A deadhead walks into a bar and pulls up a seat next to an ordinary, but oddly familiar character. Soon enough, the easygoing stranger strikes up a conversation, eventually reeling off tale after tale of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And, of course, he is the one at the center of these stories in his band called The Grateful Dead. That’s kind of what reading Bill Kreutzmann’s Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Deal is like. The drummer’s dry, conversational writing style just eases you into his adventures in a nice, easy way, even if they do bounce all over the place.
“I'm going to follow this guy forever,” the stranger recalls upon first seeing Garcia with Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and damned if he doesn’t. His affection and devotion for Jerry throughout his stories is genuine and honest. After their band is formed, the tales get wilder and weirder: “Yeah, we were on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark one time. Darn it if the coffee urn somehow got dosed with LSD, and EVERYONE, including Hef and the bunnies were tripping. The camera guys were really confused.” “Our trip to Egypt? Well, a bunch of us took a full-moon, late-night horse race across the desert to a drum and dance nightclub.” Other legendary shows, such as Woodstock (“like all of the big shows, we just blew it.”), Watkins Glen (“no exception...we blew that one, too.”) and Altamont (“The whole gig was just bad juju, man.”) are dissected with the same wit and honesty. And then “in Portland, Ore.,1980, halfway through ‘Fire on The Mountain’, Mount. St. Helen’s erupted. The synchronicity was classic Grateful Dead.”
There’s plenty of musical insight as well: “I like Jerry’s songs best. All the songwriter’s had their moments, but nobody could compete with the songwriting partnership of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Phil’s songs were harder to play and Bobby’s songs didn’t sound as good, next to Jerry’s, although ‘Cassidy’ became a favorite of mine and was fun to play.” How about that hot keyboard seat, Bill? “You can really divide the Grateful Dead eras by who was on keys. Pigpen represented the 60s, Keith represented the 70s, Brent represented the 80s…Brent and Keith — those are the two for me,” says Bill, the deadhead nodding in agreement. Good stuff.
Alas, as in all bar stories great and small, there comes an obvious point in the evening’s conversation — and Kreutzmann’s book — when it’s time to go. After twists and turns, both professionally and personally, chemically and spiritually, Bill gets to his latest love, and declares that all of these roads, both simple and weird, have led the drummer to her, With that it's time to hit the road and the deadhead thanks the storyteller for the memories, but most of all, thanks for the music.
And then the deadhead walks out of the bar, richer for the time spent…
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