Carol Brightman (brightman) Fri 5 Mar 99 18:08
Cynthia: It's not "stuff" like what feeds the media maw--like what did He do when She showed him her THONG? You can never get enuf of that, and it never reveals much of substance, don't you think? though you can be sure there will someday be a knock your socks off expose of the GD that will make Rock Scully's book look like fan mail. That said, I was always amazed by the lack of respect the "family" extended to the fans and to each other. A nastiness quotient you wouldn't tolerate anywhere else, which is where David Gans' idea of the dysfunctional family comes in. I do think the example for this kind of thing was set by bandmembers. The roadies may have played the villains but in the good cop/bad cop syndrome, they were their masters enforcers. David Waite: I have thought about taking a harder look at the era of unrest, and am overwhelmed by it. I've thought about focussing on the "foreign relations" of the movement, the connections with North Vietnam and Cuba, and what that meant at home. It's something I know a lot about. It's a very vivid era to me, obviously, and I'm bored stiff with most of the writing I've read about it. Thanks for urging me on.
Barry Smolin (shmo) Sun 7 Mar 99 12:32
Robert Christgau's review of Sweet Chaos appears in the LA Times Sunday Book Review: http://www.calendarlive.com/HOME/CALENDARLIVE/BOOKS/BOOKREVIEW/t000020587.ht ml
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 14:34
That is one fine review! It's nice to hear from someone who -- like Carol herself -- aprpeciates the Grateful Dead in an unsentimental way and who also has a sense of the larger picture.
Carol Brightman (brightman) Sun 7 Mar 99 14:58
How frustrating shmo. Your link didn't produce anything for me but a refer back to referrer. How did you get it, David? By snail mail I won't see this for a week. Christgau! I'm very curious.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 15:11
I will post it here in a moment.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 15:16
Book Reviews March 7, 1999 Workingman's Dead SWEET CHAOS: The Grateful Dead's American Adventure; By Carol Brightman; (Clarkson Potter: 356 pp., $27.50) By ROBERT CHRISTGAU I n 1965, Carol Brightman helped found a useful little periodical called "Viet-Report," whose well-researched battles against government disinformation helped fuel the antiwar movement. By 1969 she was organizing the Venceremos Brigade, a grander, riskier, more deluded enterprise that sent American radicals to Cuba for the sugar harvest. She spent the early '70s as part of a typically hyper-charged and atomized Berkeley collective, fomenting a revolution that never began. Then, as near as one can determine from "Sweet Chaos," she disappeared for 20 years, surfacing (the jacket informs us--the book never mentions it) as the author of "Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World," which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1993. Since "Sweet Chaos" is ostensibly--and also actually--about the Grateful Dead, you might think it peculiar that it reveals even this much about its author, whose earlier tome, as near as I can tell without actually reading the thing, only breaches polite standards of "objectivity" in its introduction and postscript. But then, "Sweet Chaos" is a peculiar piece of work. Although much of its story was familiar to me as the reader of several books and countless articles on the Dead, I found Brightman's retelling swift and compelling. And for a literary scholar to describe any species of rock and roll with such clarity, delicacy and detail is a mitzvah, if not a miracle. Yet consider these anomalies: Thematically, Brightman's prevailing interest is the Deadheads, who in their nomadic pursuit of Dead concerts became a piece of Americana in the '70s and who remain today the most visible remnant of a counterculture she and her friends believed would spearhead a revolution. Yet she doesn't home in on them until well into the final third of her book. Instead, and despite the fact that she only attended her first Dead concert in 1972, she devotes most of "Sweet Chaos" to the band's mythic early career--acid, Ken Kesey, the Haight, the Warner albums, the fabled '60s. This story she has reconstructed without interviewing Jerry Garcia, who died well after she began her research and whom she rightly identifies as the essential genius of the Dead's sprawling collectivity. In fact, despite the entree provided by her sister, Candace Brightman, the Dead's lighting designer for upward of two decades (and also her roadie brother Chris), she seems barely to have gotten to the band at all--mostly, one infers, because the Dead's PR honcho had his own bio in the works. Instead, her main informants are Garcia's second wife, the formidable Mountain Girl, and his principal