Grateful Dead Archive Receives Dead-Related Sixties Novel Typescript


(A note to readers: this blog posting repeats the first couple of paragraphs from our web page, but has a more extended discussion below. Thanks for reading!)

The Dead Archive receives donations every week, of every imaginable type: rare handbills and posters documenting the nooks and crannies of the Grateful Dead’s history, evocative and thoughtful letters detailing the Deadhead experience, as well as art, T-shirts, interviews, and more. From an archival perspective, the sheer dazzling variety and richness of these gifts is both a confirmation and a celebration of the mission of the Archive to document the Grateful Dead experience, and the community it still defines to this day.

The Archive’s commitment to curating these often unusual artifacts complements a broader, more conventional archival mandate: to collect and document the wider cultural arcs that infused and were in turn influenced by the Dead. That means ensuring that traditional archival voices and materials have a place as well, such as rare books and even author’s manuscripts.

One recent gift is Santa Cruz area novelist Trent Eglin’s “The Incredible Dog Act,” a 313-page typescript of an unpublished novel set in the tumult of the sixties in Southern California and the Bay Area. Although not focused on the Dead, they play a supporting role throughout, from dances at the Fillmore to lyric quotes that demonstrate the author’s deep understanding of the band, their oeuvre, and most importantly, the depth and complexity of their interconnections with the counterculture and the 1960s. Even the famed Skull and Roses poster serves as a critical background motif for one memorable scene.

Eglin’s dialogue is crisp and realistic, and his characters feel authentic, but what most impresses is the way he weaves the intellectual and political currents of the times into a tapestry that lets him play with a broad palette, illuminating themes from Heidegger and Nietzsche with lyric quotes from the Dead and the Airplane. Nor is this forced: Eglin handles his material gracefully, treating the erudition animating his characters with seriousness as well as playfulness, never veering into heavy-handedness, the achilles’ heel of stories with this much at stake. The seriousness is never far from the surface, however. When one character remonstrates with another, it begins lightly but dives deeply, quickly:

“You know,” she said, “when you middleclass white guys get all radicalized, it’s hard to tell which way you’re going to break … you’re just as likely to get hung up on astrology or Zen as you are to take up revolutionary politics … Aside from Marx, most western philosophy is just a weird attempt to convince you white folks that reality’s all in your heads. So when you guys ‘see the light’”—she traced the quotation marks in the air—“too many of you just radicalize the shit in your heads. You just rearrange your mental furniture and let Meher Baba or Gurdjieff move in, and nothing out there really changes.”

That theme is one of several that plays out through the novel, and Dead scholars will be quick to pick up on how many of these prefigure and parallel issues in Dead studies as well:

“When you so-called radical white cats want to test how it feels to have a problematic body, a body that makes you essentially visible for the first time, you let your hair grow and get your ears pierced. You go around in Indian drag, all tie-dye and beads. But the difference is that when the shit does hit the fan, you can still duck in for a quick crew cut and go work for Dow.”

For Dead scholars, Eglin’s novel represents a fascinating example of how the Dead can successfully infuse a story whose focus lies elsewhere; they are a part of the world that Eglin evokes, and his skill in interweaving elements of their art with so many other touchstones—his soundtrack to the sixties includes 87 songs, by both major names and minor, but all evoking the spirit of the times—is an important reminder that the Dead were only one of many voices that defined that era. Eglin’s deft handling of those broader interconnections neatly sidesteps the difficulties that other writers have encountered when addressing the Dead in a fictional context: too often, the phenomenon overwhelms the plot or characters, a complaint critics have often made of other novels that attempt to capture the Sixties in fiction. And while a shelf of novels attest to the appeal of the challenge, no critical consensus has identified the short list of successful titles.

Famed mythographer Joseph Campbell famously remarked that the Grateful Dead were the antidote to the atom bomb. One of Eglin’s memorable asides offers a tantalizing recasting of that notion:

“Once science had decided—-ages ago-—that the atom was the basic building block of the universe, it was just a matter of time before the professors provided the generals with the first atomic bomb. Presumably, had science back then sided with Thales instead of Democritus and concluded that the world wasn’t atoms but water, it would have been prudent to build an ark instead of a bomb-shelter.”

Perhaps the Dead phenomenon was that ark, preserving the ideals and issues of the sixties for succeeding generations to discover and experience and finally debate. Gifts of materials like Eglin’s fine typescript to the Archive allow it to serve as a way of grounding those debates, anchoring them in reality; for what is an archive if not an ark, preserving the means of perpetuating and understanding a precious, politicized, and still misunderstood past.

