David Gans (tnf) Mon 15 Feb 99 06:45
Please welcome to the inkwell Carol Brightman, author of "Sweet Chaos: The Grateful Dead's American Adventure" and "Writing Dangerously," a biography of Mary McCarthy. She also edited a collection of letters between McCarthy and Hannah Arendt whose title escapes me at the moment (and I'm 3000 miles from my bookshelf). Here's the blurb I wrote for the cover of "Sweet Chaos": >I enjoyed this book immensely. Brightman's perspective is valid and neces- >sary, coming as it does from outside the enchanted realm but with access to >intimate details of life at the harrowing center. Speaking as a peer, an >authoritative voice bent on illumination rather than scandal or hagiography >- seeking, I think, to understand her own story in the light of the Dead's >as well as vice versa - Brightman explores how and why "the fierce attach- >ments of radicals seemed to have melted into air [while] this fringe group >... was turning into something like a national monument." "Sweet Chaos" >places the Grateful Dead in the context of the political zeitgeist, which >the band and their followers often seem bent on ignoring forever. Anybody >who ever wondered about the Dead and the Deadheads should read Sweet Chaos >to understand why the significance of this culture cannot -- and should not >-- be underestimated. Think of this book as a look at the Dead from outside rather than inside (though there are some "inside" perspectives, too). Brightman was a political activist in the '60s, and she lived in Berkeley and other energy centers; she was alive and involved during this intense period of our lives, and she saw the Dead as a separate, mostly non-political, stream of the culture. What we looked like to them is a perspective worth knowing, especially since - as Brightman points out - the Dead culture survived and grew while the political movements that sprang from the same ferment wound down and/or were destroyed by a variety of factors. I'm sure Carol will be happy to talk about Mary McCarthy as well as the Grateful Dead.
Steve Kaye (skaye) Mon 15 Feb 99 11:29
Welcome to the WELL, Carol, and to inkwell.vue!
John Berger (jberger) Mon 15 Feb 99 11:39
Wonderful! My wife brought this home from the library for me to read. The first few chapters gave some of the pre-history of the sub-culture that created the environment of freedom and chaos that the Dead inhabited. The storytelling is circular, cycling from the Merry Pranksters, to Altamont, to the CIA experiments with psychedelics at the VA hospital, to the SDS and Weatherpeople, in a sort of San Francisco "Saragossa Manuscript" interwoven tale of the people and events that surrounded the band. To me, the book read more as a journey than as a destination, reminding us of the world full of events that surrounded the microcosmic world of the Dead and the surrounding scene.
Moist Howlette (kkg) Tue 16 Feb 99 13:17
impoverished intervallic palette (castle) Tue 16 Feb 99 13:22
Hi Carol! I'm curious to know, if you were on the outside, how did you come to have access to the inside?
Carol Brightman (brightman) Tue 16 Feb 99 15:43
Hi everyone. It's just taken me 45 minutes and a call to Kathy B, from Maine to Californy, to figure out how to post. Answer to "palette" is that starting in 1972, when my sister Candace began doing lights full time for the band, I visited her off and on in situ and hung out a bit backstage.
Ellen Dubrowin (ellen) Tue 16 Feb 99 16:32
Welcome to the Well, Carol. I really enjoyed your perspective on the parallel cultures of the Dead and their karass and the left in the Bay Area in the 60s-70s. As one who spent most of that time as a self-described leftist, I found your view of this history fascinating.
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 16 Feb 99 17:08
Hi, Carol. Wonderful to see from you here! I have had the great honor of interviewing Carol on KPFK as well as attending a sparsely attended but (I thought) scintillating reading/discussion of Sweet Chaos. This is a marvelous book!
