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This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead

This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead

by Blair Jackson, David Gans

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Fifty years after the Grateful Dead was formed, the band still exerts a powerful influence over hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. Today, an entire generation of Deadheads who have never experienced a live Dead show are still drawn to the music and the complex and colorful subculture that has grown up around it.

In This Is All a Dream We Dreamed<


Fifty years after the Grateful Dead was formed, the band still exerts a powerful influence over hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. Today, an entire generation of Deadheads who have never experienced a live Dead show are still drawn to the music and the complex and colorful subculture that has grown up around it.

In This Is All a Dream We Dreamed, Blair Jackson and David Gans, two of the most well-respected chroniclers of the Dead, reveal the band's story through the words of its members and their creative collaborators, as well as a number of diverse fans, stitching together a multitude of voices into a seamless oral tapestry. Woven into this musical saga is an examination of the subculture that developed into its own economy, touching fans from all walks of life, from penniless hippies to celebrities, and at least one U.S. vice president.

The book traces the band's evolution from its folk/bluegrass beginnings through the Jug Band craze, an early incarnation as Rolling Stones wannabes, feral psychedelic warriors, the Americana jam band that blazed through the '70s, to the shockingly popular but still iconoclastic stadium-filling band of later years. The Dead broke every rule of the music business along the way, taking risks and venturing into new territory as they fused inspired ideas and techniques with intuition and fearlessness to create a sound-and a business model-unlike anything heard and seen before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This epic oral history of the 50-year-old band is timed to coincide with five massively hyped “Fare Thee Well” concerts. The straightforward approach by Jackson and Gans (who collectively boast almost 80 years of Grateful Dead journalism) uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of a group that began as a San Francisco jug band of penniless hippies, morphed through multiple musical incarnations, and created a colorful psychedelic subculture. The more than 100 voices here include members of the Dead—including deceased guitarist/de facto leader Jerry Garcia, and keyboardists Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Brent Mydland—and their collaborators as well as business partners and fans. Jackson and Gans relied on new and archival interviews, as well as other published and unpublished sources. To their credit, the authors focus as much on the creation, recording, and marketing of music as they do on the ingestion of hallucinogens. The result is a solid, engaging chronicle. Agent: Sandy Choron, March Tenth. (Nov.)
Library Journal
★ 09/01/2015
This fine oral history joins the list of essential Dead books that includes such titles as Dennis McNally's A Long Strange Trip and Jackson's own Garcia: An American Life. It's not so much a matter of the revelations contained herein, although there are plenty, as what the different voices, working in concert, add to the band's story. Readers will quickly become absorbed into the Dead's world and will feel that everyone is speaking directly to them. Considering the disparate sources (every single one documented) Jackson and Gans have drawn from, the narrative's natural flow is incredible. Helpful to telling the story are small narrative and scene-setting interjections provided throughout each chapter, giving just enough information to allow the reader to understand the particular context in which the material is being presented. Some interviews were conducted expressly for the book, but much is published here for the first time. VERDICT There may currently be no better introduction to the Grateful Dead than this superior tome.—Derek Sanderson, Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-08-15
Coming on its 50th anniversary and just after the band's farewell tour, an engaging, near-comprehensive oral history of the Grateful Dead. If "the Grateful Dead" and "disco" are not phrases that go together, it's not for want of their trying. As Jackson (Grateful Dead Gear—The Band's Instruments, Sound Systems, and Recording Sessions, from 1965 to 1995, 2006, etc.) and musician Gans (Conversations with the Dead: The Grateful Dead Interview Book, 1991, etc.)—collectors and archivists who know as much as nearly anyone alive about the storied band—chronicle, midway into the 1970s, with albums such as "From the Mars Hotel" and "Wake of the Flood" under their belts, the Dead were enough under the sway of Saturday Night Fever to attempt a disco-ish take on "Dancing in the Street." Chalk it up to Mickey Hart, one of the many thorns in this thorny narrative hide, whose return to the band wrought big changes. "We had to tell him [what to play]," said guitarist Bob Weir in 1977, "which means we had to be thinking about it, which means while we were thinking about it, we might as well rethink things in general." As fans already know but will further note, the superficially peace-and-love demeanor of the Dead disguised all sorts of tensions, from personality clashes to money worries and differences over musical direction. But it all worked, despite Jerry Garcia's drug use and increasingly erratic behavior. Says sound tech Bob Bralove, "The energy around [the last tour with Garcia] was kind of confusing, because there was this really positive energy coming from the band, but it was missing a key ingredient." For all that, there's plenty of peace and love here and lots of smoke and psychedelia, as well as the usual Altamont regrets, all voiced by people in and close to the band. Worthy of Studs Terkel and an essential addition to the books of the Dead.
From the Publisher

