Book Review - Fare Thee Well - the final chapter of the Grateful Dead
This is a fascinating story that has never been told. It is the story of the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia's death. The band kept on making music, in many many different formations and bands: 7 Walkers, BK3, Furthur, Phil and Friends, the Dead, Ratdog, Scaring the Children, Dead and Company, Bobby and Phil, Bob & Rob... and several other incarnations. But this book doesn't so much focus on that. It focuses on the chaos and collapse of all internal relations following Jerry's death.
The Dead were viciously anti-authoritarian. There were certainly anti-corporate anything and everything. Yet, for the last 20 years leading up to Jerry's death, the Grateful Dead were on of the biggest and most successful corporations in America. Playing nightly to sold out football stadiums of 70K people for 20 years created a big business. When Jerry died, the band wisely retired the name. Then, shit came crashing down around everyone. People had to worry about making money for the first time. It was briefly a power vacuum, and then a big power struggle. The book, quite fairly I think, shows Phil Lesh in a very bad light. Phil (and his new wife) felt the Grateful Dead name, and spirit, and business holdings... belonged to them.
The book is filled with the surprising tyranny of Phil & Jill, but here are a couple examples that stood out. Basically, even since Jerry died and the band broke up, there has been bad blood... and most of it directed (deservedly in my, and the author's opinion at Phil. When the various incarnations of the bands would tour, Phil and Bobby would compete for market share and audiences. Phil had 'Phil and Friends', and Bobby had 'Ratdog'. You may know that New Year's Eve shows were always a VERY big deal in the Dead culture. Phil told his band and fans he was taking that New Years off, and was going to relax in Florida. Bobby booked a Ratdog show for San Francisco for New Years Eve. Once the contract was signed, but tickets hadn't gone on sale yet... Phil announced a New Years eve show just 3 miles away from Bobby's. And, the promised a ton of guest stars. This poached at least half of Bobby's audience. Just to be a dick. This is a thread that emerges often in the narrative.
The other story that interested me was about John Kadlecik. He was the leader of the biggest and best Grateful Dread tribute band of them all - Dark Star Orchestra. Dark Star was also getting a big share of the Dead fan base, while the real Dead members were too busy infighting. Phil hired Kadlecik to lead his 'Further' band. I was at that tour, but I have been to ALL of these tours. Seemed like a cool idea bringing Kadlecik, who is just wickedly aggreable. He knows the songs (there are about a thousand they pull from at any time), and he has his own build in fan base. BUT... that isn't why Phil hired him. Phil hired him to cripple their biggest competitor. Without Kadlecik, there is no Dark Star Orchestra. He had to leave that band, and promise never to write. He also had to sign some pretty hefty NDA and non compete clauses. Basically, Kadlecik agreed to never be in another Dead cover band ever. I honestly have inside first hand knowledge of this situation.
I feel it's ok for me to shit talk Phil, because I remain a HUGE fan. I can't think of a better bass player. How Phil plays is really odd. He is 100% his own thing. He gave the band the melodic slinkiness that allowed them to move around musically so fluidy. I often get asked what my dream band would look like if I could build it from anyone living or dying. I am a lifelong guitarist, so you can imagine I just drool at the idea. Chris Cornell would be my singer. I would be on rhythm acoustic guitar. Phil Lesh would be on bass. Jeff Chimenti would be on keys, and Jimmy Chamberlain on drums.
I was lucky enough to see many Dead shows while Jerry was still alive, and I have been to a ton more since then. I had been to so many shows while Jerry was alive that one of my biggest highlights was getting to see Bill Graham. Bill Graham may be the most important person in rock history that never touched an instrument.
All those offshoot bands I mentioned above, I have seen most of them, many times. This summer, going to see the Dead and Company in Boulder, as well.
It is a hell of a story, for sure. I am about halfway through. Also, you learn a bit about Deborah Koons Garcia. She is shown to be a total monster, which was truly common knowledge. She married Jerry VERY close to the end. When he passed, she just took control and took all the assets. Then, she fired everyone on the payroll who had been with the band for 30 years. Then, she cut off all financial aid to Jerry's ex spouses and children. Then, she wouldn't even let his first wife, Mountain Girl, along for the funeral. She was with him for 35 years! Koons Garcia was with him for 2. Lot's of drama, from a team who specialized in absolutely no drama. It was clearly Jerry that held everything together.
The book dwells very little on Koons-Garcia. I actually just gave her more airtime than the book does. Why? Well, Phil comes off as a pretty big dick in this story... over and over again. BUT... Phil is a big part of the Dead. He was there from the beginning. So, he gets to have a say. Koons-Garcia just comes in a rock and roll carpet bagger and grave robber.
It just came out two days ago, and I have been eagerly anticipating it. In reading the press kit for the book, the timeline apparently runs up to the big official 50thnniversary reunion in Chicago a few years ago. I was there, and wrote about it here.
Sorry. Focus, man. What about the book? The book was really great, which is why it unleashed all this stuff. It is thoughtfully told, and it moves at a nice pace. Like all the great books (especially audiobooks)... it wasn't so much a guy narrarating a story as it was a great passenger on the long ride just telling me all kinds of cool stories. AND... letting me pepper him with questions. Totally a great read for any Deadhead. June 2018