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.