"This Is All A Dream We Dreamed is an epic jam." —Vanity Fair

"You could hardly ask for a more ideal configuration for a retelling of the Grateful Dead's story than an oral history, which is, after all, the jam band of biographical formats.... [T]he editors have pulled off the pretty neat hat trick of filling in plenty of cracks for the hard core while providing a basic education for novices. Best of all, they've provided a celebration that never feels remotely like hagiography. Even a nominal fan has to appreciate the wonder and unlikeliness of how the band sustained that first quarter-century or so of magic." —San Francisco Chronicle

“Despite its title, what makes this book different from all other books on the Grateful Dead is that it is anything but dreamlike. It is down-to-earth, plainspoken, without special pleading or arguments for differing levels of awareness. You didn't have to be there. On many pages, this could be the story of any band-the story as it emerges here carries no pretensions-and elsewhere it is the story of people doing their work. And it is so full of the intensity and repetitions of ordinary life that it throws the work that was done into a new light.” —Greil Marcus, rock critic

“This epic oral history of the 50-year-old band… is a solid, engaging chronicle.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Jackson and Gans] know as much as nearly anyone alive about the storied band…. There’s plenty of peace and love here and lots of smoke and psychedelia, as well as the usual Altamont regrets, all voiced by people in and close to the band. Worthy of Studs Terkel and an essential addition to the books of the Dead.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The Grateful Dead, when they were making music together, may have sometimes seemed ‘more than human,’ but they were always the first to admit that they were less than perfect. Here they are, in all their cockeyed glory. Gans and Jackson have orchestrated a shrewd, essential account of the band members’ lives and times, a tale as polyphonic as the ‘electronic Dixieland’ they unperfected through the years, to our (and their) enduring delight and awe.” —Nick Paumgarten, staff writer, The New Yorker

“Jerry, Kesey, Bobby, Billy, Bear—this amazing book speaks to me out loud, inside my head, in all the voices of the Grateful Dead! It’s an audio illumination of family, fans, and friends, and the long, strange trip. It leaps straight out of the tree-flesh to dance in our dreams.” —Wavy Gravy

“[A] high-demand backstory...lively oral history.” —Booklist

"Readers will quickly become absorbed into the Dead's world and will feel that everyone is speaking directly to them.... There may currently be no better introduction to the Grateful Dead than this superior tome." —Derek Sanderson, Library Journal, starred review

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This is All a Dream We Dreamed

An Oral History of the Grateful Dead

By Blair Jackson, David Gans

Flatiron Books

Copyright © 2015 Blair Jackson and David Gans
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-05858-4


More Than Human

For our purposes, this story starts on New Year's Eve, 1963, in Palo Alto, California, south of San Francisco, part of a web of small cities known as the Peninsula.

Twenty-one-year-old Jerry Garcia had lived in the area since his release from the Army near the end of 1960, and also had some roots there — he had spent a few years of his adolescence living in Menlo Park. A native San Franciscan, he took up the electric guitar in his mid-teens, learning Chuck Berry songs and other early rock 'n' roll tunes, but during his brief Army stint (Pvt Garcia had some problems with authority) he learned the rudiments of finger-picking guitar from another soldier, and when he returned to civilian life, it was acoustic music, exclusively, that he wanted to pursue. Living in poverty on the Peninsula, he devoted most of his waking hours to mastering the guitar so he could dabble in old-time country music with friends (including future Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter), then threw himself wholeheartedly into the banjo in order to play bluegrass. Through the early sixties he played in a succession of old-time and bluegrass groups that are known today only because they were part of the musical apprenticeship of future rock star Jerry Garcia. Talk to serious Deadheads and they'll reel off names such as the Thunder Mountain Tub Thumpers, the Wildwood Boys, the Hart Valley Drifters, the Black Mountain Boys — bands that lasted a few weeks to a few months and rarely played outside the Peninsula. To earn a little money to help support his wife, Sara (a fine singer herself) and baby daughter, Heather, Garcia got a job teaching guitar and banjo at a Palo Alto music store called Dana Morgan Music.

