Evolution of The Dead

Evolution of The Dead


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In the autobiography “Searching For the Sound” Phil Lesh goes into detail about his life as the bassist for The Grateful Dead, the band’s unique approach to making music, and how they came together in the beginning. The Grateful Dead are an extremely unique rock band that formed in 1965 in and around the San Francisco Bay area. Before diving into the wild adventures he and other band members experienced, Phil takes it all the way back to his birth on March 15, 1940, and even gives a bit history about his family before he was in the picture.  The Dead being my favorite band, I found the book exciting and to be a learning experience from cover to cover.

Even if a person dislikes the Grateful Dead’s music or any music from that era, this book is a good read for all. Phil goes far more in depth than “our music is awesome”. If you really pay attention, you can see certain parts of his story as legitimate life advice. Drugs played a major role in the band’s history; in the beginning (early 60’s) the members bonded and were brought closer by collective LSD experiences called “The acid tests” conducted by author Ken Kesey, who was closely associated with the Dead, and by the use of psychedelics in general. This time period seemed to be absolute euphoria and care free for the band members and everyone involved, but as the 60’s faded away so did that vibe and feeling of community. Throughout the 70’s (one of my more favored eras in terms of their music and other music being made in that decade) the band was still going strong on stage, but went through some hard times, with the death of two of their keyboardists, Pigpen, and Kieth Godchaux. This posed the issue of finding new keyboardists, and obviously dealing with the loss of a brother. As the 70’s grew into the 80’s less friendly drugs came onto the scene. Phil himself had already developed a bad habit with alcohol, and and almost all of the band was regularly using cocaine or heroine. Once Phil found out that his wife was pregnant he put all of his energy into staying clean and providing the best life he could for his son; which eventually turned into two of them. He brought them on countless tours and gave them more of an experience than anyone else could get being a toddler. The main concern was Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist and heart and soul of the band. It was him who brought everyone together in the begging, but the further he got sucked into his heroin habit, the more the band grew apart, which sometimes was extremely  evident in their performances, and elsewhere. Jerry’s habits, and the affect they left on his body, eventually led to his death in 1995, the 30 year anniversary of the band coming together.

I find it interesting that, in a sense, drugs are what brought together, as well as destroyed The Grateful Dead. Although the complete, full-on, Grateful Dead is no longer the remaining members haven’t put down their instruments whatsoever. To name a few, Phil preforms somewhat regularly, as “Phil Lesh & Friends” (“& Friends” because he doesn’t constantly play with the same people), Bob Weir, the Dead’s rhythm guitarist has his own band “Rat Dog”, and members often collaborate with more current bands for live performances. Although Jerry is no longer with us, the Grateful Dead’s music is still very much alive.

There are two more, particularly notable things about the history of this band, that go somewhat hand in hand, the first being the massive following they achieved over their thirty years of preforming, known as Dead-heads. Their fan-base is unlike that of any other band, so much that you could almost call it a cult. The second, is that the Dead were never, at all, in it for the money. Although they did put out plenty of albums, the record companies didn’t like their style, and the true essence of the Grateful Dead can only be captured live.  This being true the band spent more of their time touring the world, playing for the people(including many free concerts), instead of for the record label’s money, which is something that makes me appreciate this band even more.