By Roy Trakin.
Bill Kreutzmann, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with Benjy Eisen (St. Martin’s Press)
When fans think of the Grateful Dead’s “Other Ones,” they’re probably referring to Jerry Garcia’s cohorts Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, but that hasn’t stopped Bill Kreutzmann, a founding member and one-half of the band’s double-barreled Rhythm Devils drummers with Mickey Hart, to take advantage of the current “Fare Thee Well” tour to unleash his own memories.
Of course, with all the drugs he’s taken over the years, it’s remarkable he’s able to remember anything, but the Palo Alto native – who first met a 16-year-old Garcia when the local musician showed up to buy a banjo from his father – has proven an excellent fly-on-the-wall guide through the band’s remarkable history.
A self-described hippie who, with “Drums-Space” partner Hart, was as responsible as any for the band’s flights of lysergic-fueled improvisation, Kreutzmann reveals the unlikely fact that his grandfather – and role model — was Clark Shaughnessy, who coached the Stanford football team to the 1941 Rose Bowl championship as an architect of the T formation, then went on to become head coach of both the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears.
Kreutzmann doesn’t get too caught up in personalities except to state his reverence for Garcia, but his recounting of those early San Francisco experiences playing for the Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests along with Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady brings those fabled times to life.
From there, Kreutzmann races from event to event with a chatty breathlessness –stopping along the way to pay his respects for those who didn’t survive, offering a pithy, understated “darn it.”
There’s the time the entire set of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark TV was dosed before a tentative two-song set that still lives on YouTube; a hotel fireworks battle with then-Presidential candidate George McGovern that had the Secret Service scrambling; glimpses back at the band’s disappointing performances (which they refused to release on film) at Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Watkins Glen; Bill’s own misadventures with the departed, including infamous acid manufacturer, sometime Dead sound man and raw meat aficionado Owsley “Bear” Stanley as well as John Belushi and plenty more.
Kreutzmann remains a card-carrying counter-cultural believer who is left to question the Dead’s continued existence after the August 9, 1995 death of his beloved Jerry, though he does leave the door open for a reunion that eventually would take place, while excoriating the notion of doing it for the money, a question left pretty moot by this summer’s financial windfall.That the remnants of the Grateful Dead can still sell upwards of a half million seats for these shows is testament to the hopes and dreams they once promised, as well as the cosmic experiences they engendered along the way.
Bill Kreutzmann was there from the beginning, and is still standing at the end, his story a moving testament to a phenomenon we’re not likely to ever see repeated, given the time, place and historic contingencies. What a long, strange trip indeed!