On September 23rd, at 5PM PDT (8PM EDT) the Grateful Dead Forum was pleased to host a special live chat in the GDF Conference Room with Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead
The paperback version of his best-selling book has just been released, and he stopped by our office in San Francisco to chat about the book and the state of the Grateful Dead.
copyright 2003 AOL and the Grateful Dead Forum
Geoff Gould: Welcome everyone. Tonight, Dennis is here to discuss his book, now that that you've all read it, and to chat in general about the state of the Grateful Dead. So, please ask a question, we'll see what happens! Dennis, how does it feel a year after release of the hardcover?
Dennis McNally: A year after release, it feels highly satisfying. Pretty well done, really. As a complete experience, I had a really wonderful time. The overwhelming response - band, fellow employees, and Dead Heads, both through emails or whatever and at book signings, was really positive, and correct in the sense that most folks told me that they got what I was trying to say - that Dead Heads were part of the band. Lotsa critics didn't get that, of course, but -- y'know, y'can't please everybody.
GG: I still hear repeats of NPR interviews they did with you back then, you must have impressed them.
SSmelloy: I logged on because there was something in parish's book that bothered me. He said that after jerry died you made a comment about not being in the music business, being in the grateful dead business. I know you well enough to know that isn't correct, so what did you mean?
DM: Let me talk about the Parish quote, which, yes, is off. Actually, he got the quote right, but the interpretation wrong. I said - actually, lots of times, that "We aren't in the music business, we're in the GD business" - which is to say, and I think most people got this - we're not in the money business, we're in the business of magic and weirdness, and outside everybody else's parameters. Which of course was true.
DM: It's - I thought - a derivation of Mickey Hart's really great line that the Dead aren't in the entertainment business but the transportation business - "we move minds." Anyway, Steve misinterpreted it. Truth is, if you open your mouth - and as a publicist and writer, I do - a lot - you set yourself up for being misinterpreted. C'est la vie.
Brondle: Dennis - how close was Weir to be thrown out of the band?
DM: How close was Weir to being thrown out of the band? -- Well, on one level very close, and on the other, which is to say, what ended up happening - not at all. My favorite comment on that situation was what Bear - Owsley - said, which is "You can't fire your left hand because it doesn't write as well as your right." Or vice versa. By 1968, when this went down, the Dead was the Dead - an organic beast, and you couldn't bounce people out. But Phil was not very patient, Pig was drunk, and Bobby was a very spacey guy at this time - it took him a very long time to come down. Anyway, Pig and Bobby refused to be fired, which in the GD made perfect sense, and Bobby practiced alot, and it all worked out the way it should.
GG: hard to imagine GD without Bobby or Pigpen
Brondle: Was it due to his skill level at the time?
DM: It was kinda skill level, kinda levels of attention - like I say, Weir could be a little drifty in those days, and not from what he was ingesting - he was on a macrobiotic diet (actually, maybe that was the problem!) Anyway, if you listen to his playing on Live Dead, there's no question about his chops any more, and that's a fact.
GG: it's funny how compacted time gets when seen from almost 4 decades away; the period of time between Bobby being fired, and being an indispensable part of the sound is quite short.
WeatherRptSweet: so TC allowed himself to be fired?
DM: TC's departure was very different - a matter of honestly, mutual decision. The band was getting off on him and he wasn't enjoying himself and had something cool he wanted to do. And remember he'd only been there a year, not 5 - or in other words, a lifetime.
RICHEPAM: so anyway how did the book do?? Did it reach out beyond the realm of the deadheads at all??
DM: As to the book, I'd say it did very well - 3 printings and now a paperback - but my best guess is that no, it didn't really go beyond Dead Heads. Most of the reviews, which were generally pretty good, still locked it strictly into the subject; if the reviewer liked the Dead, then it was great, and vice versa. It didn't seem to transcend the subject, which I guess is my failure - but I'm still proud of it, so never mind.
RICHEPAM: same old story and I know its been told they just don't get it if they haven't been there.
GG: So, let's insert a slight commercial message: get your author-signed copy here: http://gdforum.com/store/books/LongStrangeTrip.html
RICHEPAM: for what its worth I loved the book best piece on the subject I've ever read thanks.
DM: You're entirely welcome, of course. All kidding aside, with the access I ended up having, it should have been. I dunno anybody else who was a Dead Head, and then a long-time employee; both sides of the curtain. So that's what I tried to do.
SSmelloy: yea but now that its in paperbacks everybody jumping on a plane will pick one up
DM: And thank you, SSmelloy, for that kind suggestion.
GG: which parts of the book received the most questions?
