Saturday, June 23, 2018

Fare Thee Well

I just read Joel Selvin's latest, Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead's Long Strange Trip. I have seen many Deadheads bashing it, but I thought it was just fine.

For better or for worse, but probably not surprisingly to readers of this blog, I haven't paid much attention to the post-8/9/95 goings-on. I saw one Phil and Friends show in Sunrise, Florida, ca. 2002, for which I had great seats, like 5th row center, and found it utterly uninteresting. I saw half a RatDog show at some point at the Tower Theater in Philly, but we got sleepy and bailed. As a result, I don't have any particular emotional investment in any of this, and no real baggage - I think that's to the good, allowing me a dispassionate assessment of what Joel has written.

Phil and Jill Lesh of course are the real villains of the story. Weir seems like he just wants to play music, and I am frequently struck by how Garcialike he is in that regard, and in terms of having (possibly somewhat corresponding) substance demons. Mickey is a mad polymath, Kreutzmann likes to chill in Hawaii and play with good players, but he's kind of a slacker with a temper. None of it particularly moved me.

Joel sort of constructs a triumphant ending to the whole thing, which is fine. Again, I don't really care about any of this except insofar as it sheds light on Garcia, and it does some of that. We knew he was the center of the whole GD operation, but without reading this it's not clear how much his gravitational pull kept everybody else away from each others' throats, sublimated their own petty rivalries within the greater benefit of being able to keep being near Jerry. I suspect there were a lot of petty jealousies toward Bob's especially close relationship with Garcia, but we don't really get any particular insight into each man's relationship with him. That's fine, that's not what the book is about, and few who remain (even fewer willing to talk) probably have any particular insight into those relationships, in any case.

The GD scene was ugly and petty enough with Garcia around, and, while it may have gotten even uglier and more petty after his death, it's not obvious to me that that's true. These are a bunch of incredibly talented men with their own ambitions, a number of them probably bona fide geniuses in their own rights, with amazingly deep connections that are profoundly human, with all that implies. I wish them all well, and hope they get to keep doing what they love to do for a long time to come, independently, together, or anything in between.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mother American Night

Barlow, John Perry, with Robert Greenfield. 2018. Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times. New York: Crown Archetype.

This was an awesome read. By "hanging around with intent" (p. 71), Barlow managed to play a role in many of the most seismic changes to shake the postwar West, Forrest Gump with brilliance, vision and agency. In unadorned prose, he drops like a dozen lines that just had me marveling at his (and presumably Robert Greenfield's) way with words, and even more impressively his way with ideas.

His relationship with Garcia was rather fraught, and he doesn't pull any punches with him or the Grateful Dead scene. There's plenty here for the cynic. But this is the farthest thing from a tell-all or an exercise in score settling. He touches everything deftly, lightly, frankly and, it feels to me, the way it was (as JPB lived it).

This is a nice read, another reminder that the social world of the Grateful Dead (and the hippies, and the Sixties) was disproportionately populated with brilliant, amazing people who lived full lives doing important things. Two snaps up.