This is my first foray into the FAQ Series of books, and, I’ve got to admit, I’m a bit confused. FAQ implies general answers to common questions, yet the sub-head to Grateful Dead FAQ reads “All That’s Left To Know About The Greatest Jam Band In History.” All that’s left to know? Well, now that implies the reader knows the bulk of the story, but inside these pages lives the hard-to-glean info.
So which one is it?
Actually, it’s a little bit of both. Knowing the band’s story well, I skipped the first two or three chapters detailing the band, the main — and not so main — characters, and a brief history of the SF music scene. Likewise the entry of “Ten Artists Who Influenced The Grateful Dead.” I’ve never really thought about that and can’t argue with Sclafani’s list, however, I could probably come up with a different but equally valid list.
I almost skipped through the three chapters which detail the band’s recorded work in its entirety. Other than American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead and three stellar live albums, I rarely go to the studio output for my Dead fix. However, I’m glad I breezed through them, as Scalfani provides excellent detail and interesting analysis of each album.
My favorite chapters in the book were, ironically enough, “The Music Never Stopped (Why Does The Grateful Dead Still Interest Some People) and, conversely, “Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind” (Five Reasons People Hate The Dead). Sclafani does a really good job extolling the band’s unique charms and then punching holes in the common arguments one hears about the band and its followers from those who would simply write the band off. A breakdown of “Why The Dead Really Didn’t Blow It At Woodstock,” as legend has it, also provides a fresh and informed perspective, while “The Dead’s Ten Worst Decisions…” is really, really good and provides some necessary balance to the band’s myth.
Chapters dedicated to Donna Jean's significance and Tom Constanten’s role in the band don’t strike me as “frequently asked questions” and probably appeal only to the hardcore fan. That’s more than I can say about the chapter of "Dean Grabski’s Tales of a Taper;" it was only 3 or 4 pages long but utterly unnecessary.
There are several obligatory chapters citing the most significant concerts and live recordings, the “rare “ film and video output, and Dead collectibles that should keep fans scouring the internet for months. There’s even an attempt to piece together what “could” have been a last Dead record from the final era’s unrecorded songs.
This is by no means a definitive book on the Grateful Dead and doesn’t pretend to be, particularly because of the series format. It does, however, offer up bite-sized pieces of information, some history, and lots of opinion and thoughtful analysis to appeal to curious newcomers and hardened veterans alike. It’s not the kind of book that you’ll read cover to cover, but rather something to pick up and sample as the mood and chapter subject moves you. Some great stuff. Some good stuff. Some not so good stuff. You just gotta poke around…
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