DM: The question I got most about the book, I suppose was about my role - that is, was I being an honest historian or still a publicist. And the answer is that no one in the band -- all of whom read the manuscript for purposes of fact-checking - asked me to take out embarrassing stuff. Somebody told me that one band member - it didn't matter who - must be pissed, because I say some fairly embarrassing stuff about him - and the answer is no, he told me over and over that what he liked about it was that it was honest - he can live with his life, and so should we.
RICHEPAM: I still wonder why towards the end the band even continued
DM: Why the band continued - I wonder if you're married or how long - and I say that because I think of the band in the early 90s as like a couple that had been married a very long time and was very dependent on each other, so that even if they weren't having much fun, they kept at it out of habit, sorta. Inertia.
GG: let me make a question, related to how critics saw the movie "Apocalypse Now". Most loved the part before the bridge, but had trouble after the bridge. In your book, did they have trouble with the interludes?
DM: Oddly enough, I think that the interludes, even though they are unconventional, got very respectful treatment. Mostly as I say, if I got criticism it was from people saying I was too nice - even though I think Dead Heads recognized that it was honest. God knows, I spent enough time watching and listening and taking notes to make the interludes full of facts, and full of information that wouldn't fit into any other format.
GG: That's good to hear; perhaps book critics are more open minded than movie critics!
SSmelloy: I especially liked that your book went into great detail, without being graphic unlike Parish's. Did you feel the same though about the state Jerry was in constantly or was that exaggerated? (His) constantly being carried up to the stage and barely able to perform...
DM: Well, I don't ever recall jerry being carried to the stage, but on the other hand we would lug his not very heavy attaché case for him - he wheezed. There were times he was barely able to perform - but that was very, very late in the game. What did happen was that he'd perform in a lackluster way. But you saw that.
GG: from what I saw, as a guitar maker who worked with the band was that Jerry's "condition" was anything but constant like death warmed over one day, sprightly the next.
DM: Sweeney's right. Jerry was indeed in very bad shape and different times, mostly toward the end, but it varied a lot.
GG: so, any other questions?
Brondle: We know what became of Jerry's guitars. What happened to his stage equip such as amps, effects, especially the Mutron?
DM: As far as I know - and I'm no expert, ask Steve when he comes, as far as I know, the equipment other than guitars is stored by the GD, but I'm assuming it's the estate's, so what it's future is I don't know. But I repeat, ask Steve.
GG: I think it's all safely stored away.
RICHEPAM: Dennis lots of luck with the book. What's next?
DM: What's next for me is a book about art and place - about four artists and the Mississippi River and Highway 61.
WeatherRptSweet: Oh, when is the best of Bob Weir going to be released?
DM: Best of Bob Weir - I'm not clear on the date for that. The plan was for November, but I don't think it can be pulled off - so I'm guessing January, but it still could be December. I'll get back to you on that...
SSmelloy: Are you enjoying life off the road (for the most part)?
DM: As far as me and the road - I guess I'd have to say that while I love my family, home, and city - I do miss the road. It was mostly fun, especially once I smartened up, got healthy, and explored it intelligently (instead of zoning out in hotel rooms) -- America is cool.
GG: singing the blues about the Four Seasons?
DM: In the last year of touring I saw Tupelo, Oxford, and Clarksdale Mississippi, Gettysburg, Manassas, Cooperstown - incredible stuff. And there are lots of people I'd work with once or twice a year around the country who became good friends. And anybody who got to travel with the GD (that is, directly) simply cannot be permitted to complain about the rigors of travel - we didn't have any.
Brondle: How is Phil's health? What is the life expectancy of liver transplant recipient in someone with his lifestyle?
DM: I don't see a lot of Phil, but as far as I know he's the healthiest critter around - sure looks that way.
GG: Thanks for coming tonight Dennis.
DM: I think that's my cue. Thanks for checking in - and see you somewhere soon, I hope.
SSmelloy: see you at the series.
GG: comments about the baseball season?
DM: A very cool season, but it'll only be great if we go all the way - the Giants, I mean, of course.
GG: oh, and one last question: Even if you're on a diet what is or was your most recent favorite flavor ice cream?
DM: Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia, of course. Sheesh, do you think there's another flavor?
GG: we bid you all goodnight!
by Dennis McNally
now in Trade Paperback
read chapter one (pdf)
read chapter two (pdf)
This is McNallys view of what went down. Its more often right than wrong and done with love, not a grudge, which goes a long way toward excusing another damned book about the Grateful Dead. Any view of us is necessarily a limited interpretation, like an aerial photo of Ground Zero. What Dennis loves and hates about us bears more weight than most interpretations because he took twenty years to get his facts straight. Ill miss him when we kill him. Robert Hunter