Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Booklist Digs "No Simple Highway"

I found out yesterday that Booklist will run a review of No Simple Highway in its December issue. Here's a sneak peek.

Although the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995, after 30 colorful years of touring and recording stylistically eclectic albums, their fan base remains a thriving one, with the group’s current Facebook page attracting almost two million followers. Those who have never understood the Dead’s inimitable mystique often caricature band members as aging hippies idolized by pot-ingesting dropouts. However, for San Francisco State humanities professor Richardson as well as legions of Dead enthusiasts (aka “Dead Heads”), the stereotype easily dissolves within a broader picture of the band’s enormous cultural impact, which the author presents here in a fascinating historical overview dating back to founding member Jerry Garcia’s early adolescence. Richardson argues that the Dead’s wide appeal was due to their embrace and support of three fundamental human urges for transcendence, mobility, and community, and he provides abundant examples from the band’s days of drug experimentation, artistic exploration, and road tripping. While Dead devotees will revel in the wealth of biographical details here, every reader interested in music and its social repercussions will find Richardson’s work both captivating and instructive.

Very gratifying.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Grateful Dead Is Not Suitable Scholarship"

There's nothing new about what my dissertation director used to call "contempt prior to investigation," which he considered an intellectual sin. But I'm always a little surprised when I see it. Check out the letter to the editor of the San Jose Mercury News after the Grateful Dead conference at San Jose State University:

Grateful Dead is not suitable scholarship.

I wonder if anyone saw that the natural progression from the virtual legalization of marijuana led to the "study" of the Grateful Dead at a publicly funded state university. I grew up with the Grateful Dead in the '70s, love their music, and saw many of their shows. But can we please keep things in proper perspective? I can't help thinking that the scholars in countries poised to overtake this country on so many levels are laughing hysterically.

Michael Brown
Monte Sereno

My question to Mr. Brown would be, "How can we keep things in proper perspective if we don't study them?" Ironically, one of the main threats to scholarship in this country isn't the foreign threat he fears, much less the derisive laughter of other scholars. Rather, it's the anti-intellectualism he advocates.

If he had studied the matter a bit more before firing off his letter, he would have learned that the conference investigated the Dead's relationship to the Beats and the San Francisco Renaissance, the history of the American and British countercultures, the most creative poster art of the 1960s, the Dead's innovative business model (now the industry norm), and many other worthy topics.

But I guess Mr. Brown was already in possession of the truth about what makes for "suitable scholarship." And who could deny the "natural progression" between the virtual legalization of cannabis and unsuitable scholarship?


Friday, November 07, 2014

What I Love About the Grateful Dead Community

I attended the Grateful Dead conference ("So Many Roads: The World in the Grateful Dead") yesterday at San Jose State University and will return for more today and tomorrow. There was a lot of star power there, including Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, whose memoir will appear next year. Lyricist John Perry Barlow gave a presentation, and I met Carolyn (Mountain Girl) Garcia, who's working on her memoir for St. Martin's Press. Lots of great authors and journalists, too many to itemize here, and any number of inner-circle folks from the Dead's label, publishing operation, archive, etc.

I loved every minute of it. But what I really love about the Dead community has (almost) nothing to do with star power.

When I arrived, a professorial gentleman was unloading boxes and sorting out lanyards behind the registration desk. I glanced at his name tag but couldn't quite place him. I later realized I had interviewed him over the telephone for my book. His name is Allen Baum, and he was instrumental in starting a little company called Apple Computer. Specifically, Allen brought Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to his first meeting of the Homebrew Computing Club, which Time magazine later called "the crucible for an entire industry." That's where Woz met Steve Jobs. Allen also advised Woz to start Apple rather than work for others.

THIS is the guy handing out the name tags at the Dead conference? Yep.

BTW, the photo shows Woz, Allen, and others reflecting on the Homebrew Computing Club. Allen is in the middle.


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

So Many Roads

"So Many Roads: The World in the Grateful Dead" starts tomorrow night at San Jose State University. I'll miss the opening because I'm teaching the OLLI course, but I'm scheduled to present a paper at 9 am (!) Thursday morning. Very much looking forward to the conference, where I'll see many familiar faces but also lots of new ones: Carolyn Adams Garcia, Trixie Garcia, David Lemieux, Ed Perlstein, and countless others. Bill Kreutzmann will talk about his new book with Benjy Eisen; turns out we share the same editor (Marc Resnick) at St. Martin's Press. Here's the conference info if you're curious. Should be a blast.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Back On the Home Front

I live in Richmond, just a few miles north of Berkeley. Its progressive City Council has received a fair amount of national coverage recently, including this piece in The Nation.

