Carol Brightman, sister of GD LD Candace Brightman and veteran activist, has an interesting take on the Grateful Dead. Her book Sweet Chaos: The Grateful Dead’s American Adventure is an outsider’s look in, particularly from the point of view of a antiwar activist who cut sugarcane for Castro and travelled to Vietnamese hamlets. Now she asks: how come this freakin’ band is the only thing left from the 1960s?
Dennis McNally’s biography of the Dead is still the first book anybody interested should read (well, after Wolfe, Kerouac, Kesey, and David Gans’ Conversations with the Dead), but Brightman has an interesting angle. Her take on the reasons for the Dead’s staying power is evenhanded and convincing. It almost doesn’t matter that she could have used some help with structure–the organization is a mess, jumping from the 60s to the 90s, from Berkeley to Europe 72, from history lessons in the Weatherman to sharp-eyed analysis of Hunter lyrics. You never know what you’ll find when you turn the page. Or maybe with a book called Sweet Chaos, that’s intentional.