Book Review: Read My Lips
A long strange trip contextualized
Reviewed by Kevin Curtin, Fri., May 29, 2015
No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Deadby 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.