On August 17th, at 6PM PDT (9PM EDT) the Grateful Dead Forum was pleased to host a special live chat in the GDF Conference Room with Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead
Dennis had just returned from a press tour in the UK, and stopped by our office in San Francisco to talk to us about his book.
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Geoff Gould: Good evening people. Tonight we have Dennis McNally as our special guest. He's here signing books for you - Welcome Dennis!
Dennis McNally: Thank you, I feel welcome.
GG: First question: Why did it take so long?
DM: The main reason it took so long is that about 1984 I got hired to be the publicist and found out that being a publicist and a historian on the same year just didn't work --- both because publicist took 50 hours and because the attitude is different. Publicity means you defend and advocate -- history is more honest. So I had to wait until I could be honest. My book's got three main ingredients -- I'm a ph.d. type historian, I'm a Dead Head (200 shows before they paid me) and I'm an employee. And being an employee -- that's the "inside" part of the book.
GG: definitely inside
DM: It gives a lot of nitty-gritty details about how things actually worked that give the book a spine of reality.
GG: As I was saying earlier, this book helps me build my "movie" of how it all happened.
STL DED613: so it's an honest review
DM: Yeah, it's honest. Blair Jackson once asked me "Jeez, isn't so-and-so (could have been any band member) pissed at you, you're really hard on him." And I said, no, it's just the truth - he actually likes the book. They all read it and they all corrected facts, but nobody asked me to shade anything to make it less embarrassing -- it's warts and all, and the Dead were/are a warty bunch.
GG: do you think any members have read the whole thing so far?
DM: To answer yes, all the band members read the book in manuscript. Yeah, Phil's OK with everything - he even offered to do a blurb, but he'd been hung up on his record -- oops, CD -- and it was too late to get it on the book. All the four surviving founders dig it - and Hunter, which is quite cool.
FatSweatyBulldog: hey dennis any word on an other ones NYE run in the bay area yet?
GG: let's hold off of the TOO rumors for a few minutes people
Bjwbvglens: Dennis I was hoping for more pictures
DM: More pictures? Geez, there's 64 pages and 80 pictures -- that's a whole lot!
STL DED613: wow! in color ?
DM: No color pix -- too expensive. We wanted to keep the price at or under $30 -- made my editor cry because there were a couple of special touches he really wanted to do and we couldn't, and then I got a wonderful call from the lady who indexed the book saying she was sad because she didn't have enough room to do a great job -- very nice, she really cared about the project, it wasn't just a job.
GG: Speaking of pictures, we have Jon Sievert here tonight as a guest, he's GDFStore
DM: John Sievert's one of the better photographers I've ever worked with.
Susan3323: will people compare it to rock Scullys book?
GG: I don't think it will be compared to Rock's book too much
DM: Rock's book was great at creating certain atmospheres and times -- and very funny in spots. But not too accurate and yeah, some axes to grind in there.
GG: so, how many of you below have ordered the book? Read the samples?
FatSweatyBulldog: I havent yet
DM: All right, Bulldog, why not?
FatSweatyBulldog: i just havent gotten round to it dennis - busy dude hehe
STL DED613: did David Gans have any input?
DM: David read the manuscript at the end, found about 50 really embarrassing dumbass mistakes - misspellings, etc. -- and made me very happy by saving me from having them in the published book.
Susan3323: he was your proof reader
DM: David was one of several proof readers, but better than most of the ones from the press. Knew more.
STL DED613: because he cares!!!!!!
DM: Well, yeah, lots of people care - but it helps to know.
GG: I've read about 5 chapters so far, and have really enjoyed the dance of how they all get together.
GDFStore: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?
DM: The hardest thing for me to write was trying to capture the sense of humor that was going on in the band scene - band and crew all the time. It's maybe the most important thing to communicate, and it was hard.
GDFStore: When you live a life that defines black humor, that's no suprise
GG: there's so much important history many are unaware of
FatSweatyBulldog: Dennis do you have 1 fav dead show of all time? or a period of the Dead?
DM: My favorite show, if I had to choose one, is 3/1/69, And '69 is definitely the era for me - but 68 - 73 will pretty well do.
STL DED613: was Jerry as carefree as he came off to be?
DM: Jerry wanted to be carefree, but couldn't really do it - no, it wasn't just a job (if it were just a job, he could say fuck it) But he cared too much, so he'd get to worrying. He had lots of Catholic guilt and so forth, and that's why, for instance, he had stage fright before every show. It was too important to play well.
Susan3323: worst combination too Irish and Spanish, sheesh!
