Thursday, August 28, 2014

Phil and Friends at Terrapin Crossroads

I finally got to the Grate Room at Terrapin Crossroads for a performance. What a great way to see music: a short drive from our Richmond home, and no parking hassles or lines. We walked right up to the stage and heard almost four hours of music at close range. Kim Wilson took this photo from our little spot.

On this particular night, Phil and Friends included Anders Osborne, Scott Metzger, Jason Crosby, and Tony Leone. Let me cut to the chase: They killed it. After using advanced medical techniques to revive it, they killed it a few more times.


Victoria Beckham Rocking the Dead T-shirt at LAX

Happily, the accompanying article explained everything: "The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, who were best known for their unique and eclectic style."

Next line, perhaps, of this hot scoop: "Located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose, Palo Alto is a community of approximately 63,000 residents."

On second thought, I'm for whatever it takes to teach a little history. If it's a Spice Girl T-shirt, so be it.

The Spice Girls were a British pop girl group formed in 1994.


The Eagle Has (Almost) Landed

The advance reading copies for the book arrived this week. St. Martin's Press moved up the publication date to January, and I'm still collecting blurbs and photo permissions. But we're getting close.

In other news, I've organized a related class for UC Berkeley's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). It will meet once a week for six weeks starting Wednesday, October 1. Nick Meriwether, Rosie McGee, Blair Jackson, and David Gans have already agreed to share their wisdom on all things Dead. If this class isn't fun, we're not doing it right. More information at


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Books I Have Known

Not much blogging lately for three reasons: paid work, including the Grateful Dead manuscript; book-reviewin' for Truthdig; and Facebook--so many kitty cats, so little time!

Let me focus on the first two reasons and draw the curtain of charity before the third.

The Dead MS is in production. Now I'm working on the photos (and permissions), chit-chatting with the publisher's lawyer about legal concerns, reviewing cover concepts, etc. This week, I also had a chance to discuss some of the content with Joe Hagan, who's in town to research his biography of Jann Wenner. The publication of that book will coincide with Rolling Stone's 50th anniversary in 2017. From all indications, it's going to be fabulous. It was also a pleasure to visit with Joe, whom I met in the most serendipitous manner--a story for another day, when the kitty-cat traffic is less intense.

In related book news, it appears that Toby Gleason will publish an anthology of his father's writings and private papers. For my money, Ralph J. Gleason was one of the coolest cats on the Bay Area scene during the 60s and 70s. In addition to mentoring Jann and co-founding Rolling Stone, Gleason wrote for Ramparts, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Down Beat magazine; wrote all of Lenny Bruce's liner notes; championed the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane; and was the only music journalist on President Nixon's Enemies List. Very excited about that project, too, and glad I could help conceptualize it.

The Truthdig reviews are an intermittent pleasure enhanced by carefully chosen assignments. The last review was of Matt Taibbi's The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. That one was picked up by AlterNet, and when I last checked, only the New York Times review had drawn a larger online audience. The one before that was Dean Starkman's The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism. And the one before that was Curtis White's The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers. To my surprise, that review won the 2013 National Entertainment Journalism Award for Online Criticism. All of my Truthdig reviews can be found here.

OK, enough about that. Back to serious kitty biz.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Terrapin Redux

Lots to report since my last post, including another visit to the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the usual good time, and I took away a dozen or more gems for the Dead book. I also had a chance to visit with Rosie McGee and Rhoney Stanley, who attended the conference for the first time. Both have memoirs out (Rosie's Dancing with the Dead and Rhoney's Owsley and Me), which I reviewed at Nick Meriwether's request for Dead Studies.

Another benchmark: I submitted my manuscript to St. Martin's Press this weekend. I also met my editor, Marc Resnick, for the first time. The book is now scheduled for publication in Winter 2015--about this time next year.

Marc was in the Bay Area for a book party at Terrapin Crossroads last night. The book is Alan Paul's One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band, which will debut in the top ten this week. I had a chance to meet Alan as well as Jay Blakesberg, who took photographs, and Benjy Eisen, the Rolling Stone contributor who's working with Bill Kreutzmann on his memoir.

