But that’s the full extent of their unanimity after 9 August 1995 according to a new book by Joel Selvin, the ‘veteran’ San Francisco-based rock journalist, probably the only such who claims not to be a Deadhead.
Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip is not an easy read. It records the Machiavellian intrigues which beset the band as they struggled, individually and collectively, to come to terms with the death of Jerry Garcia and find a role for themselves. For any Deadhead, it makes uncomfortable and disconcerting reading as it digs up a succession of skeletons in the closet.
At the heart of the book, and allegedly at the centre of the machinations, is Phil – and Jill - Lesh. Selvin has said that “It turned out that Phil and his wife were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth” and that “power went to their heads”. It certainly appears that way in this version of the story, and Dennis Mcnally has agreed that it is 99% accurate. But Phil and Jill did not give interviews and nor did Bill Kreutzmann, so reports of their motives and behaviour are at best partial and at worst prejudiced. (Selvin and Lesh have form.)
Most of the power plays took place in private, but, as Deadheads, we knew there was something going on. The conflicts were evident on stage and in the press. Mickey Hart was reported as saying that Phil, the recipient of a donor liver, “maybe got the liver of an asshole”. Phil scheduled a show a few miles from a previously announced gig by the other three, forcing Deadheads to decide between the two rival bands. (The result was 50-50.) When they did play together, there were musical differences and backstage rows as Phil called the shots that others didn’t want, and granted himself vocals on songs that were traditionally Weir’s territory.
Personally, I think that the best of the post-Jerry music was produced by Phil & Friends. I loved the idea of treating the music as repertoire, to be played by virtuosi such as Larry Campbell and Tray Anastasia, rather than Jerry mimics, however brilliant, like John Kadlicik. Although of course Phil then went on to recruit Kadlicik! And I saw Ratdog, Bob Weir’s band, with Mark Karan, and also without a lead guitar at all, and loved both. But then I would, wouldn’t I?
Selvin’s book has a happy ending. In Chicago. With all surviving members of the Dead on stage for a run of shows that provided the band and the audience with resolution and reconciliation. It’s not the end – Dead & Co (with Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann) are on the road as I write and rumoured to arrive in Europe this fall. Phil is, most nights, at Terrapin Crossroads, the club owned by him and Jill.
So despite everything, the music never stopped. And despite everything, in this household, never will.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Not as you may think anything by Further, The Dead, Ratdog, Phil & Friends, Dead & Co, The Other Ones or any of the various manifestations of the post-Jerry Dead. Instead, a great duo called Wet Tuna (yes, Wet): their new album, Living the Die, and a Detroit show with a wonderfully spacey I Know You Rider jam.