A Long Strange Trip:

The History of the Grateful Dead

DM Dennis McNally  - Aug. 2002


Dennis has been the Grateful Dead's official historian and publicist since 1980, his long strange path followed naturally from making Jack Kerouac the focus of his Ph.D. history studies and deciding to make  the acquaintance of the Grateful Dead as the next step in his career as an author.
 As a practical matter he was the press agent whose job was to filter and spin information.
Dennis and his wife Susana Millman have lived in the SF Mission District since 1989

Desolate Angel , subtitled A Biography, Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation and America , was Dennis's doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Paul Krassner called Desolate Ange , "The Roots of the Hippie Generation."

 "The actual choice of Kerouac came about for a couple of reasons: one intellectual and two practical. He was chronologically my immediate forbearer — in the ’50s I read On the Road — and I was consciously resisting the flattening effects of the academic world by looking for something that was outside the conventional culture to study. Kerouac seemed appropriate."  said McNally,

"At that time, my parents lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts which is 20 miles from Lowell, where Kerouac was from," he added.

Eight months later, McNally attended his first Grateful Dead concert and came to realize that his study of American history was really a two-volume set: the first covering the ’40s and ’50s in relation to Jack Kerouac, the second covering the ’60s and ’70s through the world of the Grateful Dead. "Because I’m slow, I rang in twenty extra years just for fun," he quipped.

Dennis McNally: Jerry 'would stay
painfully confused about himself and women for all his days'

Of course the progression is a natural one, given that On the Road was an extremely influential book to Jerry Garcia’s life. As such, it was McNally’s first volume on Kerouac — Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America, ich will be reissued in early 2003 — that provided the introduction he needed to get close to the band.

"As Louis Sullivan [Frank Lloyd Wright's mentor] would have said, form follows function. Originally, I came up with the idea of 64 chapters for the I Ching. But because you don’t force things into a framework, I eliminated some because they didn’t make sense any more. But that basic structure — those things sitting together and evolving — fell out even then."

Review at by John Metzger was source of above quotes

"It's a simple tale, really. A band of misfit guys fall in love, stumble blindly onward and defy gravity, then try to kiss the face of God! This truth is better than fiction. I hope you all enjoy this odyssey as much as I have." -Mickey Hart

"This is McNally's view of what went down. It's more often right than wrong and done with love, not a grudge, which goes a long way toward excusing another damned book about the Grateful Dead. Any view of us is necessarily a limited interpretation, like an aerial photo of Ground Zero. What Dennis loves and hates about us bears more weight than most interpretations because he took twenty years to get his facts straight. I'll miss him when we kill him."
-Robert Hunter

"Dennis McNally knows the Grateful Dead as intimately as they know themselves. His historian's eye, his immersion as a Dead 'family member,' and his crazed hippie heart have made this the book to read about the life, times, and twisted, double-helix road of the band's evolution. It's a great read." -Peter Coyote

 The Dead stands for something -- it stands for a cosmic sense of humor, for a spirit of adventure, for compassion for our fellow beings, for skepticism, for some honesty...
 An online interview with Dennis McNally 
Sept. 19, 1995, with Geoff Gould

DownloadBlair Jackson, executive editor at the audio trade magazine Mix who has written about the Grateful Dead for almost 30 years, is also author of Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped, and Goin' Down The Road: A Grateful Dead Traveling Companion

The admitted Deadhead  and a veteran journalist, painstakingly details every musical turn that the Dead took and discusses every side project Garcia embarked on openly offers connections between Garcia's drug use and his music when they prove appropriate.

Selected Jackson insights:
  • "His guitar style was the sum of a million influences, yet it was distinctive enough that his playing was instantly recognizable, no matter what the genre,"
  •  "There was nothing he liked more than playing music in a band in front of dancing people. He didn't care if the group was acoustic or electric or if the audience was large or small -- it was all about hearts and souls coming together through music; ecstatic communion and transformative epiphanies."
  •  "The hippie counterculture of the Dead came to symbolize the best and worst aspects of the libertine movement, from the communal spirit and healthy disrespect for the capitalist paradigm to the dangerous hedonism and unconscious self-absorption,"
  • "Another interesting phenomenon that became much more noticeable in the early '80s was the number of older Deadheads, many of them successful professionals, who went on tour with the Dead,often staying in luxury hotels and eating in fine restaurants along the way. For these white-collar Deadheads, going to shows became a way to get in touch with a freer, looser, some might say more authentic version of themselves. By the late '80s there were thousands of people in this category who found ways to juggle their busy work schedule to periodically take a week's vacation away from the law firm or computer company or hospital to follow a Dead tour to a few cities. They'd go back to their workplaces tired but with their souls enriched and their spirits replenished, and most of them firmly believed it made them better, happier workers." (p. 317) Author, Blair Jackson built this site initially to accommodate overflow material from Garcia: An American Life, his biography of Grateful Dead guitarist/singer/songwriter Jerry Garcia, ||JG on CD
Chapter Two Additions
DownloadRS  [F] Jerry Garcia interview at 30 years old
1972 interview first published in Rolling Stone  magazine. Republished in 2003
The two interviewers were Charles Reich a Professor of Law at Yale University and the author of The Greening of America and Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine

"Garcia was just thirty-one years old but already viewed--to his lasting dismay--as a social avatar for the new sensibility sweeping the land, an anarchist streak with a populist undercurrent that had roots in Ken Kesey's pranksters, the writers of the Beat Generation, and the libertine tradition of the American transcendentalists. In this interview, Garcia reveals how he is a combination of these and other influences, a high-school dropout and autodidact blessed with a gift for eloquent turns of phrase and a refreshing directness. He speaks of the saga of the Grateful Dead and his hoodlum youth growing up in San Francisco's Mission district.

