The passing of Jerry Garcia was, for many, the end of an era. The Grateful Dead had the biggest cult following rock music had ever seen, and Garcia's death effectively ended what the band themselves called "a long strange trip." But even though he lived in the public eye for thirty years, Garcia still managed to keep some things private.
With this biography, however, it seems like no detail of the guitarist's life is hidden anymore. A lengthy and meticulously researched tome, Garcia never glosses over even the smallest of facts. And therein lies the problem. Unless you're a Deadhead, Blair's intensive detailing-the kind normally reserved for literary and political biographies-makes this a bit of a slow read, especially at the beginning. And while this does help explain Garcia the man, the book only starts to get interesting when we meet Garcia the musician. If you can make your way through the slow opening, however, this is one of the better- and certainly most authoritative-books about the Deadheads' spiritual and musical leader.
...[A] fitting tribute to...an uplifting life lived with passion and style.
As the front man for the Grateful Dead, the band that epitomized the '60s hippie counterculture, Jerry Garcia's place in music history is assured. Yet, Jackson asserts in this detailed biography, Garcia's genius as a guitarist and songwriter has often been overlooked. Garcia began as a folk and bluegrass banjo player in such bands as the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers and the Thunder Mountain Tub Thumpers before embracing electric blues and rock and roll with the Warlocks, an early incarnation of the Dead. In the mid-'60s, the Dead became the house band for Ken Kesey's now legendary drug and music free-for-alls. During concerts the band could, in Garcia's words, "visit highly experimental places under the influence of highly experimental chemicals before a highly experimental audience." In the Dead's 30-year run barnstorming the nation as one of the country's most popular touring acts, Garcia always sought to expand his musical horizons, engaging in side projects from playing pedal steel guitar in New Riders of the Purple Sage to launching a low-profile solo career with the Jerry Garcia Band. Dogged by cocaine and then heroin addiction (brought on at least in part, according to Jackson, by the pressures of celebrity and of dealing with the unwieldy bureaucracy of the Grateful Dead's profitable business ventures), Garcia died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 53. Jackson, former editor of the Dead zine The Golden Road, narrates this exhaustive biography with the unabashed ardor of a hard-core Deadhead, but even those readers who have kept a distance from the band's recordings and epic concerts will appreciate the generation-defining artistic and personal history of this musical giant. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though books about the Grateful Dead have sprouted like weeds since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, this is the first serious biography of the guitarist since Sandy Troy's Captain Trips (LJ 11/1/94). It is also the most authoritative work to date on either Garcia or the Dead as Jackson draws from dozens of interviews with Garcia associates, most of them conducted for this book. Though Jackson, editor of Goin' Down the Road: A Grateful Dead Traveling Companion and the now defunct Grateful Dead fanzine The Golden Road, makes no bones about being a Deadhead, his journalistic skills allow him to tell the story of Garcia and the Dead evenhandedly. He succeeds in giving Garcia due credit for his often overlooked musical prowess without glossing over his subject's tragic decline into the heroin addiction and other problems that led to his death at age 53. The lack of a discography is regrettable, though Jackson promises one, along with a more detailed bibliography and excerpts from the text, on a forthcoming web site (www.blairjackson.com). Essential for all popular music collections.--Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...[P]erhaps Jackson assumes that the massive Deadhead audience eager to read this book will enthusiastically [search] for the story's meaning just as they did at so many concerts.
Veteran music writer Blair has fashioned a moving and insightful biography of Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia by focusing on the most important and enduring part of his legacy: his music. For three decades the Dead remained one of the most interesting and daring music ensembles around. Garcia himself over that time sustained a level of artistry and innovation as a musician and composer rare in 20th-century music history. Skillfully weaving these themes within the personal events of Garcia's life, including his 14 years as a junkie, and the social history that Garcia both witnessed and helped bring to lifefrom the halcyon days of Haight-Ashbury to the phenomenon of the Deadheads of the 1980sJackson produces perhaps as clear an understanding of the man as we are likely to get. Originally a bluegrass banjo player, Garcia brought to the Dead the conversational nature of bluegrass, the need within that music for the instruments to talk to one another. Going electric and joining with sympathetic players allowed for Garcia an infinite expansion of that original "conversational" insight. Playing at LSD-inspired gatherings in San Francisco, and taking plenty of LSD themselves further extended the Dead's proclivity for improvisation (and Garcia's proclivity for drug taking) and allowed them to learn how to do it well. Particularly interesting here is the story of Garcia's relationship with lyricist Robert Hunter (he of the often cryptic lyrics on foreboding and death), of how that relationship developed over a generation, how Hunter could say what Garcia felt. Theirs was a much underappreciated musical collaboration. There are also side trips to Garcia's many musicalexplorations outside of the Dead, from country to jazz to R&B. Garcia emerges in the end as a flawed genius, whose personal demons, especially drugs, inspired his music, eventually weakened it, and finally silenced it. Yet the book is an unapologetic celebration of Garcia's life rather than a lament on his death. Fine reading on a most curious American life. (Author tour)