Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents

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9780743287456: Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents

The 1960s and 1970s represent a rare moment in our cultural history -- music was exploring unprecedented territories, literature was undergoing a radical reinvention, politics polarized the nation, and youth culture was at the zenith of its influence. There has never been, nor is there likely to be, another generation that matches the contributions of the artists of that time period.

In this poignant book, journalist Mikal Gilmore weaves a narrative of the '60s and '70s as he examines the lives of the era's most important cultural icons. Keeping the power of rock & roll at the forefront, Gilmore gathers together stories about major artists from every field -- George Harrison, Ken Kesey, Johnny Cash, Allen Ginsberg, to name just a few. Gilmore reveals the truth about this idealized period in history, never shying away from the ugly influences that brought many of rock's most exciting figures to their knees. He examines how Jim Morrison's alcoholism led to the star's death at the age of twenty-seven, how Jerry Garcia's drug problems brought him to the brink of death so many times that his bandmates did not believe the news of his actual demise, how Pink Floyd struggled with the guilt of kicking out founding member Syd Barrett because of his debilitating mental illness. As Gilmore examines the dark side of these complicated figures, he paints a picture of the environment that bred them, taking readers from the rough streets of Liverpool (and its more comfortable suburbs) to the hippie haven of Haight-Ashbury that hosted the infamous Summer of Love. But what resulted from these lives and those times, Gilmore argues, was worth the risk -- in fact, it may be inseparable from those hard costs.

The lives of these dynamic and diverse figures are intertwined with Gilmore's exploration of the social, political, and emotional characteristics that defined the era. His insights and examinations combine to create a eulogy for a formative period of American history.

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About the Author:

Mikal Gilmore is a journalist and music aficionado who has written for Rolling Stone magazine since the 1970s. His first book, Shot in the Heart, is a National Book Critics Circle and L.A. Times Book Prize-winning memoir about his older brother Gary, the first man to be executed in Utah after pleading guilty to murder.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE END OF JERRY GARCIA AND THE GRATEFUL DEAD

He was the unlikeliest of pop stars and the most reticent of cultural icons. Onstage, he wore plain clothes -- usually a sacklike T-shirt and loose jeans, to fit his heavy frame -- and he rarely spoke to the audience that watched his every move. Even his guitar lines -- complex, lovely, rhapsodic but never flashy -- as well as his strained, weatherworn vocal style had a subdued, colloquial quality about them. Offstage, he kept to family and friends, and when he sat to talk with interviewers about his remarkable music, he often did so in sly-witted, self-deprecating ways. "I feel like I'm stumbling along," he said once, "and a lot of people are watching me or stumbling along with me or allowing me to stumble for them." It was as if Jerry Garcia -- who, as the lead guitarist and singer of the Grateful Dead, lived at the center of one of popular culture's most extraordinary epic adventures -- was bemused by the circumstances of his own renown.

And yet, when he died on August 9, 1995, a week after his fifty-third birthday, at a rehabilitation clinic in Forest Knolls, California, the news of his death set off immense waves of emotional reaction. Politicians, newscasters, poets and artists eulogized the late guitarist throughout the day and night; fans of all ages gathered spontaneously in parks around the nation; and in the streets of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury -- the neighborhood where the Grateful Dead lived at the height of the hippie epoch -- mourners assembled by the hundreds, singing songs, building makeshift altars, consoling one another and jamming the streets for blocks around. Across town at San Francisco city hall a tie-dyed flag was flown on the middle flagpole.

Chances are Garcia himself would have been embarrassed, maybe even repelled, by all the commotion. He wasn't much given to mythologizing his own reputation. In some of his closing words in his last interview in Rolling Stone, in 1993, he said: "I'm hoping to leave a clean field -- nothing, not a thing. I'm hoping they burn it all with me.... I'd rather have my immortality here while I'm alive. I don't care if it lasts beyond me at all. I'd just as soon it didn't."

Jerome John Garcia was born in 1942, in San Francisco's Mission district. His father, a Spanish immigrant named Jose "Joe" Garcia, had been a jazz clarinetist and Dixieland band leader in the 1930s, and he named his new son after his favorite Broadway composer, Jerome Kern. In the spring of 1948, while on a fishing trip, Jerry saw his father swept to his death in a California river. "I never saw him play with his band," Garcia told Rolling Stone in 1991, "but I remember him playing me to sleep at night. I just barely remember the sound of it."

After his father's death, Garcia spent a few years living with his mother's parents in one of San Francisco's working-class districts. His grandmother had the habit of listening to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts on Saturday nights, and it was in those hours, Garcia would later say, that he developed his fondness for country music forms -- particularly the deft, blues-inflected mandolin playing and mournful, high-lonesome vocal style of bluegrass's principal founder, Bill Monroe. When Garcia was ten, his mother, Ruth, brought him to live with her at a sailor's hotel and bar that she ran near the city's waterfront. He spent much of his childhood there, listening to the boozy, fanciful stories that the hotel's old tenants told, or sitting alone, reading Disney and horror comics, and poring through science-fiction novels.