Postscript: we understand that Eglin is preparing his typescript for publication and we wish him the best of luck.

The First Tennessee Jed?

Thanks to supporters James R. Skolnik and George Michalski, this rare postcard featuring 1940s radio star Johnny Thomas has been donated to the Grateful Dead Archive.

It advertises the character “Tennessee Jed Sloan,” a fictional cowboy gunslinger who traveled the West with his trusted horse Smoky and his squirrel gun, fighting bad guys and outwitting their schemes. A popular serial, the show was sponsored by the Tip-Top Bread Company, and ran from 1945 through 1947. Fifteen programs are available today from The Old-Time Radio Catalog, and David Goldin has done a fine job cataloging the shows and their content here.

If Hunter was specifically drawing on this show as an antecedent for his song, it would be difficult to pin down exactly how: Hunter’s protagonist is much more of a sad-sack than Thomas’s (and later Don MacLaughlin’s) depiction of an eagle-eye marksman whose exploits over the show’s two years ended up with him as a White House special agent. (Indeed, one wonders whether this show served as a precedent for the 1960s television hit, The Wild West West.) David Dodd first pointed out the existence of this show in his Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics site, but did not suggest that it served as an actual antecedent or inspiration for Hunter.

Nor is that likely, given the difference in Hunter’s protagonist and the radio show hero. The lack of a direct influence does not make it irrelevant, however: indeed, for Dead scholars, this item illustrates how rich Hunter’s allusions are, documenting in particular how his reservoir of Western Americana runs both wide and deep, drawing from popular culture as well as literature and history.

The Archive is grateful to James Skolnik for helping to facilitate this donation, and to noted San Francisco musician and collector George Michalski for his generosity and sharp eyes in acquiring and donating this wonderful artifact.

Evolving Musical Traditions: Jesse McReynolds and the Grateful Dead


In 1964, a young Jerry Garcia and his friend and later musical collaborator Sandy Rothman embarked on an extended road trip East, traveling to see their bluegrass heroes in the South, North, and Midwest. Scholars and fans tend to focus on their meeting with Bill Monroe, immortalized in a homemade recording that Jerry made of one of Monroe’s sets at Bean Blossom, but just as important to the young musicians was seeing brothers Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the already famed bluegrass duo from Dothan, Alabama.

Garcia’s path would stray far from the roots music he heard on that trip, but his heart remained close to that wellspring for the rest of his life, returning to it periodically to refresh and renew his eclectic muse. Some of the wonderful results of those periodic renewals can be heard in releases documenting his work with Old & In the Way in the 1970s, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band in the 1980s, and his later work with David Grisman (whom he also met on that 1964 trip) in the 1990s.

By then, of course, Garcia’s own contributions to music had been recognized, critically and collegially, and after his death, efforts like Pickin’ on the Grateful Dead made clear the ease with which his compositions could be reinterpreted from a bluegrass perspective. Now, 46 years after he met Garcia, Jesse McReynolds makes the definitive case for that with his new release, Songs of the Grateful Dead: A Tribute to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter (Woodstock Records). It represents a remarkable achievement artistically, and for Dead scholars, it also demonstrates the degree to which the Dead’s artistic achievement is thoroughly and inextricably interwoven with the broader currents of American music.


“Jesse absorbed the gestures of Grateful Dead music, then crafted his interpretations,” Sandy Rothman explained. Each of the thirteen songs has its own flavor, its own feel; McReynolds let the songs breathe and find their own resonances with a first-rate band of players also steeped in the Dead’s ethos. Sharp-eared fans will be able to discern contributions from Sandy Rothman, who played with Garcia in the 1960s and again in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band with Stu Allen, another featured player, and David Nelson, longtime Garcia collaborator and founder of the New Riders of the Purple Sage as well as his own band.

But this is not an exercise in nostalgia. McReynolds didn’t take the easy way out, limiting his choices to obvious candidates like “Friend of the Devil” and other mainstays of the Dead’s acoustic catalog. To be sure, the disc features haunting versions of “Ripple” and “Stella Blue” and “Deep Elem Blues,” but tracks like “Alabama Getaway” and “Standing on the Moon” will surprise and delight jaded fans: McReynolds and his colleagues find hidden treasures in all of the songs they assay, and the results remain in memory long after the CD finishes.