Chevron's large refinery here was the site of an explosion and fire two years ago that sent 15,000 residents to the hospital with respiratory problems. That was pretty bad, but now Chevron has set aside $3 million to tilt the local election toward Chevron-friendly candidates. The energy giant has targeted candidates in the Richmond Progressive Alliance and showered my neighbors and me with television ads, flyers, billboards, even its own news site, the Richmond Standard. That's a lot of not-so-free corporate speech, but the weird thing is the assortment of candidates that Chevron supports. It's not an impressive bunch, which makes Chevron's very expensive gambit look even worse than it otherwise would.

None of this has been lost on local and national outlets, including Rachel Maddow, the Los Angeles Times, AlterNet, Salon, and the East Bay Express. But much of the initial reporting was done by Richmond Confidential, which is run by students at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

We'll see whether Chevron's gamble will pay off soon enough. But I'm struck by the way the media coverage has worked out here. It's a good example of two points I've made here and there. One is that small outlets often break big stories. The other is that these small outlets need bigger ones to pick up those stories so that a much larger audience can see them. Both kinds of news outlets are required for a healthy media ecology.

Update: It now appears that Radio Free Richmond ("Independent Richmond News Without Fear or Favor") is part of the campaign. Its creator is BMWL, a San Francisco PR firm that has worked with Chevron. This from the East Bay Express, January 2013: "Along with running the anti-soda-tax campaign on behalf of the beverage industry, BMWL & Partners worked with Chevron in 2012 as part of the oil giant's $1 million effort to elect Chevron-friendly candidates running for the city council, including [Nat] Bates." Bates is Chevron's candidate for mayor in this election cycle.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Gans Unloads at the Freight & Salvage

David Gans came by the Freight & Salvage yesterday and dropped some serious Grateful Dead knowledge on us. Between the books, articles, photographs, and radio programs, David has produced an enormous body of high-quality work about the Dead, and he ladled out a necessarily small but tasty fraction of that. He also treated us to a guided listening of two live tracks from 1976. Nobody does it better.

One student buttonholed me and raved about the quality of our guests, and I've heard others voice similar sentiments. So I know I'm not the only one feeling especially Grateful.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blair Jackson Visits "No Simple Highway"

Blair Jackson visited our Grateful Dead course yesterday and shared his vast knowledge of the band and its history. Aficionados will recall that he and wife Regan McMahon published The Golden Road from 1983 to 1994. The band members enjoyed the magazine and gave him extraordinary access; as a result, The Golden Road was widely regarded as the best fanzine of its era. Blair also wrote the first serious history of the band in 1983, and his Garcia biography was an enormous contribution to our understanding of a fascinating artist and figure.

As I told the students before we launched this class: if this isn't fun, we're not doing it right. And yesterday was really fun.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rosie McGee at Freight & Salvage

Rosie McGee shared her photographs and memories at the Freight & Salvage this week. Truly illuminating, and a great counterpoint to Nick Meriwether's historical overview last week. The sheer amount of visual information in Rosie's photographs, and the way her stories complement and contextualize that information, made her visit especially rewarding for us. A lot of that information can be found in her memoir, Dancing with the Dead, but it's always a pleasure to hear it conversationally as well.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

No Simple Highway at the Freight & Salvage

The Grateful Dead class got off to a great start at the Freight & Salvage last week. Nick Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist at UC Santa Cruz, deftly framed the Dead's influences, milieu, and project. It's a new course and a new venue, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm now looking forward to the next five meetings. The OLLI staff did a fantastic job, we got to use the green room, and the technology worked! Next up: Rosie McGee, author of Dancing with the Dead.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Berkeleyside Covers the OLLI Course on the Dead

So grateful to Berkeleyside, the award-winning news site, for running a piece on my Grateful Dead course at UC Berkeley's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Natalie Orenstein, who graduated from Berkeley High in 2009 (!), did a nice job on the story.