When Garcia was fifteen, his older brother Tiff -- the same brother who, a few years earlier, had accidentally lopped off part of Jerry's right-hand middle finger while the two were chopping wood -- introduced him to early rock & roll and rhythm & blues music. Garcia was quickly drawn to the music's funky rhythms and rough-hewn textures, but what captivated him most was the lead-guitar sounds -- especially the bluesy mellifluence of players like T-Bone Walker and Chuck Berry. It was otherworldly-sounding music, he later said, unlike anything he had heard before. Garcia decided he wanted to learn how to make those same sounds. He went to his mother and proclaimed that he wanted an electric guitar for his upcoming birthday. "Actually," he later said, "she got me an accordion, and I went nuts. Aggghhh, no, no, no! I railed and raved, and she finally turned it in, and I got a pawnshop electric guitar and an amplifier. I was just beside myself with joy."

During this same period, the Beat scene was in full swing in the Bay Area, and it held great sway at the North Beach arts school where Garcia took some courses and at the city's coffeehouses, where he heard poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth read their venturesome works. "I was a high school kid and a wannabe beatnik!" he said in 1993. "Rock & roll at that time was not respectable. I mean, beatniks didn't like rock & roll.... Rock & roll wasn't cool, but I loved rock & roll. I used to have these fantasies about 'I want rock & roll to be like respectable music.' I wanted it to be like art.... I used to try to think of ways to make that work. I wanted to do something that fit in with the art institute, that kind of self-conscious art -- 'art' as opposed to 'popular culture.' Back then, they didn't even talk about popular culture -- I mean, rock & roll was so not legit, you know? It was completely out of the picture. I don't know what they thought it was, like white-trash music or kids' music."

By the early 1960s, Garcia was living in Palo Alto, hanging out and playing in the folk music clubs around Stanford University. He was also working part-time at Dana Morgan's Music Store, where he met several of the musicians that would eventually dominate the San Francisco music scene. In 1963 Garcia formed a jug band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Its lineup included a young folk guitarist named Bob Weir and a blues aficionado, Ron McKernan, known to his friends as "Pigpen" for his often-unkempt appearance. The group played a mix of blues, country and folk, and Pigpen became the front man, singing Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins tunes.

Then, in February 1964, the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and virtually overnight an entire young generation was instilled with a new spirit and sense of differentness. Garcia understood the group's promise after seeing their first film, A Hard Day's Night. For the first time since Elvis Presley -- and the first time for an audience that had largely rejected contemporary rock & roll as seeming too trivial and inconsequential -- pop music could be seen to hold bold, significant and thoroughly exhilarating possibilities that even the ultraserious, socially aware folk scene could not offer. This became even more apparent a year later, when Bob Dylan -- who had been the folk scene's reigning hero -- played an assailing set of his defiant new electric music at the Newport Folk Festival. As a result, the folky purism of Mother McCree's all-acoustic format began to seem rather limited and uninteresting to Garcia and many of the other band members, and before long, the ensemble was transformed into an electric unit, the Warlocks. A couple of the jug band members dropped out, and two new musicians joined: Bill Kreutzmann, who worked at Dana Morgan's Music Store, on drums, and on bass, classically trained musician Phil Lesh, who, like Garcia, had been radicalized by the music of the Beatles and Dylan. "We had big ideas," Garcia told Rolling Stone in 1993. "I mean, as far as we were concerned, we were going to be the next Beatles or something -- we were on a trip, definitely. We had enough of that kind of crazy faith in ourselves.... [The] first time we played in public, we had a huge crowd of people from the local high school, and they went fuckin' nuts! The next time we played, it was packed to the rafters. It was a pizza place. We said, 'Hey, can we play in here on Wednesday night? We won't bother anybody. Just let us set up in the corner.' It was pandemonium, immediately."

It was around this time that Garcia and some of the group's other members also began an experimentation with drugs that would forever transform the nature of the band's story. This wasn't the first time drugs had been used in music for artistic inspiration or had found their way into an American cultural movement. Many jazz and blues artists (not to mention several country-western players) had been using marijuana and various narcotics to intensify their music making for several decades, and in the 1950s the Beats had extolled marijuana as an assertion of their nonconformism. But the drugs that began cropping up in the youth and music scenes in the mid-1960s were of a much different, more exotic, sort. Veterans Hospital near Stanford University had been the site of government-sanctioned experiments with LSD -- a drug that induced hallucinations in those who ingested it, and that, for many, also inspired something remarkably close to the patterns of religious experience. Among those who had taken the drug at Veterans Hospital were Robert Hunter, a folksinger and poet who would later become Garcia's songwriting partner, and Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. Kesey had been working on an idea about group LSD experiments and had staffed a loosely knit gang of artists and rogues, called the Merry Pranksters, dedicated to this adventure. Kesey's crew included a large number of intellectual dropouts like himself and eccentric rebels like Neal Cassady (the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's On the Road) and Carolyn Adams (later known as Mountain Girl, who eventually married Garcia and had two children with him).

When the Pranksters began holding acid parties at a house in the nearby town of La Honda, California, the Grateful Dead -- as the Warlocks were now called -- became the house band for these collective d...

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