lyricist, the paradoxical Robert Hunter. As I said, peculiar. You can see why Brightman couldn't resist this project. It was redolent, it was commercial, it was a change and that family access--whoo! She's such a smart cookie that she's come up with a very readable book, too. But there's clearly a sense in which the subject was too much for her. The Dead weren't the problem--they've never gotten the critical respect they deserve, and she might have done a service by focusing more faithfully on their music. No--where she founders, like so many before her, is trying to figure out the fabled '60s. If she didn't go in with that juicy subtext in mind, it soon took over her research and speculations, so that what begins as an exploration of a vast alien world just beyond her field of vision turns into a post-mortem on her own life choices that's sometimes an all too thoroughgoing defense of same. Hence the coyly selective autobiographical detail. We never learn where she went to college or what her father did for a living--the sort of angle-of-vision info that's always more useful than the vague references to middle-classness she provides in calibrating the reliability of any participant-observer's truth. And of course, we never learn how Brightman-as-paradigmatic-politico occupied her time while the Dead-as-paradigmatic-freaks built their roadshow into a mass bohemian religious enterprise and entertainment empire. This question looms especially large because Brightman states explicitly that the hippies were "the last hurrah for American bohemianism" and acts as if the New Left vaporized once its revolution did. From my more distant participant-observer vantage, these positions appear patently nonfactual. I know many individual radicals who remained politically active--democratic-socialist union steward and Marxist-Leninist tenant organizer and tragic cultist, troublemaking journalists and barely middle-class legal advocates and prophets of a dubious academic "vanguard"--even after concluding that they were doomed to struggle and compromise all their lives, that the "long march" Brightman and her comrades referenced so proudly in 1970 would in fact be endless. As for bohemianism, it would seem a permanent adjunct of and / or alternative to bourgeois society--one whose veterans whine about the good old days as much as any other self-pitying old fart on the cultural landscape. You may not think the post-hippie punks of the '70s and the post-punk slackers of the '80s and '90s deserve the tradition of Ada Clare, Max Eastman and Gary Snyder, each of whom was very different from his or her predecessors. But they're of it nevertheless. Why did this particular bohemia fall apart? Common sense tells us that affective and material ties with spouses and especially children are sure to undermine a youth subculture conceived without them and that revolutionary energy, whether cultural or political, is generally short-lived. Any pop sociologist could mix in an economic double whammy: Just as the end of the postwar boom was radically diminishing leisure time, capital was figuring out dozens of new ways to make money off it. But although she's aware of these factors, Brightman--who only started smoking pot in 1968--can't resist another notion. In her best "Viet-Report" mode, she recapitulates the CIA's many experiments with psychedelics, concluding quite credibly that without these experiments, the Haight might never have happened. This sort of accidental historical synergy is common enough, however. To believe in addition, as Brightman implies and has Kesey say in so many words, that the government deliberately destroyed '60s bohemia with "counterrevolutionary drugs--booze and heroin and coke" is a self-protective if not paranoid if not drug-induced fantasy. It's hard to pin down where the Dead fit into this schema, in part because there's never been anything remotely like them. The closest analogy I can think of is the Oneida community, which began as a free-love experiment in 1848 and ended up a major industrial corporation. But music isn't silverware, and this music is even less a consumer durable than most because by mutual agreement it only truly occurs when artists and audience feed off each other in the same physical space. For an intellectual to respond with warm insight to such an evanescent aesthetic is a rare thing. There are moments when Brightman seems naive musically, but her naivete is preferable to the preconceptions of rock critics who measure the Dead by rhythmic and emotive criteria that ignore the more associative and unpredictable music they set out to achieve. Brightman is too dismissive of the band's experimental '60s albums and doesn't realize that two drum sets can't generate much groove unless the bass plays rhythm. But she appreciates how uncommonly open-ended their vision