Why the Grateful Dead Matter

Benson, Michael. Why the Grateful Dead Matter. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2016.

Reason read: Early review for LibraryThing.

I decided to write this review a little differently. Instead of waiting until I had read the entire thing before commenting I decided this time I would write comments as I went. Here’s what happened:

I have to admit, I found some of Benson’s writing a little hokey. When he said, “there’s an app for that” I practically groaned out loud. So, this is how it’s going to be I thought out loud.

The structure of Why the Grateful Dead Matter is a little chaotic. That is to say, there is no real structure to the chapters. Just open the book and read. Doesn’t matter where you start. Doesn’t matter where you end.

This is essentially an argument without hard facts. Don’t expect an authoritarian narrative. No works cited. No in-depth research. It’s as if this book blossomed from a late night debate (possibly fueled by alcohol?); a debate with a friend about why, 50 years later, the Grateful Dead are doing a Farewell Tour. Picture it: the debate turned into Why The Grateful Dead Matter conversation. The reasons why they matter come fast and furious from Benson, political debate style, until someone says, “Man, you should write that s–t down!” And he does.

The chapter on Ripple being so zen is flimsy and without substance. It started off as a strong argument and somehow got off topic at the end. It petered out feebly when one of the last examples of zen is the Grateful Dead playing a benefit for the Zen Center. There is little substance in regards to HOW the music is “zen” and yet, the chapter on the instruments being custom made was well organized and detailed. Benson knows their equipment and knows it well.

This is one for the fans. Read this if you already love the music and just want to share in the common interest. Read this book if you already know why the Grateful Dead matter and you just want to agree, possibly shouting “Exactly! Right on, man!”

As an aside, I just bought my husband the compilation “30 Trips” for his birthday. I’m hoping Trips will contain the versions of songs Benson mentions as outstanding in Why the Grateful Dead Matter. Here is a partial list of the songs I need to find:

  • Wharf Rat 12/31/78 (particularly Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo)
  • China Cat Sunflower 1971 (Bucknell University)

Author fact: Benson is all over with place with his interests. According to the back cover, he writes about music, sports, crime, film, the military, and politics.

Book trivia: the early review copy I received had photographs in it, some I had never seen before. Very cool.


2 Comments on “Why the Grateful Dead Matter”

  1. There was no structure because it was written by a Dead Head!

    They matter because art matters!

    Keep the faith, man (or in this case the lunacy).

    • gr4c5 says:

      Funny! I almost waited to post this on Wednesday to see who would notice the date, but then I thought that might be too cliche… 😉


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