" Much better than any of the tell-alls that have been published recently. "
chesnutd from Murphys, CA

 "He delves into fascinating discourses on the music that shaped his own playing and writing, and freely discusses his use of drugs and explains why he felt it was important to stay high."
This new consciousness, which is essentially the hippie lifestyle, is a new extension of man that has grown from a technological and corporate society run amuck, and two prior forms of consciousness that failed to properly allow man to run a high-tech world. This first consciousness was what our founding fathers had: a sense of individuality and hard work. With the advent of industrialism, this consciousness gave way to the second form. This is the one most of us are familiar with today. It a way of strict conformity to hierarchy, a rigid adherence to rules and regulations, as well as heavily materialistic and goal-oriented. Reich argues that this way of being was too stilted and crushed individuality and free expression. The result was the third phase of consciousness: the hippie. Doing your own thing, freedom, and a desire to make technology work for humanity were the ultimate goals of this group  
An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia
By Robert Greenfield, William Morrow and Co., 374 pages.

Greenfield, who co-wrote rock impresario Bill Graham's oral autobiography, My Life Inside Rock and Out (LJ 9/1/92), gained access to virtually all of the people who knew Garcia intimately except the band members and employees.

The ex-wives  Sara Ruppenthal Garcia and Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia -- along with Barbara Meier, an early lover who reappeared in his last years, add a surprisingly detailed emotional context. Among the 60 plus contributors are his older brother Tiff, the close friends who watched in helpless frustration as he battled a long-running heroin habit he tried again and again to kick, the children of fellow members of the Grateful Dead for whom he was the father he could never be to his own daughters and many musicians. 

"It was not LSD or the sixties that made Jerry Garcia who he was," writes Greenfield. "Jerry was always Jerry. Seemingly, he came into the world not only fully formed, but, as Bruce Springsteen once sang, with 'the diamond-hard look of a cobra.' That never changed. In his beginning may well have been his end. More importantly, both were always cloaked in mystery, perhaps even to him."

Speakers in alphabetical order

Peter Albin
Ken Babba
Dr. Randy Baker
Sonny Barger
John Perry Barlow
Bob Barsotti
Peter Barsotti
Jerilyn Lee Brandelius
Steve Brown
Yen-Wei Choong
Tom Constanten
Tom Davis
John "Marmaduke" Dawson
Len Dell'amico
Gloria Dibiase
Vince Dibiase
Rev. Matthew Fox
David Freiberg
Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia
Clifford "Tiff" Garcia
Manasha Matheson Garcia
Sara Ruppenthal Garcia

Bill Graham
David Graham
Laird Grant
David Grisman
Gary Gutierrez
Mickey Hart
Dexter Johnson
Hal Kant
Jorma Kaukonen
Ken Kesey
Sat Santokh Singh Khalsa
Justin Kreutzmann
Stacy Kreutzmann
Cassidy Law
Eileen Law
Celeste Lear
Marshall Leicester
Richard Loren
Jon Mcintire
Donna Godchaux Mckay
Barbara Meier
Chesley Millikin

David Nelson
Harry Popick
Ron Rakow
Sandy Rothman
Peter Rowan
Merl Saunders
Nicki Scully
Rock Scully
Sage Scully
Grace Slick
Joe Smith
Owsley Stanley
Sue Stephens
Sue Swanson
Bill Thompson
Pete Townshend
Alan Trist
Michael Walker
Wavy Gravy
Bob Weir
Joshua White
Suzy Wood
Elanna Wyn-Ellis

"Dark Star I thought was at least pretty accurate, but it was done right after Jerry's death, so sex and drugs were 90% of the topics -- it almost forgets that he played music." Dennis McNally

Sara Ruppenthal Garcia: He lived for music. He'd be in a bad mood if he couldn't practice for several hours a day. At this point, he was very ambitious. He wanted to do something big. But there wasn't any show business niche for him.

Peter Albin:
Jerry was always witty. Wry humor. "Hey man, hey, hey. What're you doing, eh, eh, eh." But I didn't find him to be one of the friendlier guys in the world. He wasn't, "Hey, Pete. How are you doing?" He was always, "Hey, hey man, hey." He was cool. He was watching everybody but he was not quiet. He was very vocal. Jerry talks on that series done by the BBC and PBS, History of Rock 'n' Roll. That was the way he talked then, too. Pretty much the same. I don't think he really changed.