This was no ordinary book event. Alan plays guitar, too, and he joined Mark Karan (RatDog) and the house band, American Jubilee, for a set of blues numbers and "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad." Everyone had a great time, and we all wish Alan (and Marc) continued success with the book.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Terrapin Crossroads

I've now visited Terrapin Crossroads three times for no-cover bar music. I heard the Terrapin Family Band twice (with slightly different lineups) and the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen once. These bands, and this venue, are a significant if pleasantly understated contribution to the Bay Area music scene. I've also seen Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Mumford and Sons recently at the Greek Theater, and they were all awesome. But I recommend Terrapin Crossroads and these bands to anyone who enjoys professional, soulful music without the hassle that often goes along with shows at larger venues.

On my first trip, I heard the Terrapin Family Band with Brian and Grahame Lesh. They started with the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" from the Some Girls album of 1978. It was an interesting choice, especially for a band made up of guys in their twenties. They also played several bluegrass numbers, including the Stanley Brothers' "Long Journey Home," and ended with a superb version of The Band's "The Weight." There were about 50 people in the bar, and we spotted Phil Lesh sitting at a cafe table near the soundboard, working on a plate of pasta, singing along, laughing, and clearly enjoying himself.

This week, the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen featured Naturally, the 1972 album by J.J. Cale that included "After Midnight," which they killed. Each number opened out to a jam that built slowly to a climax; then the band tucked it all back in, usually under Allen's restrained vocals. That style worked especially well on "Bringing It Back from Mexico," which combined a swampy blues sound with vintage hippie lyrics about smuggling weed. ("I think I'll get me some to go/Bringing it back from Mexico.")

Yesterday I dropped in for brunch and heard the Terrapin Family Band. Once again, the band drew a set of strong and compatible songs from different sources and periods. Not all of them were famous; one was the Deep Dark Woods' "Two Time Loser"; another was Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." They also played "Long Black Veil" "Long Journey Home," and Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel." The execution was flawless, with no nonsense or chatter, but I really appreciated their ability to simultaneously curate and put their own stamp on songs that predate them by decades. It's gratifying to see younger people exploring and continuing musical traditions that, in this case at least, mean a lot to me and my generation.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Art of the Dead

I just got my copy of Philip Cushway's Art of the Dead (reading line: A Celebration of the Artists Behind the American Rock Poster Movement). It includes short pieces by Steven Heller, Peter Coyote, Greil Marcus, and Mickey Hart. Quotes from the artists and others are sprinkled throughout the full-color reproductions of the posters.

Art of the Dead features the "Big Five"--Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Wes Wilson--but it also includes information about (and work by) ten other artists. It compares the posters to 19th-century Japanese woodblocks and poster art from the Belle Epoque with examples from each.

I've been looking forward to this book's arrival. I wish it had even more discussion, but I've already learned a lot and will continue to scour it. I'm persuaded by its claim that the Dead's iconography was a big part of the band's appeal, and it documents a special form of mutual appreciation between the poster artists and the band, much of it based on the band's evocative name. It also suggests a link, at least in some cases, between the poster art and the light shows that were also emerging from San Francisco's fertile avant-garde arts scene.

Cushway recalls hanging out with Rick Griffin in New York in 1989. Griffin asked if Cushway wanted to check out the Dead show that night in New Jersey. Cushway writes, "I said I would, although I was initially reticent (sic)--it was a hot day, we had no tickets, and from experience I knew what an incredible hassle this could end up being." But he didn't realize whom he was with; they ended up sitting on stage. "Later that day, when Jerry Garcia came to meet us backstage, it dawned on me. In Garcia's eyes, he was a fan and Rick was the star."

Love it.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mother Jones's Mitt Romney Story

Lots of talk, of course, about Mitt Romney's 47% speech, and now the inside-baseball stories are starting to come out. The New York Times has a piece on Mother Jones, and the Washington Post has another on how the magazine landed the story.