One of Garcia's musical mates on the Peninsula, Ron McKernan — nicknamed Pigpen, after the unkempt Peanuts character created by cartoonist Charles Schulz — was a blues and R&B kid through and through. His father was an R&B DJ, and he grew up listening to black music. School was never his thing; he was more interested in becoming the next T-Bone Walker or Lightnin' Hopkins. He played serviceable blues guitar, strong harmonica, and some piano. Pigpen and Garcia played a few gigs together in a rock/R&B cover band called the Zodiacs, headed by a local guitarist named Troy Weidenheimer, but mostly stuck to acoustic performances at coffeehouses and clubs.

Boyish Bob Weir had bounced around various schools in Northern California and Colorado but never quite found his niche. He took up the acoustic guitar in his early teens and learned the basics, copying records by Joan Baez and other popular artists and aping the technique of local pickers such as Garcia and the hot blues player on the Peninsula in this era, Jorma Kaukonen (later lead guitarist of Jefferson Airplane). Though Weir was briefly in a group called the Uncalled Four, he was still very green when he wandered into Dana Morgan Music one fateful night ...

BOB WEIR: I was with a couple of friends walking the back streets of Palo Alto on New Year's Eve at about seven-thirty, headed to a coffeehouse to get some music and celebrate. We heard banjo music coming out of the back of a local music store and just knocked on the door and got invited in. We knew who it was; we knew it was Jerry. He was waiting for his banjo students, and I said, "Jerry, listen, it's seven-thirty on New Year's Eve, and I don't think you're going to be seeing your students tonight." He agreed and asked if we played instruments. We all eagerly nodded yes and broke into the front of the store to grab some instruments. We played all night and had a wonderful time. We decided at that point we had enough amateur talent to start a jug band; they were popular at the time. We started practicing that week and got a gig shortly thereafter. Off it went from there.

BOB MATTHEWS: It goes back to [TV's] The Beverly Hillbillies. In 1960, people were just transitioning out of being beatniks into what they didn't know until a few years later was being hippies. Folk music was a key issue. Everybody was buying guitars and getting guitar lessons. I heard Flatt and Scruggs playing the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies and fell in love with that hard-as-nails banjo sound.

There were lots of guitar teachers around. I was trying to find a banjo teacher. My mother, who was teaching first-graders to read at a local progressive private school called Peninsula School, had a Stanford film undergraduate doing a documentary on her unique teaching, and when my mother articulated her difficulty [in finding me a banjo teacher], Sara Garcia turned around and said, "My husband teaches banjo." That's how I met Jerry.

Bob Weir and I were really into the jug bands. We liked Gus Cannon [of Cannon's Jug Stompers, a black, Memphis-based jug band in the late twenties] and Jim Kweskin. The Jim Kweskin Jug Band was playing at the Cabale [in Berkeley]. You had to be at least eighteen, if not twenty-one, to get in. We snuck in, and we were up in the front row. Geoff Muldaur had an incredible voice, and we were really digging on the band. And then this cute, Daisy Mae–looking creature, whose name was Maria D'Amato, came out and sang "I'm a Woman." Most of the males in the building were drooling. She was a gorgeous girl. She became Maria Muldaur, of course. The next day, Bob and I cut class and hitchhiked into Palo Alto to Dana Morgan Music, where Jerry was teaching banjo. As we walked into his little cement cubicle, he was playing banjo — noodling, as he always did. I think I said, "We went to see the Kweskin Jug Band last night, and we're starting a jug band." Jerry looked up, didn't drop a beat, and said, "Good. I'm in it. I know a great harp player, this guy named Pigpen."

ROBERT HUNTER: I was offered the position of jug player, but I didn't have the embouchure. So I dropped out and didn't pick up performing again for about ten years.

CONNIE BONNER MOSLEY: I remember in high school, the hallways would clear when Pigpen walked down the hallways — with a woman on each arm, maybe. I remember his last days at Palo Alto High School, before he was expelled, and then running into him a few months later at the guitar store.

