Book Notes: So Many Roads, the Life and Times of the Grateful Dead

So many roadsAs we approach the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, a number of new books are being published, telling the tale of this band and its adventures over thirty years of performing, and another twenty of post-Dead music. So Many Roads, by David Browne (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), takes an interesting approach: rather than try and be a thorough biography of the band, it examines eleven key dates in the band’s history, using each one as a starting point to tell part of the Dead’s story.

Early chapters cover the periods when the band members first met, or when they were recording specific albums, such as Workingman’s Dead, and some later chapters focus on important concerts, such as 9/3/77 at Englishtown, NJ, and 10/31/80, at Radio City Music Hall, in New York (one that I attended). This approach allows Browne to tell much of the story of the Grateful Dead, without getting bogged down in too many details. Naturally, none of these chapters only talks about a specific day, but covers the months or years prior to that day as well. But the dates chosen work well as landmarks along the highway that the Grateful Dead followed for thirty years.

Browne’s prose is smooth and entertaining, and the book is a quick read. But it’s not light reading; he covers the vicissitudes of the band’s history, many of which are well known, along with the high points. He pulls no punches talking about Jerry Garcia’s drug problem, and other issues in the band’s organization, nor is the book a hagiography of any of the band’s members. As historians know, no single source tells a full story, and this book is an excellent addition to the growing library of books about the Grateful Dead that, together, tell a much broader tale.

Off all the recent books about the band, this is certainly the most interesting, and the one I’d recommend to anyone interested in a general overview of the Grateful Dead.

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