Suzy Wood:
Jerry did seem older. He was separate to himself. You know how a lot of times people are kind of formless but what makes them who they are is the group they're a part of? You pull any little piece out of it and they're essentially a representative of the group. Jerry wasn't like that. Jerry was the thing that groups formed around
 Peter Albin:
We were all local folkies but he was a little bit higher on himself than the other people because he had more talent.  He did and he knew it.  When he first started playing banjo, he'd come up to you and say, "Hey, dig this," and he'd play "Nola" on the five-string banjo.  And he'd go faster like Roger Sprung.  It was something you could never play.  He was excellent but he put it in your face.  He knew who did everything.  He did his research.  He did his homework.  I don't want to make him sound as if he was unfriendly and not willing to share things because he was.

Sara Ruppenthal Garcia: By the time I met her in the spring of '63, she was starting to get senile and it really really upset him.  But we went and found her and she was so happy to see him.  And so thankful to me for bringing him.  Coming out of there, he was shaking his head, saying, "Oh, she's losing it."  It was so sad for him because he'd had a tough childhood.  Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to watch your father drown?  Think about yourself at five.  Your father is out fishing in his wading boots in the ocean and he gets swept away?  You're really conscious at five and full of fears.  What a terrible loss.

Jerry talked to me about losing his finger.  He talked about losing his father.  Later on, when his mother and stepfather moved to Menlo Park, Jerry was miserable in suburbia.  He didn't fit in there.  I think these were formative events.  We don't have a lot of memories from our childhood.  The things that we remember, we do for a reason.  They're so full of meaning.  The accident in which Paul Speegle was killed was another absolutely formative event.  All these formative events in his life were difficult, tragic.  Loss.  Utter loss.

Dark Star
Richard Gehr reviews "Dark Star: for


Jerry Garcia's Musical Roots: The Banjo Years

Sandy Rothman has been a bluegrass musician and occasional writer for 35 years, a veteran of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, among others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to Sara Katz, Neil Rosenberg, Robert Hunter, David Nelson, Peter Thompson, Tom Ewing, and Janice Taylor for inspiration, information, quotes, and suggestions. (8/1/96, revised 5/12/98.)
Timeline for Jerry Garcia's life
 Al Aronowitz,(AA) A professional journalist since 1950, founder, editor and publisher of THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST  has interviewed some of the greatest figures to have ennobled our culture.
McNally credits Aronowitz as both mentor and bridge  which led to hiring by Jerry Garcia. The two shared the view that the Grateful Dead were the vanguard of the next wave of the transformative cultural energy represented by the beat movement.
Their is a strong contrast to their views of Jerry Garcia as a person. Whereas Al saw Jerry as avatar for a higher level of human consciousness, Dennis pictures him as an artist with a soul troubled by childhood incidents.

For me, Jerry Garcia, like Jack Kerouac, will live forever on the Mount Olympus of these times of ours. For me, both have achieved Countercultural sainthood. That's what I think. For me, they both will endure as gods of tomorrow because they dared to declare the gods of our past to be obsolete. That's how I read their message.

Dennis McNally: I met Jerry first in 1973 after an Old and in the Way show in New Jersey, where I interviewed him about Neal Cassady for a book I was editing for a man named Al Aronowitz, once a columnist for the New York Post, an amazing story in his own right who was then -- and always, I guess -- my mentor. Then, to make a very complicated story shorter, I met him again (having published my Kerouac book and having sent it to Jerry and he having read it), I met him again in 1980 during the Warfield run when they were looking for a "Jerry's kid" for a skit with Franken and Davis. He allowed as he liked the book and things proceeded from there.....
 An online interview with Dennis McNally 
Sept. 19, 1995, with Geoff Gould

RICHEPAM: so anyway how did the book do?? Did it reach out beyond the realm of the deadheads at all??

DM: As to the book, I'd say it did very well - 3 printings and now a paperback - but my best guess is that no, it didn't really go beyond Dead Heads. Most of the reviews, which were generally pretty good, still locked it strictly into the subject; if the reviewer liked the Dead, then it was great, and vice versa. It didn't seem to transcend the subject, which I guess is my failure - but I'm still proud of it, so never mind.

Book Cover

The Grateful Dead
Sean Piccoli
Leeza Gibbons
electronic book for your palm

Sample chapter is about Jerry Garcia as a boy which had numerous discrepancies with the more authoritive versions here. This story of the Grateful Dead is primarily the story of its founder and lead singer, the late Jerry Garcia. The band's story is put into the context of the whole San Francisco hippie milieu and the Haight-Ashbury scene of the early `60s, a background that is important in understanding the group's roots and eventual impact.

HS These are excerpts from 'Harrington Street', a an autobiography, written and illustrated by Jerry Garcia in 1995. Jerry refferred to this collection of stories from his childhood as "auto-apocrypha".

"The child who had his family split apart grew into the man who for thirty years created a happy family for millions of people, something they could belong to for the price of a ticket."

Deborah Koons Garcia

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DAY of the DEAD