BOB MATTHEWS: He was so mean-lookin'. He was the same age we were, barely eighteen, but we could run over to East Palo Alto, to Maroney's liquor store, send him in with money, and he'd come out with whatever you asked for. Weir and I used to drink Green Death — Rainier Ale. We'd pay for Pig's Thunderbird, and he'd buy us two or three big bottles of Green Death.

CLIFFORD "TIFF" GARCIA: Weir and Jerry were both working at the music store. Weir was giving lessons, Jerry was giving lessons and trying to repair instruments but he wasn't very mechanically inclined. But anything to make ends meet — [Jerry and Sara] had a baby on the way. I remember seeing Bob there and hearing him play and listening to him give lessons. He was just a kid but he was pretty good. He was still going to school at the time; Jerry was older and out of school. Anyway, when I first heard Jerry had gotten together with Weir and Pigpen, I knew it would be a good nucleus for a group.

JERRY GARCIA (1964): I think there are about four major categories of music that we actually play, and we boil it down under the name of jug band music. Actual jug band music is a sort of early blues-band music that was recorded during the 20s and 30s, not sophisticated music; it might feature guitar and harmonica played blues-style, kazoo, possibly a five-string banjo, possibly a jug, which acts as a tuba does in an old-time Dixieland band. That is one of our major areas of material, one of our sources. Another is early Dixieland; New Orleans jazz. We get some 20s, 30s popular music, and a certain amount of more recent blues, from within the last ten or fifteen years, that includes some very recent — within the last three or four years — rhythm & blues songs. So we have quite a large area, and it makes it more fun for us, and certainly more satisfying, because it doesn't restrict us to one particular idea or one particular style, and the result I think is pretty interesting, and it's great — just a gas.

I think we'll play the music probably as long as we're together; we all live in the same area. Like I say, it's fun, it's rewarding, it's great to get together. We don't expect to make a fortune at it, or ever be popular or famous or worshipped, or hit The Ed Sullivan Show, or anything like that, or the circuses or the big top, or whatever. Anyway, we play at a few places in the area; I think that we may be restricted to that, just because it's impractical to travel too long a distance. But as long as we can play, we'll play, regardless of what it's for, who it's for, or anything. It's fun for us, that's the important thing.

BOB MATTHEWS: I got to be in Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. First I was washboard player, and then I was kazoo player, then I was the second kazoo player. Bobby loved to hyperventilate himself blowing on the jug. He also played one-string washtub bass — went out and got a zinc washtub, a broomstick, and a piece of twine. That was what he did — and sang and looked pretty. Jerry was playing the banjo [and guitar] and leading the band. He was playing the five-string banjo. It's a different genre of music, but he was playing Jerry Garcia banjo. We were playing a tune — "Washington at Valley Forge," or something — and Jerry leaned over and said, "Hey, why don't you take a break?" What he meant was, "Take a solo." I thought he meant "take a break," so I left the stage.

CAROLYN "MOUNTAIN GIRL" GARCIA: The jug band was fantastic; God, they were good! They rotated people in and out of there so you never knew who was going to do what. It seemed like every song they did would have a different set of musicians. But it was great, great fun. Their gigs were packed and fun and really upbeat. The energy was there and it was good, good energy. They had the Top of the Tangent [a coffee house in Palo Alto] rockin'. Plus, with the jug band there was the opportunity to display all kinds of crazy schtick — vaudevillian jokes and insults and banter, which also happens in some bluegrass bands. I think I saw [Mother McCree's] twice and then they formed the Warlocks and that was a different thing altogether. I was not interested in amplified music at the time. I liked folk music and classical music. I loved the banjo, too.

BILL KREUTZMANN: I saw Jerry play with Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions at the Tangent in Palo Alto. I sat right in front of him and watched him playing, and man, he had the whole place in the palm of his hand. Everybody was watching him and he was giving off this incredibly beautiful energy. I said, "Man, I'm gonna follow that guy forever!" I never said that to anyone; I just said it to myself.

About three weeks later, I got a phone call. It was Jerry, saying, "Do you want to be in a band?"

* * *

While Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions were playing the local clubs on the Peninsula, writer Ken Kesey, who had been at the center of a libertine, Bohemian scene at his house on Perry Lane in Palo Alto, near Stanford University (where he had studied writing with Wallace Stegner), was increasingly dabbling in psychedelics and hanging out with a bunch of like-minded inner-space adventurers who became known as the Merry Pranksters. Kesey — and Garcia's friend Robert Hunter — had been involved in secret government-sponsored tests on the effects of psychedelics, but by 1964, the genie was out of the bottle and LSD was finding its way to receptive groups of people in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, and a few other places.

