Lives Behind the Dead's Songs; Grateful Dead: The Stories Behind Every Song, 1965-1995. by Stephen Peters (Carlton, Pounds 17.99). Reviewed by Calvin Palmer

By Palmer, Calvin | The Birmingham Post (England), May 1, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Lives Behind the Dead's Songs; Grateful Dead: The Stories Behind Every Song, 1965-1995. by Stephen Peters (Carlton, Pounds 17.99). Reviewed by Calvin Palmer


Palmer, Calvin, The Birmingham Post (England)


At first glance, this book seems like one that does not have much in the way of rationale to justify it ever being written, other than to make money for the author and the publishing house.

After all a song is in the singing and playing and it is the rendition of the song that stirs the emotions.

Words about the songs' origins and construction would therefore seem superfluous but I have to hold my hands up and say that rock journalist Peters' volume is both an interesting and absorbing read. Maybe it's because I am a Deadhead.

Clearly, this book is aimed at that narrow market of committed Grateful Dead devotees; narrow, though, by no means implies small because the Dead's appeal is global and spans three generations. Such is the spin-off of longevity.

It reminds me in a way of those libretto books for operas, which trace the composer's influences, the opera's theme, past productions and of course the words. Here, the lyrics are absent, with the exception of the occasional poignant lines taken to illustrate some influence or other.

And while it is true to say that Peters covers familiar ground, taking album by album and song by song is a different approach and one that will sit comfortably as a companion to every Deadhead's album collection.

Reading through is very much like panning for gold, much of the information ends up back in the river of familiarity but every now and again a nugget of elucidation shines through.

For instance, the classic song Truckin', from the American Beauty album, has been designated a National Treasure by the Library of Congress. Lyricist Robert Hunter also reveals he turned down a $500,000 offer from Levi's for them to use it in a TV advert.

Levi's were more successful in 1987, when the Dead were riding a second wave of popularity nationwide thanks to the In the Dark album. Garcia appeared in one of their 501 adverts.

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