"The coffee-house is the place of
rendezvous to all that live near it,
who are thus turned to relish calm
and ordinary life."
-Addison, Spectator, 1711


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For many, the sixties was a decade best swept under the rug. For others, it remains a phenomenon worthy of recapturing. The former miss the point. Perhaps, so too do the latter. We've been there, done that. To look at the decade as only a period of revolt - the shattering of social norms - is to rob it of the positivity it brought to the table. It was a catalyst of not only drug experimentation (which, arguably, had its upside as well as down), but of changes to America's fundamental structure. It questioned what the nation stood for, and for whom its constitution served. The decade also blew up our thinking about art, fashion, tradition and music, while expanding the collective consciousness. Love it or hate it, none of us, a half-century later, would be standing where we are without the sixties.

The Grateful Dead: The Long Strange Trip of the World's Greatest Jam Band
edited by Bill Syken
Dotdash Meredith, 2022
$14.99, 96 pp

Published under the LIFE moniker by Dotdash Meredith, The Grateful Dead: The Long Strange Trip of the World's Greatest Jam Band chronicles the evolution of the infamous Bay Area band, The Grateful Dead. From its humble beginnings as a jug band, The Grateful Dead exploded onto the scene buoeyed by the counterculture phenomenon of the sixties. They didn't invent the acid trip, but as the house band for Ken Kesey's Kool-Aid Acid Tests - an experiment in communal dosing - they propelled it into the consciousness of American suburbia. But to simply define the band for the drug culture that swirled around it, would be a great disservice. The Grateful Dead was so much more than that, and fortunately this magazine-style tribute edited by Bill Syken goes the extra mile through pieces written by predominant figures from the band's nascence.

As a band, there is - and will never be - none other like The Grateful Dead. From the music they played, to the fans who danced and gyrated, the Dead was unique. A concert attendee would be hard-pressed to miss the genuine love the fan base held for its band members. In style and structure - both musically and technically - they stood out. They were perhaps the most democratic band ever to grace a concert venue, designating an area mid-field for tapers; fans who religiously recorded every concert, meticulously chronicling each set list, not for profit, but for the kind act of sharing their Dead experience with others. If it all sounds wonky, and a bit concocted, it's safe to assume you weren't there.

For many, the fans made the band. Whether attracted by the parking lot experience - a grass-roots model of free enterprising souls with none of the corporate aesthetics - or the "twirl girls" inside the venue (they parked themselves wherever there was room to twirl), fans of The Grateful Dead were there because there was no other place they'd rather be. As for the music, it was a sideshow for some, a topic of debate for others. According to photographer Herb Greene, the Dead's accidental historian, in their early days, the Dead was considered keyboardist Pigpen McKernan's band. Says Greene, "Jerry, he just wanted new guitar strings and to have a nice guitar."

After Pigpen's death in 1973, the future looked bleak for the band. What could have been a deathblow to the jams, instead set off an evolution for the group and their music. Garcia rose to prominence; for many the Dead had become Jerry's band. For others, Phil Lesh (bass) was the soul of the group. Still others credited percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann for the band's staying power. The debate would continue over the next several decades, highlingting the Dead's universal appeal. The Grateful Dead, it seemed, had something for everbody.

Summer Lovin'
The Grateful Dead focuses on the band's early years in San Francisco's counterculture; a culture they were instrumental in defining. While it tries to avoid being nostalgic, it proves a difficult task. Largely, the band's Haight-Ashbury days gets a halcyon treatment. The vibrant art scene of the sixties, and the onslaught of hippiedom's Summer of Love comes across as more utopian than the reality of it. The beauty of the social experiment is celebrated, while its seedy underside is left for the most part, down under. Perhaps this is the result of relying on those wrapped up in the phenomenon to tell The Grateful Dead's story. Memories, how sweet they grow with time.

