Grateful Dead Drummer Gives Readers the Straight Deal

The Grateful Dead in 1970: (back row): Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Ron 'Pig Pen" McKernan (keyboards, vocals), Bob Weir (vocals, guitar), Mickey Hart (drums), and Phil Lesh (bass). Singer/guitarist/Guiding Light Jerry Garcia is in the front.
The Grateful Dead in 1970: (back row): Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Ron 'Pig Pen" McKernan (keyboards, vocals), Bob Weir (vocals, guitar), Mickey Hart (drums), and Phil Lesh (bass). Singer/guitarist/Guiding Light Jerry Garcia is in the front.

Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead By Bill Kreutzmann with Benjy Eisen St. Martin's Press, 400 pp., $27.99.

The latest in a slate of books about the Grateful Dead out just in time for the band's 50th anniversary and farewell shows this summer is perhaps also the one of keenest interest. That's because it's only the second memoir by an actual band member after bassist Phil Lesh's Searching for the Sound in 2006.

Taking its title from a Jerry Garcia solo song the band was fond of playing, the book's understandable and blatant subjectivity of the Dead's story is a given. But the band's original drummer -- and later, with Mickey Hart, part of the group's two-man "Rhythm Devils" -- offers plenty of insight, opinion, observations and analysis that are unique and of great interest to fans.

From their early psychedelic days in San Francisco through the building of the "Dead Head" cult in the '70s, to the band's surprising late-career popularity surge that seemed to bring as any problems as advantages, Kreutzmann was there for it all. And all 2,300-plus shows.

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By his own admission, Kreutzmann has a few memory gaps due to his prodigious appetite for drugs, booze, sex -- he claims to have once banged a baker's dozen of groupies in one night -- and more drugs. Lots of drugs. There is not a lot about the Dead's musical development and songwriting in Deal, but there are plenty of other boons.

He writes of his relationship with the band's singer/guitarist/guiding light Jerry Garcia with particular fondness. The two first met when Kreutzmann was 12 and Garcia was a 16-year-old who showed up to buy a banjo from Kreutzmann's father; the drummer even calls himself the "first Dead Head" after seeing a pre-band Garcia solo performance.

There are also his takes on many of the touchstone events in the Dead's history: the Acid Trips, the Fillmore Shows, Monterey Pop/Woodstock/Altamont, The Wall of Sound, the Trip to Egypt, the Parking Lot Scenes. Some of the facts have been recounted ad infinitum in other books, but only this one sees it from Kreutzmann's POV.

But our drummer has problems, usually with people. Problems with Bob Weir's talent; with Mickey Hart encroaching on his turf; with the revolving-door managers; with pretty much every keyboardist the band ever had, and they went through them like Spinal Tap went through drummers.

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But sometimes, the problem is him, and Kreutzmann can come off as an outright prick, a thought he likely would not disagree with. For example, he bemoans a lost relationship with an adult daughter whom he ignored during most of his formative years. Once he sabotaged a hotel's entire telephone system -- not caring about causing chaos for other guests or staff -- as a way to "get back" for being woken up by a jackhammer at a nearby construction site.

Today, Kreutzmann lives with his third wife (the "love of my life") on an organic farm in Hawaii, where he spends is time scuba-diving, fishing, listening to his band's reissued CDs, and playing in various bands both around the corner from his home and around the country (including Billy and the Kids).

Of the band's 1995 dissolution after the death of Garcia, Kreutzmann was adamant: no Jerry Garcia, no Grateful Dead. Various formations of the survivors (including Kreutzmann) would play as Further, the Other Ones, Rat Dog, 7 Walkers, Phil Lesh & Friends, the Mickey Hart Band, and -- finally -- The Dead.

So while Phish's Trey Anastasio will have some might large Jerry shoes to fill for the upcoming, really-last-hurrah shows billed as "Fare Thee Well," Bill Kreutzmann will be back up there pounding the skins and putting the band to rest. A grateful rest, that is.

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