Book Review: Read My Lips

A long strange trip contextualized

Read My Lips

No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead

by Peter Richardson
St. Martin's Press, 384 pp., $26.99

All of those liberal arts colleges that offer courses on the Grateful Dead better update their required reading lists to include No Simple Highway. A sophisticated study into the peace-y California outlaws who played music in the moment and amassed a uniquely faithful following over three decades, Peter Richardson's new history stands as the Dead library's most culturally contextual offering. Three sections represent tenets of the Dead trip: Ecstasy (the music), Mobility (touring above all else), and Community (their massive social and economic networks). Yet such categorizations don't disrupt the basic chronology, which begins with Jerry Garcia's birth and ends at the fractured reunion tours after his death in 1995. Richardson, a Bay Area native, drips his best ink on the early years of the band, which coalesced at the intersection of bohemians, beats, and folkies, and rolled with Neal Cassady, Owsley Stanley, Harry Smith, and the Hells Angels. The author admits his excavation of the group doubles as a personal search for deep understanding of his free-spirited homeland, which he finds and shares compellingly. Mountainous research yields fascinating material: who ripped the Dead off, explanations of Robert Hunter lyrics, and Garcia's self-evaluations of the band in different eras. The manner in which the author connects that information, academically and soulfully, to the world outside this lysergic subculture makes No Simple Highway special.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Grateful Dead
Gift Guide: Grateful Dead
Gift Guide: Grateful Dead
American Beauty 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros./Rhino)

Scott Jordan, Dec. 4, 2020

Too Late to Stop Now
Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead (Record Review)

Neph Basedow, Dec. 16, 2016

More Music Reviews
<i>Me & Mr. Cigar</i>
Me & Mr. Cigar
Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes debuts a deeply weird and wonderful young adult novel.

Alyssa Quiles, Feb. 21, 2020

Revenge of the She-Punks
Revenge of the She-Punks

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 6, 2019

More by Kevin Curtin
Austin Chronic: The Many Crusades of Adam Reposa
Austin Chronic: The Many Crusades of Adam Reposa
Months after being raided, lawyer continues to taunt the courts, the cops, and Ken Paxton

June 14, 2024

The Austin Chronic: I Really Needed a Lazy Day at Lazy Daze
The Austin Chronic: I Really Needed a Lazy Day at Lazy Daze
An Amsterdam-style coffee shop where you can smoke inside

May 31, 2024


Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle