Friday Read: So Many Roads by David Browne
I talk and write pretty often about my fascination with the Grateful Dead. Their music has been pretty important to me since I was a teen. Maybe earlier? I probably absorbed enough of the Dead’s music at my aunt and uncle’s house when I was a kid that it’s always sort of been with me. (An early memory: sneaking up into my uncle’s attic, where I don’t think I was allowed to be, and seeing, among other paraphernalia, a street sign that said “Shakedown Street” on the wall.) Anyway, there’s been a lot written about the Dead around last weekend’s Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago, all of which I’ve eagerly read. But I’d totally missed, until this week, the fact that a new history of the Grateful Dead had been published. I picked it up the same day I read about it.
I’m still working my way through So Many Roads, but so far it’s highly readable. Author David Browne focuses each chapter on a single important day for the band. (For example, the first chapter is about the final day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which affected Jerry Garcia deeply.) It’s full of interviews with people who were around the members of the band at various points in their lives and seeks to sort out a lot of the lore that’s developed around the band since they first became famous in the 1960s. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the Dead. I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to a Deadhead. Actually, I would, but they’d have to promise me that they’d set aside their own knowledge and opinions about the band and its culture until they finish it.
Here’s an excerpt from the Prologue of the book.
Also, if this isn’t quite what you want to read about but you like popular 1970s rock, I would recommend Browne’s last book, Fire and Rain. It’s about four bands/artists – The Beatles, James Taylor, CSNY, and Simon and Garfunkel – who were making albums in 1970. I read it a few years ago and really liked it.
I’m actually gonna keep with the Dead theme this week. I read some reviews of the Fare Thee Well shows, during which Trey Anastasio of Phish “filled in,” I guess, for Jerry Garcia. Here’s Jon Pareles writing about them in the New York Times. (I mostly like the photos in this piece.)
While reading a section of So Many Roads that talks about the song “Dire Wolf,” I started thinking about all of the Grateful Dead references in A Song of Ice and Fire. I know, I know, dire wolves were real animals that are now extinct. BUT. There are other things like the Mountains of the Moon and Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne. I don’t think Martin has admitted to putting these things in his books on purpose but he does say he has “Grateful Dead lyrics rattling around in [his] head all the time.” I turned to Reddit to read up on references that I may have missed and wound up finding this thread, in which someone asks this very interesting question: “Is Benjen Jerry Garcia?”
And Longreads linked to this profile of the Grateful Dead from a 1974 issue of CREEM. I found it kind of hard to get through – the writing is, uh, not my thing – but it did make me laugh a few times, mostly in cringey ways.
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