David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: books, review, Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead, @musings info

Phil Lesh: "Searching for the Sound"

I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead in the mid-70s. I attended maybe a half-dozen shows, mostly while they were touring with the wall of sound. I don't consider myself to be a Deadhead.

I wasn't planning to read Phil Lesh's book, "Searching for the Sound", but got drawn into it by some of Lesh's writing about the early days. At least half of the book focuses on the `60s and `70s. That period was, for the band, full of adventure and boundless optimism. It was clear that Lesh had a tremendous fondness for those times.

There were some really interesting tidbits in the book, as well. Like how Bear (a.k.a. the legendary Owsley Stanley) was effectively the band's patron during the early years, presumably supporting them on the proceeds from sales of LSD. Also, their tech crew was really in the forefront in the early days, pioneering now-common technologies like line array speakers, active electronics in instruments, vari-speed recording, and using white noise and spectrum analyzers to EQ live sound.

The latter portion of the book seemed a bit forced, documenting as it did the long decline of the band and, to a lesser extent, the behavior of its audience. This was a time of endless touring, gate crashers, the heavy dependence of the band and crew upon alcohol and opiates, bad business decisions, an overwhelming flood of hangers-on, deaths of key personnel, etc. I think Lesh did an acceptable job documenting this period, given that it was such a dark period in his life and the lives of his friends. Credit where credit is due: Lesh spent exactly two sentences in the entire book on the subject of "the music business is evil", and practically apologized for mentioning it at all. Lesh is brutally honest about how his own decisions helped to contribute to the hard times the band suffered and about how the band's inability to make the tough business decisions negatively affected all of their lives..

I had lost interest in the Grateful Dead in the late `70s, but remained dimly aware that they were one of, if not the, highest-grossing live acts in the 80s. Looking at the Grateful Dead phenomenon from the outside, I thought that these guys were successful: playing music they loved night after night in front of hundreds of thousands of loyal fans and being well-compensated for their dedication. The picture painted by the book was very different: the Grateful Dead had become a huge organization with a burn rate of six million dollars a year, keeping the band on a treadmill simply to support the business. The players were not enjoying themselves, yet they kept going partly because of relentless pressure from management and promoters and partly because they felt a loyalty towards the many employees and their families who supported the Grateful Dead's touring and who had come to depend upon the Grateful Dead for their own livelihood.

In the end, I thought the book was a good read. I'd certainly recommend the book for its historical perspective to anyone who grew up with or is interested in the music of the `60s and `70s.

May 14 2005 19:07:50 GMT