Carol Brightman (brightman) Tue 16 Feb 99 17:49
Ellen and Barry---thanks. I'm wondering what Ellen was up to Way Back Then, and what bookstore you're remembering, Barry. I was literally reading nearly every day for two weeks.. Midnight Special, right? The white-haired Neptune-like figure in the back row was Candace's old Fillmore East partner, Ben Haller, a Hollywood grip.. We had a time hanging out on the Promenade afterwards, with Ben telling me some pretty wild GD tales which (along with others I heard making the rounds in California) are stirring the pot for a brief Afterward to the paperback due out in September.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 16 Feb 99 18:13
Hi, Carol, I have not grabbed your book from Amazon or the nearby bookstore yet, but I plan to. During the late seventies and the eighties I was in a political theater group, doing benefits and actions for antinuke, feminist, Nicaragua & El Salvador solidarity and related lefty issues. My troupe played at the same site with members of the dead at a few benefits over the years (a very weak connection I assure you) and had a couple of related adventures, though we were not exactly in the same orbit. But there were many deadheads involved in a certain strata of activism, so I never saw those threads of the culture as thoroughly divorced. Looking forward to your insights on the matter!
impoverished intervallic palette (castle) Tue 16 Feb 99 18:19
Hi Carol - Thanks for the response. Sounds like you had a wonderful opportunity to be the fly on the wall during some interesting times. Your book arrived at our house not too long ago, and I'm looking forward to reading it when I can pry it out of my boyfriend's hands!
Carol Brightman (brightman) Wed 17 Feb 99 19:23
The tale of two movements that runs through the book is inspired more by Garcia's and Hunter's distaste for the confrontational sixties, along with my interest in exploring, a bit, the legacy of the New Left. Deadheads were not necessarily so polarized, though I've run into a few people who would agree with the reader from Newtown Sq., PA who recently told Amazon.com that "If you're a Deadhead, you'll find this book annoying. If you went to Cuba and Vietnam during the 60s and were more into radical politics than psychedelics, you might like it." Help!
David Gans (tnf) Fri 19 Feb 99 10:58
Tell us how you came to write this book, please.
Carol Brightman (brightman) Sat 20 Feb 99 21:52
The catalyst was my agent, Lucy Kroll, who happened to be Jerry's agent for film projects (mainly "Sirens of Titan"), and John Kahn's godmother. She was close to the GD scene, all 80 years of her. AFter I finished the biography of Mary McCarthy I was hungry to do something about my own generation, and was thinking of writing about the Movement's relations with Vietnam and Cuba. But I was exhausted by the seven years work on WRITING DANGEROUSLY, or not ready to take it on. Lucy had proposed a biography of Jerry Garcia (something that had come to her in a dream, she said). I wasn't interested but it got me thinking about what I saw as the larger story, the so-called "phenom," and where it fit in American culture. This was early 1992. A few years before I had written a grant proposal for a book to be called "Period Pieces," about political events in the 60s and had added a chapter about the Grateful Dead, almost as an afterthought, dimly perceiving that there was this 'other sixties' that my sister had always represented, and wouldn't it be neat to put it all under the same tent. It was shortly after Touch of Grey, and the Dead's extraordinary longevity had finally struck me (this after seeing them on and off over the years). The proposal wasn't accepted and I went back to WD and editing BETWEEN FRIENDS (the McCarthy-Arendt correspondence). Them's some facts. But the deeper question--WHY?- -is harder to answer. After Potter accepted the GD proposal (the same publisher, btw, of two previous books of mine, including WD), and I started going to shows with notebook in hand, inteviewing band members and staff, reading up on GD literature, trying to see something significant in the giant stadium crowds, and the singalong music, I felt increasingly uncertain about what I had taken on. I would swing back and forth from feeling like a fraud to feeling intensely bored, and neither feeling was conducive to hot pursuit of a creative project. I kept trotting out my reasons: I was challenged by the fact that nobody outside the GD world wanted to look at this amazing story. I was intrigued and challenged by the snootiness of highbrow critics. I really did want to know how the band, along with this yeasty community, which I was finding far more complex than it appeared at first,, survived for three decades. I believed the Dead came from a somewhat rarefied corner of the 60s, hardly representative, it seemed to me, of the real fire in