, they teamed up to interview the band and BAM covered Garcia across two issues,[i] as Adam Block had done a few years before.[ii] Blair and and Regan McMahon launched the fanzine the Golden Road (1984-1993) not long after, and with it helped define what such a publication can be, marrying art, erudition, great writing and lots of substance to the Deadhead experience. Gans's first book, 1985's Playing In The Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead was the first of several to decode and re-encode the whole trip.

I won't narrate the rest of their story, but it underscores the creative efflorescence that the Dead tapped into and nurtured. Many talented people engaged many acts of genuine human creation around the whole scene, and the many wonderful writers and journalists certainly took, and continue to take, pride of place in my own text-centric little world. The semicentennial of 2015 was such a bounty of books, for example, that I am only now finishing up some transcriptions, first of Dennis McNally's shimmering personal text-collage Jerry on Jerry, then of Browne's rather stunning chronological retiling, reshuffling the deck and turning up aces, abundant fresh thoughts and material to consider.

In This Is All a Dream We Dreamed (TIAADWD), Jackson and Gans amaze me once again. I once briefly praised their work (with Steve Silberman) in curating the Dead's 1999 retrospective boxset So Many Roads, including the controversial (among picky Deadheads) but, IMO, correct choice to edit the 7/9/95 version of the titular swansong. The 2009 Let It Rock release of November 17-18, 1975 exemplifies their contributions to the Garciaverse: stellar music that is well-chosen, skillfully curated, sounding fat and fine from Betty's tapes and including Gans's excellent liner notes, featuring the rare chance to read drummer Ron Tutt's take on the Nicky Hopkins-era Garcia Band. I could go on and on.

I think Corry praised TIAADWD as oral history, and, as always, I can only second Corry's emotion. Communing with Jackson and Gans found me dusting off Greenfield (1996) and realizing that, not only have I never annotated it, but most every page either tells me something that I didn't know or tells me where I learned something that I do. Listening notes TBD. Talk is beautifully rich, and when it is thoughtful, well-considered, skillfully engaged and curated, manuscripting it reveals facets that may not become visible in similar material, but sourced from the human brain via fingers to text. Jackson and Gans have done lots of interviews, they live and breathe the substance and have come to master the various media in which they work, and it all comes together in a book that will remain an essential resource in any self-respecting Deadhead's library. If you haven't, yet, you should go buy it.

Various annotations and reading notes below the fold.