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Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead

Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead

4.5 11
by Phil Lesh

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In this ruthlessly honest bestseller, the bass player for the greatest improvisational band in American history tells the full, true story of his life, Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead. of photos.


In this ruthlessly honest bestseller, the bass player for the greatest improvisational band in American history tells the full, true story of his life, Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead. of photos.

Editorial Reviews

Dave Itzkoff
Through it all, Lesh proves to be as capable and enthusiastic a writer as he is a musician; whether he's describing the ''immense, turbulent, Druidic'' snoring of Jerry Garcia, the ''saber-toothed crotch cricket'' hum of the Woodstock sound system or a roadtrip travel game called ''Radio I-Ching,'' he consistently exhibits a peculiar and poetic fondness for language, transforming what could have been a routine exercise in nostalgia into a work as graceful and sublime as a box of rain.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh has written the memoir one might have expected: energetic and flawed, but sure to be loved by fans. Lesh joined the band's original members-Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman and "Pigpen" Ron McKernan-in 1965 and helped morph the legendary outfit from its beginnings as a jug band to the unique, psychedelic improvisational jam band that spawned arguably the most loyal, iconic audience in popular music history: the Deadheads. What a long, strange trip it was. For 30-plus years, from being the house band for Ken Kesey's acid tests to stadium tours in the 1980s and '90s, the band pioneered a new paradigm for musicians, operating as an extended, albeit dysfunctional, family. Along the way, three keyboardists died, two managers robbed the band, bad deals were signed, massive debt was accrued and drug and alcohol problems flared. In 1995, the trip finally ended (or did it?), when Garcia died. Lesh infuses his prose with his wacky personality, which is endearing, but also maddening, especially when he's rendering acid trips or discussing music. Indeed, many fans who twirled ecstatically at Dead shows will struggle to follow Lesh's extended explanations of the band's compositions. Also, the second half of the band's life gets short shrift. Nevertheless, Deadheads will surely celebrate Lesh's honest, intimate remembrances. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
At last! A member of the Grateful Dead speaks out. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Searching for the Sound

By Phil Lesh

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2005 Phil Lesh
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-00998-9

Chapter One

I have always considered myself a very lucky man. I've been married for more than twenty years to a woman who loves me as passionately as I love her, and with whom I have developed a level of trust and companionship that I never dreamed existed. We are rearing two fine sons, both growing up straight and strong and loving. I survived hepatitis C and a liver transplant. I was born an only child but found my true brothers through the art of music and a series of improbable coincidences. I am blessed with the joy of earning my way by doing something I love-something that is so deep it can never be boring, or run out of challenges.

Music can define life itself, and it has indeed defined my life. In life, as in art, there are recurring themes, transpositions, repetitions, unexpected developments, all converging to define a form that's not necessarily apparent until its ending has come and gone.

I was awakened to the power of music early in life, through the magic of radio broadcasts and by listening to my father play, from memory, his favorite tunes on the piano. Music saved me from the worst effects of adolescent angst, partly by giving me a very real sense of accomplishment. It led me into a quest for knowledge and wisdom, for the cultural, artistic, historical, and religious context of the work that moved me so much. It has clarified my feelings as my father lay dying, kept me company in the early light of day as I fed my newborn sons, soothed and transported me during life-threatening illness and surgery, and brought me illimitable joy as I watched thousands of dancers surge and spin to the music flowing through my band.

The Grateful Dead has always been collectively dedicated to many ideals: family, community, freedom, risk-taking-but for me it was always the music. With all its ups and downs, it's an exhilarating experience to improvise-onstage and in life-with one's fellow humans, who after forty years of living, working, disagreeing, and completing one another's thoughts musically and conversationally, are connected by a bond that's "thicker than blood," as Bob Weir likes to say.


