By Bill Kreutzmann, with Benjy Eisen. St. Martin’s, 388 pp, hardcover
No Simple Highway
By Peter Richardson. St. Martin’s, 373 pp, hardcover
While one of these books about the Grateful Dead is entertaining and the other not so much, the only truly revelatory info in either is Bill Kreutzmann’s sage advice: never wrap your speed in tinfoil and leave it in a tree.
We’ll get to why in a moment.
For now, though, I’ve recently been distracted by an online discussion in which a former editor of this magazine has claimed that he’s not a Deadhead despite having worn out his vinyl copy of Workingman’s Dead. I dunno. Perhaps a better test of whether you’re on the bus or off—a phrase that originated with the Grateful Dead’s friend Ken Kesey—is whether you think there are any revelations in Peter Richardson’s No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead. If this well-researched but ultimately lifeless tome seems like old news, that’s probably because you’re a fan and have already devoured former Dead publicist Dennis McNally’s more intimate, eloquent, and thorough A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead.
McNally’s account, a primary source for Richardson’s volume, is so far the only one of several dozen books on the Dead that’s required reading for any music lover. Add to it the Technicolor excesses of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s 1968 account of the South Bay scene that spawned the hippie movement, and you’ve got the “cultural history” that No Simple Highway is too dull to deliver.
Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs With the Grateful Dead, on the other hand, doesn’t pretend to be much more than a word-for-word transcription of Dead drummer Kreutzmann getting high and chatting with coauthor Benjy Eisen. Often considered the quiet guy in the band, especially in comparison to reluctant prophet Jerry Garcia and alcoholic control freak Phil Lesh, Kreutzmann is revealed here as the Dead’s true Prankster, a born rebel with a fondness for blowing things up that extends to cars, bands, and marriages.
He also comes across, variously, as a genuinely nice guy, a survivor, and a sparkly curmudgeon who’s a long way from abandoning either music or the psychedelic ethos—and thus he’ll be an inspiration for anyone who manages to read his rambling but big-hearted autobiography from cover to cover.
Deadheads, in other words, and in that regard I’d better out myself as a willing bus rider, as if the near-complete collection of Dick’s Picks in my basement hadn’t already tipped you off to that embarrassing fact.
Oh, and that thing about the speed? Let’s just put it this way: ravens are attracted to shiny objects, and if the idea of being buzz-bombed by large black birds on meth seems in any way plausible, Kreutzmann’s got some stories you’ll enjoy.