While its delivery may be skewed, The Grateful Dead's objective is not. It provides a fascinating glimpse at an era and a band through the eyes of those who were there, culling commentary from the likes of Grace Slick, Robert Hunter (lyricist/songwriter) and David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage). Other tributes come from those who entered Jerry's orbit later, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Suzanne Vega, Senator Patrick Leahy, Matt Groenig, and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

The Band Plays On
Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack on August 9, 1995. He was 53. The ever-evolving band we call The Grateful Dead took a much-deserved break after the death of their bandmate, only to reform in various iterations based largely on the successful concert recipe of The Grateful Dead which nobody can really put their finger on. They include: The Other Ones; the Dead; Furthur; and their latest incarnation, Dead & Company. Side projects include Rat Dog; Phil Lesh and Friends; Mickey Hart Band; BK3; and 7 Walkers. Have I missed any? Probably.

While fans are still debating whose band The Grateful Dead was (add to the debate, whose band is each new incarnation), in Carlos Santana's mind there was never a question. In his tribute to the late band leader, he writes, "Jerry was the sun, and the music the band played was like planets orbiting around him." And the fans, I might add, in orbit around them.

According to Bill Kreutzmann's website, Dead & Company is doing their final tour this year. If history is any gauge, that remains to be seen.

Jerry Garcia: The Ultimate Guide to His Music and Legend
edited by Jason Fine
Meredith, 2022
$14.99, 96 pp

Mark Twain is quoted as once saying "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." It's also been said he wanted his tombstone to read: "I told you I was sick." Jerry Garcia, the late great troubador who encapsulated the spirit of The Grateful Dead didn't broadcast to the world his health challenges with diabetes. He didn't have to. The world was watching, and after slipping into a diabetic coma which very nearly upended the band in 1986, there wasn't a fan out there who wasn't aware of Jerry's fragile health.

Dark Star
As for his struggle with addiction, it was a more guarded subject. In the days before social media, an organization like The Grateful Dead could control information more easily, and screen what got publicity, and what didn't. The frequent rifts between band members over Jerry's increasing opiate use, and the personality changes it wrought, fell into the latter. Today, nearly thirty years after his death at the ripe young age of 53, the cat's largely out of the bag.

      "Jerry was the sun, and the music the band played was like planets orbiting around him."

Published under the Rolling Stone banner, Jerry Garcia: The Ultimate Guide to His Music and Legend, pulls no punches. It opens with an introduction by David Browne, reflecting on a 1969 interview in Rolling Stone which pointedly plays to Garcia's fallibility after a particularly shaky gig at Winterland, promoter Bill Graham's San Francisco ice-skating rink-turned-concert venue. Without a hint of irony, Jerry declares, "But, y'know, I dug it, man. I can get behind falling to pieces before an audience sometimes." For the artist in Jerry, 'falling to pieces' and the lessons gained from it was everything to growing as a musician. Perhaps that's why he pushed the envelope so hard.

Cobbled together from past Rolling Stone interviews and articles, Jerry Garcia is a window into Garcia's gated world of rock celebrity. The dark days of addiction are spelled out by close friends, family and bandmates in Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia, by Robert Greenfield, which appeared in Rolling Stone on the first anniversary of Jerry's death. In it, those who knew him best and shared his long strange trip come clean about the many ups and downs of musical genius when combined with chemical dependency. A gloomy picture unfolds in the telling of Jerry's darkest days, with brevities of hope, only to collapse again into the quagmire that surrounds addiction. And all the while he toured.

With the uglies out of the way, the remainder of Jerry Garcia focuses on his musical genius. Gleaning anecdotes from past issues of Rolling Stone, it celebrates Jerry as a musician, friend, father and partner. With photos, and a Top 50 Grateful Dead song list that digs into the roots of Garcia's creative processes, it's a tribute that befits the man, culminating in an elegy by his life-long collaborator, Robert Hunter.