Excerpted from Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh Copyright © 2005 by Phil Lesh. Excerpted by permission.
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Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Chazz More than 1 year ago
Reading Phil Lesh's book gives one a sense of being there as the Dead were doing their iconoclastic thing to American rock music. The candor, obvious credibility that the Dead's one and only bass player brings to the table, and interesting historical and musical anecdotes that had not made it to print before Searching For The Sound, makes this a necessary read for anyone interested in the American artistic scene at mid-century. The Grateful Dead occupy a place of importance in the cultural history of American contemporary art just as the great Be-Boppers, the Abstract Impressionists and Pop artists, the literary artists of the era such as Kesey and Kerouac, and the newly-awakened American/world citizens who were eager to shed the thinking of the past and forge new pathways to new levels of understanding. Phil Lesh's account of the band's inception through it's final sad days is the most complete and non-sensationalized history of the band that has seen print to this point. Phil Lesh has an understanding of the musical underpinnings of the Dead's sound that is at once credible and cogent. As a trained musician, Lesh brings an understanding of musical mechanics to his book that few if any (with apologies to Bob Weir and Bill Kruetzman) people alive - or Dead - could ever do. The writing style, though readable, is a bit overblown with the author appearing as a person using a vocabulary stash fresh from the thesaurus - kind of like a kid trying on new clothes with his mom in the mirror. To his credit however, one must give Phil points for writing the book himself and not relinquishing his authorial duties to a ghost. In a way, the book is a bit like attending a Dead concert - exhausting but riveting to the very last chord.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As I write, I have as my backdrop the sounds of the Summer Solstice 1989 in the speakers of my stereo...'Goes to show, you don't ever know...watch each card you play, and play it slow' sings a gleeful, but very warm Jerry Garcia. It was a hot night, both for music and temperature in Mountain View California that night. A fact that Phil Lesh commented on between sets as darkness finally fell, commenting that it was 'just below boiling'. 1989 was about as good a time as there ever would be in the career of the Grateful Dead, still riding out the success of 1987s 'In the Dark', with legions of new fans and sold out shows. Lesh was in fine form this night, pumping out his crisp and explorative bass lines as if he were a lead guitarist. Answering the call when the `We Want Phil¿ roar went up, chanted by the masses. Lesh delivered with his staple 'Box of Rain' to the delight of the crowd and band. The phenomenon of the Grateful Dead is difficult to explain to anyone who did not experience it. A band that was as much about its fans as it was ever about itself. Almost like baseball, with each game the masses sitting on the edge of their seats hoping to see a really great play at the plate- periods of musical anticipation waiting to be injected with a sudden moment of excitement either via a sharp improvised musical crescendo, a song transition, or an unexpected and rare song thrown into the mix. The sort of excitement that existed in equal parts on the stage as it did in the crowd. An experience that had to be felt to be understood, and the reason that someone sitting near you at the next desk may still admit when prodded- 'Yes, I am a Deadhead'. 'Hi, my name is Jon and I'm a Deadhead'. Just like the friends of Bill W. (except in this case it would be longtime Deadhead and basketball legend Bill Walton), there is no escaping it. Once you are a Deadhead, forever a Deadhead you shall be. There is no recovering. From the kids in the broken down microbus on the side of the road, all the way up to Al Gore- We are everywhere. Searching for the Sound is the first testament to the history of the Dead written by a member of the band, the title coming from the somewhat lesser known, but acclaimed Lesh composition Unbroken Chain. Lesh is known to be one of the more cerebral members of the band. Throughout the book, Lesh¿s recollections are prominently colored by words that will have many dashing for the nearest dictionary, yet with a conversational and warm approach. It is his ability to still be able to tell the story of the bands¿ early years with such clarity that will reel-in readers. Setting up the story are memories of his earliest years discovering music, an obsession with the story of Charles Ives, and also Lesh¿s mastery of his first instrument, the trumpet. As the tale unfolds, we watch the prototypical school band nerd grow into a key element of the subculture of 1960s San Francisco, and launch into a journey that would last over forty years to the present. Much attention is given to serious musical matters, such as the influence of postwar avant garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio. The latter of which Lesh and eventual band member Tom Constanten would unsuccessfully attempt to pursue personal study with after auditing a class taught by Berio who was visiting Mills College. It only involved raising enough money to get to Europe, but it never materialized. Lesh also reflects on aspects of improvisation that would forever change his views on music when first coming across a place in the music marked `ad lib¿ as he worked through a jazz trumpet piece early in his musical life. As expected, drug experimentation is a large part of the story, but for Lesh it wasn¿t about a wild party of sex, drugs, and rock `n¿ roll (in fact that was never what the Grateful Dead was about). For Phil Lesh, his first night on pot was spent listening to a recording of Stravinsky¿s The Rite of Spring all by himsel
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this story about one of the best American rock bands of all time written by one of its founders and members makes this story truly touching. Its a perfect start to knowing and understand the Dead and its community. If you want a great in depth book with more stories and based on Garcia's life please read Garcia by Blair Jackson which is also very informative and touching
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a read! I enjoyed every page of this book. It is a collective history of the acid test scenes, San Fran, the bands, and the names of those who helped create the very essence of an incredible era and sound. But more importantly it allowed me to sup at the dinner table of each of the band members of the Grateful Dead, and to taste of their respective personalities and histories. Wow! Many thanks to you Mr. Lesh for such a historical trip.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written & very entertaining, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh provides a detailed look at the formation and early years of the Grateful Dead. The latter half of the band's career is provided in less detail, but still remains fascinating to a read. Of all the biographies/autobiographies of rock & roll figures that I've read, Lesh's is the best. There is a tendency in the genre to go tabloidesque in the writing, clamoring over the excesses of sex, drugs and alcohol that often permeate the industry. Lesh acknowledges the presence of such factors in a very down-to-earth manner without obsessing over them or glamorizing them. Highly recommended to Deadheads & to fans of rock & roll biographies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Head to 'my life' res eleven...got kicked from here with my nook.
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