DM: Jerry would agree with you about the Irish/Spanish. Throw in that his pop died at Jerry's age 4.... you got problems.
Rhiannon45: Dennis, why the focus on the early years, in which you were not involved, instead of the later years, in which you had first-hand experience.
DM: There's a focus on the early years because I'm a historian, and that's when the Dead were really interacting with some of the most interesting historical forces around - they were at ground zero. But I do kind of want to remind people that all of the "interlude" chapters, which depict stuff I witnessed in the 80s and 90s, is, as I say, also about the '80s and '90s, information that's presented differently. So it's not, 50 pages on the 80s, as someone said, it's a couple hundred. Just not linear. And if you guys want it all linear, you're not who I think you are....
GG: well, let's take this moment to ask the traditional GDF question: what is your current ice cream flavor?
DM: Rocky Road.
GG: let's talk about when and why it ended.
DM: A couple of months after Jerry died, the band got together and made the only decision they may have made since 8/9 -- which was, no matter what happened, the Grateful Dead would never again be a performing music organization. Maybe they'd play together, maybe not but it wouldn't be as the GD. Which was the right decision. Now, The Other Ones has serious mojo and I'm looking forward to it in the future -- there's no reason for the music to stop at all -- but the name is done. And when that sank in on me - which was in 1997. I was able to put enough emotional distance between GD and me to write. I still work for GD Prods. - but that's not the same thing So that's why the book ends with scattering Jerry's ashes. The various bullshit that's gone down in the past few years really doesn't matter much to me.
Susan3323: why some in India though if thats true?
DM: The ashes -- a bit of them, not a large portion -- were scattered in the Ganges because Jerry's widow Deborah and Weir thought it was a good idea.
Bjwbvglens: Dennis, how about a favorite Pigpen story or rap?
DM: My favorite Pigpen story is about how he'd get a little put off by the atmosphere at 710 -- things were always happening there, lots of action, and he was -- despite the persona -- a very quiet guy -- and he'd put on his bathrobe and go across the street to a neighbor's to take a shower. Later, this lady got hepatitis and had to stay in bed for like two weeks, and the whole family pitched in to take care of her - Pig would go over and tuck her in and turn out the lights... very sweet scene.
GG: Pigpen was so essential to the band, and is not well know by some of the younger fans
STL DED613: he was a good soul!!!!
DM: And, yes, Pig was truly a good soul.
JSN Zub: do you know who bought Jerry's guitars?
DM: I dunno about both of them, but one of Jerry's guitars was bought by a guy named Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who recorded some songs using it (Tiger) with John Mellencamp's band. Haven't heard the song yet, though.
RllrDrbyQn: Dennis, within your book who would you consider the single most simple and complicated people?
DM: Simple, I dunno. Nobody in the Dead was all that simple. Jerry's the most complicated guy, I suppose, because most people who have self-esteem issues like him aren't interested in other people - they get absorbed in themselves. But he always dug other people, liked rapping with them, and learning about their trips -- very different.
GDFStore: He was also possibly the most articulate musician I ever interviewed, even at his worst times.
DM: GDF Store's right -- I do think that Jerry was probably the most articulate musician ever -- any mode of music. Quite amazing.
GG: what about Donna? We did a chat with her a while back, and she seemed to have a real good attitude. It's tough being a woman in the "boys" group
DM: Donna has a wonderful attitude, and I adore her down to the ground, but if you read the book you find out that living with the Dead gave her a terrible drinking problem -- and a very, very nasty attitude. So she had her complications, you betcha.
GG: well, she seems to have recovered nicely or so it seems.
DM: Sweeney's right about Donna - she's a wonderful sweet lady -- like I say, I adore her. Keith was kinda tormented. Definitely way too fragile and misty to be in the GD -- not a lot of slack there, you know, 18 year olds in a locker room breaking each others' balls instead of being loving and supportive.
Rhiannon45: You seem to imply that Weir was adversely affected by LSD. Is that still a lingering problem for him?
DM: No, I don't think LSD is a problem for Weir since he hasn't taken it in about 25 or 30 years.
Rhiannon45: Why is Healy no longer associated with the band?
DM: Healy made a fabulous contribution to the Dead for a very long time, really directed the quest for better sound that went on from the early 70's to the 90s.
GG: I have a question about TOO and the webcast. Do you think that was a one-shot deal, or will it happen again? Pay-per-view?
DM: Since the 'cast was such an amazing success -- 30,000 the first night and 70,000 (!!!) the second -- I don't see how we can miss doing it again.