the streets which emanated from civil rights and antiwar struggles. Then gradually, as I wrote and discarded one chapter after another, I began to hit something solid that was probably there all along but which I could only stumble on via the shit-detector test that is a certain kind of writing. I started to keep stuff. Ironically, or maybe not, the first pages that would appear in the final book was that recollection of being under the bombing in North Vietnam in 1967 that begins Chapter 11. That was my little war story and I had been haunted by it for thirty years. Putting it in a book about the GD was like hiding it. It seems a bit coy, but when I wrote it I knew I could write the rest of the book. I wouldn't have to fake anything. I could tap into the real questions I had about the Dead, and the questions I had about the ghosts in my past. At the same time, I began to let in a little bit more of Deaddom, via interviews with deadheads, and via the tapes they started sending me. I began to listen to the music, and enjoy the drug stories like poetry. I liked writing about the Acid Tests, both the CIA's original acid tests, one of which in Menlo Park first turned Kesey and Hunter on, and the SF parties that turned the Grateful Dead down their fateful path--as if this was some lost piece of planet 60s that I was recovering for myself and other politicos of the era. ENUF!! David, are you sorry you asked? I should have a quick answer to this question. People are always asking it, and usually I answer with akin to the first and third paragraph. But it's a good question and now I'm trying to answer it for myself. I'll be back (she says, threateningly...).
David Gans (tnf) Sun 21 Feb 99 09:38
>I was challenged by the fact that nobody outside the GD world wanted to look >at this amazing story. Ain't it the truth. And this puts you in an uncomfortable position, I would think, trying to sell a book like this. Who in the mainstream would be in- terested in reading it, and what about the Dead-ocentric faction that curses you for presuming to talk about yourself in a book with "Grateful Dead" in the title? >stumble on via the shit-detector test that is a certain kind of writing. I like that phrase a lot. You just pound out a lot of material and then read it to see if there's anything worthwhile, right? >the first pages that would appear in the final book was that recollection of >being under the bombing in North Vietnam in 1967 that begins Chapter 11. >That was my little war story and I had been haunted by it for thirty years. >Putting it in a book about the GD was like hiding it. Care to say more? Had you not found a venue for such a story before, or was it that you had been unable to tell it?
David Gans (tnf) Sun 21 Feb 99 09:39
(There is a transcript of mmy December radio interview with Brightman in "DG's Literary Archive" on levity.com, at <http://www.levity.com/gans/brightman.html>)
David Gans (tnf) Sun 21 Feb 99 09:40
I'm also interested in hearing about Mary McCarthy. Having arrived at an awareness of literary America pretty late in my suburban popcult life, I don't know much about her. Please tell us!
David Gans (tnf) Mon 22 Feb 99 09:03
Here are some reviews of SWEET CHAOS: SF Chronicle review by James Sullivan (12/27/98): <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi- bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1998/12/27/RV14422.DTL> Village Voice: <http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/9848/davis.shtml> Washington Post review by Carolyn Ruff: <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-01/10/229l-011099- idx.html> New York Times: <http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/01/17/reviews/990117.17hajdut.html> jambands.com: <http://www.jambands.com>
Carol Brightman (brightman) Tue 23 Feb 99 19:55
Re question 14, it's true that there's still a resistance to the GD among readers who are not already smitten, or codependants, or recovering, etc....My book seems to find its way easiest to Deadheads of a certain age, 30s, 40s, 50s, who read books and are eager to reflect on their own past experiences of the band, alongside a more sweeping panorama of social history than is offered up in the usual pop histories.. The thing about Sweet Chaos of course is that it is not a sentimental journey but an attempt to see the GD in the round. Hence the importance of not being an insider, and the appropriateness of drawing on my own different experiences in the 60s and 70s. But there have been some savvy reviewers who wrap their minds around both parts of the book, like Susie Linfield in the New York Observer on 1/25, and Curtis White writing in the Raleigh News Observer on 12/27. These are my favorite reviews. The way the shit-detector test worked for me was a bit rougher than you suggest. Like I could spend months drafting and revising whole chapters, with all the research that