I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead
by Bill Kreutzmann with Benjy Eisen. (The hoi polloi
will have their chance next month.) I ingested 100 pages at the first sitting. Given Bill's vocation, is it any wonder that the book has great tempo?
Bill never did many interviews, and I've heard him complain about the accuracy of the ones that did appear. So I knew I was missing a lot of his basic information while I was writing No Simple Highway
. I tried to contact him, of course, but he was saving the good stuff for his own book. And now we have it. I know quite a lot more about his youth, including a random (or was it?) introduction to Aldous Huxley while Bill was attending an Arizona boarding school. (Fanatical readers of the blog will recall that I start No Simple Highway
with Huxley's first mescaline trip, which was the basis for his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception
.) I also know where Bill lived, whom he married and had children with, and which memories survived three decades of continual touring and partying.
Many insiders have wondered what this book would reveal about the Dead and its members. Let's be clear: Bill pulls a couple of punches. In fact, he tells us so. "When I first started writing this book," he notes, "I imagined that I would go into a little more detail about the reasons why the Dead dissolved after the 2009 tour and why, for years, there were never even talks of reforming." I think I know at least one of those reasons, but the "little more detail" he mentions would have been welcome. On the other hand, that kind of dish probably would have thrown a monkey wrench into this year's anniversary concerts, so I'm willing to do without it, at least for now.
On balance, however, Bill's story is refreshingly forthright. He discusses his mother's suicide, for example, which I knew nothing about. He's also very clear that he didn't want Mickey Hart to rejoin the band in the 1970s: "I was not
cool with that. At all." And though he never says so explicitly, he strongly suggests that Mickey's challenges during this time included heroin use. (Mickey has referred vaguely to the demons he was wrestling to the ground, and every band history mentions his dark period following Lenny Hart's criminal mischief as the band's manager.) Bill is equally honest about his own "opium habit" during a rough period of his life, not to mention the fact that the two drummers resumed their friendship and musical partnership. When I saw Mickey play with 7 Walkers a few years ago, their mutual delight was obviously genuine.
Another feature of the book is its emphasis on intense experience. That includes drug use but is by no means limited to it. Bill really liked to shoot at, blow up, and bang on things. He's also drawn to wilderness and the ocean; now living in Kauai, he's an avid surfer and diver. He's clearly focused on action, rhythm, sensation, and percussion, and I found myself enjoying his elemental nature--perhaps because my own is so verbal and cerebral. There doesn't seem to be a contemplative bone in his body, which, in the absence of flamboyant conflicts, regrets, or spectacular revelations, normally makes for a so-so memoir. Yet somehow this one came across for me ... and almost certainly will for many other readers.
For those who may have missed it earlier, here's my disclosure: Bill and Benjy's book was edited and marketed by the very same folks who handled my book.
Labels: Grateful Dead