No Simple Highway

No Simple Highway

A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead

Book - 2015
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"For almost three decades, the Grateful Dead was America's most popular touring band. [This is] the first book to ask the simple question of why--and attempt to answer it. Drawing on new research, interviews, and a fresh supply of material from the Grateful Dead archives, author Peter Richardson ... recounts the Dead's colorful history, adding new insight into everything from the acid tests to the band's formation of their own record label to their massive late career success, while probing the riddle of the Dead's vast and durable appeal"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2015
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9781250010629
Characteristics: 373 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Call Number: 782.42166092 RIC


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This is a well-written, accurate history of the Dead, tracking the band from its beatnik/folkie origins in the San Francisco Bay Area up to its mainstream corporate success in the 1980s and early 1990s. NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY is excellent when it comes to articulating the bohemian milieu of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, but once we finish with Altamont the book sort of loses steam. It is not Richardson's fault. The Hippies had a hard time adapting, once the social movements of the '60s petered out, to being merely consumers and businessmen. Richardson gives sort shrift to the music upheaval of the mid-'70s and the arrival of Punk, Disco, New Wave and Post-Punk. But he's good where he has to be, with succinct descriptions of Patty Hearst, Jonestown and the rise of Reagan. A real advantage to the book is that it's such a fast read that it can be finished in a few sittings.

Peter Richardson, who teaches at San Francisco State University, indeed has written a cultural history. Following the historical trajectory of the Grateful Dead and its members, the book situates the band within the events and zeitgeist of the times. He locates the musical origins -- the folk music of "old weird America." The band's ethos shared aspects with the Beats and the Diggers. Richardson looks closely at Bay Area events and politics as well as national political currents, while at the same time emphasizing the band's ambivalence towards politics. America's attitudes and policies toward drugs also form part of the thread of the narrative. The band at times had difficulties reconciling its communitarian ethos with economic realities. Yet solution to this conundrum prefigured the current musical landscape where musicians depend less on recordings and more on live performance and selling memorabilia. The book is well researched, drawing heavily on the existing biographies of and interviews with the band and its members. Its importance is explaining the significance and enduring influence of the Grateful Dead.


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