inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #0 of 128: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #1 of 128: Steve Kaye (skaye) Mon 15 Feb 99 11:29
    
Welcome to the WELL, Carol, and to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #2 of 128: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #3 of 128: Moist Howlette (kkg) Tue 16 Feb 99 13:17
    


Hi Carol!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #4 of 128: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #5 of 128: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #6 of 128: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #7 of 128: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #8 of 128: 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.     
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #9 of 128: 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!
 
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #10 of 128: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #11 of 128: 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! 
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #12 of 128: David Gans (tnf) Fri 19 Feb 99 10:58
    

Tell us how you came to write this book, please.
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #13 of 128: 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...).      
   
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #14 of 128: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #15 of 128: 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>)
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #16 of 128: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #17 of 128: 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>
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #18 of 128: 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.         
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #19 of 128: David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Feb 99 00:32
    

>Time travel is one of the thrills of the writing life

!!!
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #20 of 128: David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Feb 99 00:33
    
She was the Vietnam correspondent for -- the New Yorker?
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #21 of 128: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #22 of 128: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #23 of 128: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #24 of 128: 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.   
  
inkwell.vue.29 : Carol Brightman
permalink #25 of 128: 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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