GG: We had the most awesome time in here; listening to the webcast, trying to guess where the teases were headed. Is it terribly expensive to put out?
DM: You know, I've got no idea how much the web cast cost -- sorry.
GG: well, it was big fun; hope we can do it again! What about Pay-Per-View? A lot of people were willing to pay for a TV cast.
DM: No discussion I know about Pay-Per-View, but I'll remind people at management about the idea. It costs alot of course, and you need lots of customers to make it work...
GG: how's the book selling? People here are real excited about the signed copies [hint]
DM: Well, all I know is that it keeps having good numbers at Amazon -- it's like the stock market, you can always tell how you're doing (I don't look, my friends tell me - I just can't do that, I'll get crazy. Also, it's going to be #1 on the SF Chronicle best-seller list on Sunday, and #20 on the New York Times list. Which is pretty amazing. So I guess sales are good.
GG: Congratulations sir!
DM: Of course, you gotta remember that it makes a great Christmas present....
Rhiannon45: what are your feelings about Wendy's book, Dennis?
DM: Umm, I really love Wendy a lot, but I don't share her beliefs. Oddly enough, we had the same book agent.
GDFStore: For me, the only two that really count are Dennis' and Blair's.
GG: I liked Dark Star, even though some don't. I liked the way it was told in different voices.
DM: I can't talk about Blair's, because I didn't read it -- fear of unconscious plagiarism. 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.
Susan3323: what about that sweet chaos one?
DM: Sweet Chaos was not, in my opinion, really about the Dead, it was a device to use the Dead -- anyway, any book that has Dylan playing electric in 1963 needs lots more homework before publication.
RllrDrbyQn: Dennis, what is your next project, and which are you the proudest of?
DM: What do you mean when you say which are you the proudest of? Books?
RllrDrbyQn: In general, your personal/professional Accomplishments
DM: Well, I guess I'm proudest of the Dead book -- and having a cool daughter. I've been a good publicist for the Dead, I think, and done my best by the band. But at heart I'm a writer and that's what I want to do. The next book will be about Route 61, the Mississippi River, and four artists associated with them - Dylan, Robert Johnson, Mark Twain, and a New Orleansian to be named later.
GG: you saw a lot of corporate activity in the GD; had you had much corporate exposure to compare it to? Boardroom activity, etc.
DM: Corporate activity in the Dead? Like what? Having a "board meeting"
DM: where crew guys are slamming beers and yelling at each other isn't exactly corporate.
GG: ordinary American corporation I guess ;-)
GDFStore: Except the corporation wasn't offering stock options and stealing from the employees.
DM: Now, working with Clear Channel at Alpine -- that's working with a corporation.
Lioness ll: anthem to beauty is playing on our tv! :)))))
DM: Video or broadcast?
Lioness ll: dvd
GG: great video I think; quite emotional
DM: Anthem's the best documentary so far -- the guy who did it was a real sweetheart, English guy, and the band really loved him, which is why it worked.
GG: Hunter's remarks are priceless
Lioness ll: I love it :)))) Such a trip to have dennis on tv and dennis here!!
DM: Thanks. I was wondering why I was feeling schizophrenic.
GG: we're going to wrap it up soon, and Dennis is pretty jet-lagged - by the way, how was UK?
DM: UK was great. (I just spent a week in London promoting the English edition of the book - same book, different cover.) Somebody asked me if
DM: there was a difference between US and UK 'heads. I said the English ones were a little less picky, since they had so much less stuff to work with from the band - shows, that is. They, and the English publisher, treated me sweetly, and I had a really good time. On the other hand, I got back Wednesday in the middle of the night and have been jammin' ever since here in SF.
GDFStore: What other languages might the book be published in?
DM: The Dead's a pretty American scene, and I was gassed to have the English edition. I'm hoping the Japanese might fall in... but y'never know.
GG: ok, so I'd like y'all to thank Dennis for coming here tonight. Remember, he's signing all our books! Thank you Dennis
RllrDrbyQn: Thank you Dennis, for the book and for entertaining us
Bjwbvglens: good job Dennis
DM: Dennis says thank you very much -- and applauds your good vibes and smart good sense.
GG: Time to release the hounds. We bid you goodnight.
DM: Lay down, my dear brothers (and sisters), lay down and take your rest. Well, anyway, I am. Thanks -- and bye.
GG: the limo is here, and he's almost out of chips!
by Dennis McNally
Hardcover 684 pages
read chapter one (pdf)
read chapter two (pdf)
This is McNallys view of what went down. Its 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. Ill miss him when we kill him. Robert Hunter