Although Ramparts magazine, from which Mother Jones sprang, isn't mentioned, I recalled Adam Hochschild's comment about its formula for success: "Find an expose that major newspapers are afraid to touch, publish it with a big enough splash that they can't afford to ignore it ... and then publicize it in a way that plays the press off against each other."

I was surprised that the Times thought its own readers would need that much background information on Mother Jones, which has been around since the mid-1970s. Interesting, too, that the article quotes Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos and our author at PoliPointPress.

Nicholas Lemann's remark about Mother Jones is also instructive. Lemann, dean of Columbia University's graduate school of journalism, said it helped that "Mother Jones seems to live in a zone where it’s respected. It’s obviously ideological. But it’s respected."

I don't want to get too fussy about this quote, which was almost certainly part of some larger point. And yes, it's important to note that Mother Jones is respected. But I really do wonder who's NOT ideological in Lemann's sense. Only news organizations that maximize profit for shareholders? Or that subset plus the BBC and minus Fox News? In far too many discussions of the media, the ideology of the modern media corporation doesn't count as an ideology at all.


West of Eden

I've been dipping in and out of a book I received from PM Press earlier this year called West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California.

The title maps directly onto the main theme of my California Culture course at San Francisco State University. But the connections go well beyond that. Three of the book's editors--Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, and Cal Winslow--served on the steering committee of the California Studies Association during my tenure there. And the volume is dedicated to the late Jeff Lustig, who founded that organization, contributed a chapter to the book, and died this summer. (As the book's dedication notes, Jeff was the "dean of California Studies.") The blurbs are from Rebecca Solnit, Dick Walker, Mike Davis, and Peter Linebaugh. So yes, lots of contact points for me here.

West of Eden covers a lot of ground, but I wanted to mention one felicity that surfaced for me last week. My Grateful Dead research recently led me to the topic of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the subject of a David Bernstein book published by UC Press in 2008. That book included a great deal of material on the center's co-founder, Ramon Sender, who also helped Stewart Brand organize the Trips Festival. That's an important chapter in the Dead's history, but most of the Dead literature passes quickly over its avant-garde element, including the Tape Music Center's contribution. As Stewart Brand later said, the Trips Festival was the beginning of the Grateful Dead and the end of almost everything else--except light shows, which were also featured there.

I also learned that almost immediately after the Trips Festival, Sender moved to Lou Gottlieb's Morning Star ranch in Sonoma County. There they started a kind of commune, which the book describes in some detail. (The book also includes an interview with Sender, who mentions his visit to Rancho Olompali shortly after the Dead lived there.) Brand went on to produce the Whole Earth Catalog, which raised the profile of such communes and sought to give their residents (and other readers) the tools they needed to flourish.

The back-to-the-land movement coincided with the Dead's move to Marin County and the huge success of Crosby, Stills & Nash, who were also living in Marin and hanging out with the Dead. The Dead, in turn, began downplaying the experimental music associated with their Haight period and started producing albums like American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There's much more to say about this book, and I'll probably post about it again as I get to know it better. Just wanted to celebrate those happy accidents that cluster around my favorite research projects.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Bear House

I took a small contingent by 6024 Ascot in Montclair today. Turns out the house, which was owned by Owsley Stanley, can be had for a mere $1.4 million. Fanatical readers of this blog will recall that Stanley was the Bay Area's top producer of fine LSD in the 1960s as well as the Dead's sound engineer. He frequently housed members of the Grateful Dead here circa 1972.

These photographs don't do justice to this unique property. The home, which dates to the 1920s, began as a log cabin that's still intact, including untrimmed bark on the inside rafters. The master bathroom, with its mind-blowing tile work, is one of the coolest rooms I've ever come upon. The front courtyard and second-story balcony overlooking the pool announce "Party!"

Not everything works in this place. In fact, it's a little like a Grateful Dead concert: funky, uneven, full of peak moments. Check it out, I say.