On August 9, 1995, reports of Jerry's death were broadcast over the airwaves of very nearly every radio station in America. Many met the news with skepticism. It wasn't the first time his demise had been reported. But this time was different. This time, no Mark Twain reference was going to undo the news. This time held a dose of finality in it no fan wanted to ingest. We all knew about his diabetes; not so much about his addiction. Although the warning signs were everywhere, we wished so bad for the circus to go on, we were content to ignore them. As Jerry said in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, "We are who we are."

Rest in peace, Jerry. The Big Top stands.

The Sixties: The Decade Remembered Now, by the People Who Lived it Then
edited by Lynda Rosen Obst
Random House, 1977
ISBN: 0-394-40687-1
317 pp

Published in 1977 as a joint venture between Random House and Rolling Stone Press, The Sixties: The Decade Remembered Now, by the People Who Lived it Then brings together a bevy of writers to reflect on the decade passed. When it was written, the sixties were still fresh in the minds of Americans. Events seemingly of great importance, had yet to be tested with time. The result is a hodge podge collection of essays; some standing up to the test of time, others feeling incredibly dated.

Designed by Robert Kingsbury and packed with photos, each chapter is dedicated to a single year, opening with a month-to-month calendar listing the events deemed - at the time - significant for that year. The first chapter covers 1960, a year of incredible optimism. San Francisco was experiencing a renaissance in free expression, from fashion to politics to music. JFK got elected to the White House, breaking the conservative grip of the last eight years on Washington, while bringing a sense of hopeful purpose to the national political scene.

One essay that's stood the test of time was penned by Benjamin C. Bradley, newspaperman and neighbor to the Kennedys from JFK's days as a senator in Washington. He reflects on Kennedy's assassination from a place of friendship - something more akin to a eulogy - only briefly mentioning the assassination in passing:

    I used to think it was strange that everybody remembers where he or she was when Kennedy was killed. Perhaps it tells us something about how we place and measure ourselves. I was browsing in a bookstore near the National Press Building during lunch hour. I heard whispering. Suddenly, the whispers grew louder, and I heard separate words: Kennedy. Shot. Assassination.
Another piece, still seemingly fresh after all these years, is by Allen Ginsberg. Titled Coming to Terms with the Hell's Angels, it's his account of discovering what does and doesn't work in the protest movement. There were at the time (and, no doubt still are) two schools of thought when it comes to demonstrating. There's "anger marching" (protest with no sense of humor), and there's "theatrical" (insert humor here). The latter generally incorporates some form or another of street theatre (think "Baby Trump"). Ginsberg's epiphany comes when he realizes national politics was theatre too; each party trying to out-dazzle the other in a race for ticket sales.

While not everyone got Ginsberg's memo on theatre, Jerry Rubin (co-founder/co-chairman of the anti-war Vietnam Day Committee) did. When he was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activites (HUAC), he took the theatre to Washington, dressing for the big day as an American Revolutionary War soldier. That simple act of costuming propelled protest theatre into the national spotlight, and with it, a permanent place in the demonstration organizers toolbox. Today, there's hardly a protest that doesn't incorporate some aspect of theatre into its activities.

Sadly, the decade ends on a less positive note. 1969 includes the massacre at My Lai, the Manson murders, and an essay by Greil Marcus on Altamont, an event that left an entire generation anxious about the future of rock festivals. The year closes with The Beatles in Four Part Disharmony, by Anthony Fawcett. The title says it all. By the end of the year, the fab four were finished. Then, as a postscript (or in hindsight, a harbinger of the corruption to come), the final entry is composed of a single paragraph on the inauguration of Richard Milhous Nixon. Written by frequent Rolling Stone contributor Hunter S. Thompson, it's suitably titled, Fear and Loathing at the Inauguration:

    . . . I heard a song by the Byrds, with a refrain that went: "Nobody knows . . . what kind of trouble they're in; Nobody thinks . . . it all might happen again." It echoed in my head all weekend, like a theme song for a bad movie . . . the Nixon movie.
The sixties were over.

posted 03/23/23