The final touch is a new song, “Day by Day,” composed by McReynolds to words by Robert Hunter, who enthusiastically champions McReynolds’ effort: “Jesse’s singing voice is like a long-lost brother voice between Jerry Garcia and David Nelson,” Hunter observed, and open-eared listeners will agree. (Those who keep up with Hunter’s online journal remember when he commented that he was writing lots of new lyrics but wouldn’t say who they were for.) For fans, “Day by Day” means the CD is much more than a tribute; it is a statement that the Dead’s corpus is now a living part of the American musical heritage, growing with each interpretation and musician who delves into it.

For Deadheads accustomed to feeling that their musical tastes are decidedly less than mainstream, it is especially gratifying to have a musician of McReynolds’ stature make such a heartfelt statement of appreciation. McReynolds celebrated his sixty-third year in the music business in July of this year, looking back on a career that includes 45 years in the Grand Ol’ Opry, dozens of awards and Grammys, and “membership in any Hall of Fame that means anything to this music,” as Dennis McNally put it recently.

Perhaps the only sadness is the absence of Garcia’s voice and playing. As Hunter commented, “What a trio you’d all have made! The singing is steady and strong. Jerry would approve, I’m certain.” So do we.

The Eyes Have It: Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Eyes of the World

Literary Deadheads may recall that David Dodd first wrote about Harold Bell Wright’s 1914 novel The Eyes of the World on his web site, The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, which preceded his fine book of the same topic (see p. 203 of that book for a print reference to Wright’s book and its offshoots). One interesting recent find in the Grateful Dead Archive is a splendid copy of that tome, inscribed to the band’s founding archivist Eileen Law by Deadheads Kim and Bob Hilton of Bar Harbor, Maine. (It is available now as a Google book and in a modern reprint edition.)

Bell’s book is interesting to Dead scholars for indirect, even oblique, reasons—but those reasons lead to themes that are in fact central to the scholarly study of the band as a cultural, historical, artistic phenomenon.

The novel takes place largely in Southern California, focusing on an unlikely friendship between an older novelist and a young painter. The novelist is enormously successful but considers his work corrupt, debased because of its appeal to popular, prurient tastes; he cuts a Faustian figure in the book, constantly goading and chiding his young apprentice but leavening his mordancy with occasional flashes of calm meditation on the meaning of art and the role of the artist in society. It is a frank statement about the Romantic ideal of the purity of art, and the dangers of being seduced by mammon.

That frankness is what jars most—Bell’s six previous novels had been savaged by the critics (nor has his reputation improved with time), and The Eyes of the World reads like one long, tendentious response to those critics. (See the entry on Wright in Wikipedia for some of those critical dismissals, including particularly pointed—and mordantly funny—attacks singling out this book as his worst.) But the philosophy put forth in the book—of not pandering to popular, vulgar tastes, of honoring the muse as the only way to earn immortality—is at heart a classic expression of the Romantic, bohemian ideal that later defined the hippie milieu which birthed the Dead, and certainly describes their own attitude to their music. (Bell even opens the book with an epigram from Wordsworth.)

The title of the book is a phrase that the older novelist uses when admonishing the young painter: “the eyes of the world” here means the shallow, superficial, easily misled impressions of the public, not the deep, universal awareness that Hunter’s use of the phrase describes in his lyric. Still, the myriad interconnections between the book and the song make comparing them a revealing exercise. Students interested in how the Dead’s art fits into broader arcs in American cultural history will find Bell’s novel an intriguing, if didactic, expression of the debate over high and low culture at the turn of the century. And for those interested in exploring Hunter’s extraordinary mindscape, the way these themes find expression and perdure in a phrase whose literary function changed so dramatically over time is especially fascinating.

Altamont Revisited: Two Recent Views

Both the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones were tarred by their association with Altamont, the notorious free concert held December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway east of the San Francisco Bay. The accusations and counter-charges have swirled since that night, when a perfect storm of bad planning and other factors produced a concert that was a nightmare for many—and perhaps most—attendees.

Captured by the Maysles Brothers for their documentary Gimme Shelter, the Stones concert was marred by repeated brawls and clashes between the Hell’s Angels and audience members and even Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane, who played before the Stones. The violence culminated in the murder of Meredith Hunter, who allegedly flashed a gun and was quickly surrounded by Angels, beaten, and finally stabbed to death by Alan Pasarro, a member (or prospective member) of the Angels’ Oakland chapter. A trial ended in an acquittal.

