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Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead's Long, Strange Trip

Doug Collette By

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Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter in the Grateful Dead's Long Strange Trip
Joel Selvin with Pamela Turley
288 Pages
ISBN: #978-0306903052
Da Capo Press

Joel Selvin's Fare Thee Well may end up equally parts enlightening and disillusioning for whoever reads it. Drawing upon his coverage of the Grateful Dead over the early course of their history, in collaboration with Atlanta freelancer Pamela Turley to glean her insight into events of more recent vintage, the former San Francisco Chronicle reporter writes with a crisp efficiency. As a result, in less than three hundred pages of The Final Chapter in the Grateful Dead's Long Strange Trip, Selvin relates the alternately acrimonious and fluid relationships between the four surviving members of an iconic rock and roll band struggling mightily to deal with both business and personal issues in the wake of the passing of their titular leader, guitarist Jerry Garcia, in 1995.

By dexterously juggling various parallel timelines involving guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, Selvin and Turley clearly communicate a wealth of insight and information, while simultaneously painting distinct, vivid portraits of each individual, not all of which are flattering; it's to the authors' credit that, by and large, they maintain their fundamental journalistic integrity rather than indulge in (much) editorializing upon the often self-serving machinations of these men who, in dealing with their families and their business partners, act so contrary to an image of flexible generosity as typified by their musical interactions.

More than once during the course of the book, recollections of the bitter disputes among The Beatles come to mind, specifically the three-against-one alignment pitting Paul McCartney against John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. But, in contrast to that situation, where Sir Paul fought something of a losing battle versus his peers, a set of circumstances arises with the Dead men where Lesh, more often than not in conjunction with the kindred spirit that is his wife Jill, conducts one power play after another, similar to the ongoing veto that kept the democratically-formulated band from studio recording for years. This naturally irascible man is hardly the only one of the four so disposed: Kreutzmann, for instance, is (sometimes violently) loathe to abandon his idyllic Hawaiian existence, while both Weir and Hart have their own agendas and the ex-wives of the deceased engage in bitter disputes of their own, all of which the authors chronicles in often painful detail.

The writers' healthy detachment from their subject serves to camouflages an occasional sense of hurry as they proffer descriptions of the various tortured processes by which the 'core four' dealt with issues such as ownership of Jerry Garcia's guitars, the disassembly of the Grateful Dead business operation and the merchandising agreement with Rhino Records in 2006. But some instances of slightly faulty grammar are less discernible than glossing over some illuminating facts: it's suspect, for instance, to see no direct name reference to Derek Trucks' late uncle, Allman Brothers' co-founder/drummer Butch Trucks, in recounting the early enlistment of the guitarist into an early cadre of Phil Lesh's Friends, while to simply state some original songs on the bassist's There And Back Again (Columbia, 2002) album were composed by "other guys in the band" is oddly dismissive of Warren Haynes' stellar contribution (a vivid paean to Jerry Garcia titled "Patchwork Quilt"). For these writers to give such short shrift to a musician and composer who otherwise plays a significant role in the story of evolving Dead lineups early in the 2000's is an egregious shortfall.

There's otherwise little doubt where Joel Selvin and Pamela Turley's sympathies lie, but, in staunch allegiance to the essential objectivity of their vocation, the writers allow events to speak for themselves, at least most of the time (snarky comments about Lesh's singing are an exception). And while the team did not have much extensive direct access to the band members—only Bob Weir and Mickey Hart spoke for purposes of the book—a wide range of personnel within the band's orbit deigned to edify them even when it comes to extremely awkward episodes like the firing of loyal, long-term employees like jack-of-all-trades management figure Cameron Sears.


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