Kesey moved from Palo Alto to La Honda, deep in the forest southwest of Palo Alto, and many of the Pranksters followed him. In the summer of 1964, he took some of the money he'd earned from the publication of his best-selling first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus. He gutted it, replacing the seats with mattresses and sound and film equipment, had an acid-fueled DayGlo painting party to create the wildest and most colorful bus anyone had ever seen on Planet Earth, and christened it Further. Kesey and the Pranksters — including Ken Babbs and Neal Cassady — anti-hero of some of Jack Kerouac's best known books, including On the Road and The Dharma Bums — embarked on a legendary LSD-soaked trip across America in the bus, an epic voyage immortalized (among other episodes) in the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The Peninsula buzzed with tales of Further's travels for months afterwards, but the bus trip turned out to be just a warmup for the psychedelic evangelism Kesey and the Pranksters would unleash during 1965 and 1966. Sometime in early 1965, acid found its way to Garcia's circle of friends.

DAVID NELSON: I think it was Rick Shubb [Nelson's bandmate in the Pine Valley Boys bluegrass band] who found this house on Gilman Street [in Palo Alto]. It was the most wonderful place. It had a porch with brick steps. You could come out and just sit in the afternoon. There's nothing like the afternoon in Palo Alto. It's really amazing.

That's the first place that we took acid. And it was 'cause of Rick Shubb. He had a contact in Berkeley and he said, "I can get some hits of acid." Everybody was like, "Okay, I want to do it, I want to do it!" And Hunter's back there shaking his head, because he had been through this two years before that. He said, "You guys are nuts. You don't realize what you're in for."

So Shubb comes over on that day. I think it was thirteen people that all took acid at the same time for their first time. It was Jerry and Sara, me, Eric Thompson, David and Bonnie [Parker], Rick Shubb, and some more. We said, "What if there are dangerous pitfalls and things to watch out for? We gotta go ask Hunter! He's done it before." And so we all run down over to Ramona Street and knock on his door and he looks at us and he goes, "Do you always jump out of planes without a parachute?" We said, "Please, please, Mr. Man, will you please help us here?" So he says, "Okay, just a minute," and he set these chairs up facing him. I remember him talking and it sounding really profound, but I remember he made a gesture [with his hand] and I saw brrd, brrd, brrd, brrrrrrrrrrrd — the fingers fan. The visual stuff was just fantastic!

Then we went back to the house and we discovered looking at yourself in the mirror is a total thing. It's like, "Who is that? I didn't know I looked like that!" You don't look the same; you really don't. And you look at your hand, it doesn't look like the same hand. There's all kinds of stuff; really fun.

DAVE PARKER: In those days you could be wandering around and feeling the weirdest way imaginable and feeling obvious, but nobody would notice. It wouldn't even occur to somebody to think that you're on drugs. We were wandering around the house and in and out of the house and walking up and down the streets and around the block, looking up at the streetlights. Police cars would go by and they paid no attention. I remember feeling as demented and bizarre as I could imagine and then some, and yet it was all very soft and innocent walking around Palo Alto. There was no sense of threat or paranoia; it was all happy and wonderful, though very strange at the same time. I thought later what a weird scene that must have been for the other people in the neighborhood. But I'm sure it didn't look as weird as it felt.

DAVID NELSON: Anyway, so that started the thing of, "I think we're going to go electric" [with the band]. I remember right after [the first trip] that there was a lot of buzz about it. There was a lot of talk on what we called the "trips couch" about going electric.


Excerpted from This is All a Dream We Dreamed by Blair Jackson, David Gans. Copyright © 2015 Blair Jackson and David Gans. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

BLAIR JACKSON penned Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped and wrote and published 27 issues of the acclaimed fanzine The Golden Road. He is also the author of the definitive biography Garcia: An American Life.

DAVID GANS has published three books on the Dead. He is the producer and host of the nationally syndicatedGrateful Dead Hour, is cohost of SiriusXM's Tales from the Golden Road, and is a working musician who has incorporated Grateful Dead songs and improvisation into his own work.

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