The Dead did not play, but were blamed by many for suggesting the Angels serve as security and for encouraging the idea of a free concert generally. In the aftermath, the Dead picked up the Stones’ tour manager, Sam Cutler, and Robert Hunter wrote a brilliant lyric reflecting on the meaning of the event, “New Speedway Boogie,” which Garcia put to music and the band recorded for Workingman’s Dead.


Cutler’s recent biography, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, was just donated to the Dead Archive as part of Dennis McNally’s magnificent research archive and library; the warm inscription from Cutler (and McNally’s thoughtful marginalia) make this a prized book in the collection.

Rock fans and Dead scholars will find much of the book fascinating reading, and Cutler’s prose—and perspective—is thoughtful, and thought-provoking; it is a fine rock memoir, even if his own account of Altamont is not apt to change many minds. His view is vital, however, and he adds several twists on the story, including allegations of mob involvement that echo later developments in parts of the recording industry.

And in a genre in which ghost writers and vapidity are the norm, Cutler’s prose—which is his own—stands head and shoulders above most. He is a survivor, and his epigram—a poem he wrote in 1974—is a powerful statement about many of the themes he weaves together in his meditation on a career largely defined by his work first for the Stones, and then for the Dead:

Every day
We murder our dreams;
Then pick them up,
Dust them down,
Adjust their silly hats upon their heads,
Kiss them on the cheeks,
And tell them how glad we are
That they’re still alive.

Less useful, though prettier, is Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties, a glossy coffeetable book that documents Altamont and the tour that preceded it. Cowritten by a photographer on the tour, Ethan A. Russell, it credits eleven members of the tour with providing interviews, suggests that several had never spoken of the events until this book, and positions itself as the untold, and possibly final, word on the Altamont disaster.


The pictures make for a remarkable story, certainly, but the amount of text generated then and since on the concert, and the records of a full murder trial for Pasarro, mean that a thorough history of the event remains to be told.

Still, fans who have wondered about the events leading up to Altamont, and the nature of the rock touring industry on the cusp of radical change, will find much to engage them here.

Marketing and the Business of the Dead

For a band whose Haight-Ashbury origins celebrated an aversion to capitalism, the Grateful Dead have emerged as a powerful example to a variety of business theorists, scholars, and academics. David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan are the latest to delve into the band’s remarkable commercial success, condensing the thirty-year history of the Grateful Dead into a series of pithy lessons to guide managers through the rapidly shifting terrain of marketing today. Their book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, provided them with a unique opportunity to truly combine their passions: as marketing professionals, business writers—and Deadheads.

Published by Wiley and just released, the book is getting good press, helped by the authors’ promotional tour—one that also allows them to catch a few summer shows by Furthur and the Rhythm Devils.

Scott and Halligan join a distinguished roster of scholars who have studied the band’s business model. Dr. Barry Barnes, a professor at Nova Southeastern University, is the most prolific and well known academic business scholar who has focused on the band, but a number of business scholars and analysts have long recognized the significance of how the band’s freewheeling marketing acumen and fanatically loyal customer base helped make the Dead one of the most unlikely economic powerhouses in an industry known for its fickle nature.

The lessons of that approach have not been lost on other Dead scholars, most of whom have had to address the stigma of the band’s countercultural origins and trappings. Unique among the welter of scholarly approaches to the Dead phenomenon, business theorists tend to ignore that stigma—the band’s success, and their maverick approach to courting that success, are sufficient to warrant the attention. To historians, that approach is refreshing because it foregrounds the band’s commercial success, making the point that the Dead’s artistic and commercial success are inextricably entwined; a professional band is, after all, an enterprise that is predicated—and depends—on both.

Their success also allowed the Dead to be generous, and their altruism was another lesson Scott and Halligan took to heart, donating a portion of their advance and earnings to support the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz. It is a wonderful acknowledgment of the old-fashioned ideals that informed the Dead phenomenon, and that now have taken root in its study. Scholars from a wide variety of disciplines will find Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead a thought-provoking and informative read.

Musicological Musings on the Grateful Dead: A New Blog

Grateful Dead scholars know David Malvinni for his thoughtful, erudite analyses of “the Eleven,” “Terrapin Station,” and other songs; those who attended the landmark conference Unbroken Chain: The Grateful Dead in American Music, Culture and Memory heard him deliver one of his best analyses of a number of the broader themes that make Grateful Dead music so powerful, dense, alluring, and compelling.