entails, and then realize one moonlit night that it was not book material. Who would want to read it? I didn't. I hope I don't have to go through this process again, and attribute its intensity this time to my initial lack of familiarity with the GD and also the length of the shadows which had fallen between me and the events I was writing about--AND WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT. Time travel is one of the thrills of the writing life, and revisiting some of the wilder shores of the 60s and 70s was, for me, ABOUT TIME! David, you ask if I didn't have a "venue" for the war story before. I did, in the form of a book I was supposed to write about North Vietnam, and never could. And of course I was editing an antiwar magazine and later co-editing Leviathan. Actually, it wasn't until nearly 20 years later, when somebody was interviewing me for a book about Americans in North Vietnam, that my feelings about what happened that day in December 1967 broke loose like a dam. And it took ten more years before I could get it down. Later for Mary McCarthy, a literary adventurer in the 30s through 60s mainly, who is not so remote from all this as one might think.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Feb 99 00:32
>Time travel is one of the thrills of the writing life !!!
David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Feb 99 00:33
She was the Vietnam correspondent for -- the New Yorker?
Carol Brightman (brightman) Wed 24 Feb 99 20:03
Mary McCarthy was the VN correspondent for the New York Review of Books, a somewhat risible assignment, but one she took very seriously. I think some great writing came out of that, and from the VN reporting she did for The Observer in London, though I didn't read it at the time. I was an activist in the thick of the action, and who had time to read the observations of the literati? I first met MM in 1967 at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan, where NYRB editor Robert Silvers (still the editor) introduced us. He and Mary hoped that having just returned from North Vietnam at a time when not many Americans went, and editing an antiwar magazine, I would have some connections in Hanoi that would help her get a visa for traveling there herself. I didn't, but she was able to go in 1968. ..Much later I came to appreciate how much she was influenced by the moral if not the political style of the antiwar movement, and how she refused to condemn Hanoi and the Vietcong as Stalinists as so many New York intellectuals (former communists themselves, as she was not) did. She was an outrider, a rogue elephant in her generation. For most people who know her name, alas, she's better known for the racy and controversial 1963 novel (later movie) THE GROUP.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Feb 99 20:05
How did this meeting develop into the relationship that made it possible for you to write a biography of McCarthy?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 25 Feb 99 14:37
I bought the CHAOS book last night. Took this interview to see that it is more than a bio of the band, and has elements of that missing history of the cross fertilization of psychedelia and revolution of the60s/early 70s and since. I'm just delving into it, but the descriptions of the Acid Tests are very insightful, from a perspective I haven't seen before. And the political *context* in no way distorts or abuses the specific story... so far anyway. I'm sort of surprised I bought it, being of the "I'm not a deadhead, but..." persuasion.
Carol Brightman (brightman) Thu 25 Feb 99 17:17
David--re MM. It wasn't that meeting in '67 that led to the biography (begun in '85), but a long interview I did with her in 1980. Even then I didn't know I was going to do a biography--a very big word with me, scary--but set up the interview to find out what had happened to this dame in all those years. She had just attacked Lillian Hellman on TV for being a dishonest writer, and Hellman had sued her for 2.5 million dollars. I didn't know it then but I also wanted to know what had happened to my own early interest in literature and literary politics (I wrote my MA paper at UChicago on Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin and Mary McCarthy in 1963) before the Vietnam war pulled me in another direction...At a certain point I guess I just realized that my interests intersected hers at too many points not to attempt a biography. And like a lot of writers always on the lookout for a book that will release them from full-time work (I worked for GEO magazine at the time), here was a book proposal I could sell.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 25 Feb 99 18:56
You wrote about her in 1963; met her in '67; interviewed her in 1980; and wrote a biography. What is it about Mary McCarthy that you find interesting?
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