Now Dr. Malvinni has launched a blog, “The Grateful Dead World,” that provides him with a forum for pursuing some of his ideas and sharing them with his colleagues. As he notes there, “The purpose of The Grateful Dead World is to help me get my thoughts out for a book I’m writing called A Touch of the Blues: A Musicological guide to the Grateful Dead.”

The idea for the blog emerged as he was preparing his paper for Unbroken Chain. Called “The Psychedelic Appropriation of the Blues,” his paper was well received and sparked a number of spirited discussions. Dead scholars will be delighted that Malvinni is sharing his work: as he explains, “My idea is that Deadheads, musicologists and anyone interested in the topic can interact with the material before publication.” Thanks to David for this contribution to the literature.

Voices of the Dead: Kearny Street Books’ The Storyteller Speaks Reviewed

David Carter just published a fine review of a new Dead-related book, Rob Weiner and Gary McKinney’s edited anthology The Storyteller Speaks: Rare & Different Fictions of the Grateful Dead (Kearney Street Press, 2010), on the FilmFanaddict webzine: http://www.shockingimages.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=1325.

Carter praises the volume for its range and inclusiveness, grounding his assessment in his own appreciation for the band and scene (he caught a couple of shows in April of their last year.) Weiner’s long-time interest in the ways that the scene and phenomenon can be depicted in fiction is amply reflected here, and the two editors have assembled a thought-provoking range of efforts. Especially notable contributions from band lyricist Robert Hunter and Philip Baruth, author of The Millennium Shows (Albion, 1994), make the volume mandatory reading for Dead fans, and Dead scholars will be interested to see how many of their colleagues have been drawn to write fictional treatments of the phenomenon they study. McKinney, author of the well-received mystery (featuring a Deadhead sheriff) Slipknot (Kearney Street Books, 2007), and Weiner, editor of Perspectives on the Grateful Dead (Greenwood, 1999), have achieved a commendable first with this volume—and made a fine contribution to the ever-burgeoning literature on the Dead phenomenon in the process.

Voices of the Dead: Kearny Street Books’ The Storyteller Speaks Reviewed


David Carter just published a fine review of a new Dead-related book, Rob Weiner and Gary McKinney’s edited anthology The Storyteller Speaks: Rare & Different Fictions of the Grateful Dead (Kearney Street Press, 2010), on the FilmFanaddict webzine (click here).

Carter praises the volume for its range and inclusiveness, grounding his assessment in his own appreciation for the band and scene (he caught a couple of shows in April of their last year.)

He joins a number of critics in praising the volume (for a sample, click here). Co-editor Weiner’s long-time interest in the ways that the scene and phenomenon can be depicted in fiction is amply reflected here, and the two editors have assembled a thought-provoking range of efforts.

Especially notable contributions from band lyricist Robert Hunter and Philip Baruth, author of The Millennium Shows (Albion, 1994), make the volume mandatory reading for Dead fans, and Dead scholars will be interested to see how many of their colleagues have been drawn to write fictional treatments of the phenomenon they study.

McKinney, author of the well-received mystery (featuring a Deadhead sheriff) Slipknot (Kearney Street Books, 2007), and Weiner, editor of Perspectives on the Grateful Dead (Greenwood, 1999), have achieved a commendable first with this volume—and made a fine contribution to the ever-burgeoning literature on the Dead phenomenon in the process.

Startling the Dead: The Art of Dennis Larkins

A recent arrival at the Grateful Dead Archive is Startling Art: Revealing the Art of Dennis Larkins (La Luz de Jesus Press/Last Gasp, 2010). The gift of a supporter who is a fan of Larkins, the book documents the remarkable career of the artist whom Deadheads know as the man responsible for the famous posters of the Dead’s legendary runs at the Warfield and Radio City Music Hall in October 1980. Though not a Deadhead tome by any means, Startling Art does have some important Dead content, reproducing the Radio City Music Hall poster, the Downs at Santa Fe show (17 Oct. 1982), and the gatefold from Dead Set. What may most interest Dead fans and scholars, aside the from the fine overview of Larkins’ unique style and sensibility, are the book’s insights into Larkins’ oversized set pieces for the Dead’s stages, as well as for several other bands, most notably the Rolling Stones. Overall, the book demonstrates that Larkins’ work for the Dead is a vital part of his career and oeuvre that informs his broader vision and contribution as an artist.