of folk-rock eclecticism was. She loves the Hunter-Garcia poetry of "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty": "western songs" in which "the frontier seems to have closed," "which sing more sweetly than they read--so sweetly that one can forget one's troubles." She describes in-concert epiphanies so acutely that it's possible to believe something like them actually occurred, though she acknowledges that they got rarer and rarer as the band played on. And she grants Garcia's guitar the awe it generated. Socio-politically, she's just as enlightened. She's too good a leftist to fall for the fatalism that attributes the communal virtues of Deadhead culture to the band while blaming its failings--from countless drug horrors to its unwillingness, especially once the '60s were history, to address any concrete political question, much less change society--on karma, human nature and other such imponderables; she's scathing, for instance, about the band's refusal to protect fans from narcs when the drug wars heated up in the late '80s. But she has the decency to see that the Deadhead culture, for all its infuriating interlock of know-nothing hedonism and mystical jingoism, succeeded where the New Left failed. It stands as a social formation of relatively "ordinary" people--Brightman uses the word to refer to class, which is crucial; I would add that, in my experience, they tend to be less perceptive analytically than radicals or than the early movers and shakers of alternative rock--who within Deaddom try to live by such oft-preached values as tolerance, human kindness and utopian imagination. These are values that the seekers of the Venceremos Brigade, inspired by their vision of Castro's Cuba, sought to inculcate in themselves. ("You thought we were perfect," one Cuban noted, "and we thought you were revolutionaries.") Though the Venceremos Brigade wanted more--the end of racism, sexism and capitalism, to be precise--and Deadheads often settle for less, Brightman has reason to worry about how one success reflects on the other failure. As a leftist since the '60s whose deepest loyalties ended up with rock and roll, I don't think the solution to this puzzle is merely that Deaddom succeeded because it was willing to settle. It's that the Dead understood America better than the New Left did--a lot better. As Brightman observes: "Their politics, loosely speaking, mirrored the laissez faire libertarianism that most hippies and students lived day to day, whatever the latter's views on the war in Vietnam, or how to end it." And in a lovely sentence at the end, she sums up what Deadheads live for in their nomadic phase: "An odd kind of security, it's the sweet oblivion of the road, the music, and the friendship of strangers." At least in the absence of economic disaster--not just a downturn like the one that took hold between the revolutionary illusion's circa 1969 peak and circa 1973 fizzle--the individualism encompassed by "laissez faire libertarianism" and "the friendship of strangers" is inimical to revolution. This individualism is at the heart of both rock and roll and the American ethos, no matter what countervailing tendencies it's possible to discern and righteous to encourage. Moreover, this individualism is inimical to most of the communal ideals leftists hold dear--and a starting place from which any American leftist must work. Brightman has been pushed very close to this bedrock truth by prolonged contemplation of the Grateful Dead. It is my sincere hope that now, instead of devoting her impressive intellect to either literature or CIA conspiracies, she will figure out a way to conceive the political options such a truth leaves open. - - - Robert Christgau Is the Author, Most Recently, of "Growing up All Wrong: 75 Great Rock and Pop Artists From Vaudeville to Techno."
Barry Smolin (shmo) Sun 7 Mar 99 15:27
Nice job by Christgau
Carol Brightman (brightman) Sun 7 Mar 99 16:48
Whew...A most peculiar review. Contradictious, but thoughtful in the way most reviews never are. So I'm gratified. But so much about me, and not so much about the book.! How those deadheads might squirm to read a critic who wants to know MORE about the author, like what was she doing during those 20 years between Vietnam and Cuba and a biography of Mary McCarthy? Or how did I occupy my time "while the Dead built their road show into a mass bohemion religious enterpriese..." I'm reminded of a Deadhead who complained to Amazon.com that in Sweet Chaos, the references to the author " just snowball until you ask yourself, 'Like, who are you, Carol Brightman?'" Re me, he's wrong in assuming that I agree with Kesey's crazy idea that the government deliberately set out to destroy the 60s with counterrevolutionary drugs...booze, cocaine, heroin. I don't want to step in and judge such statements, but surely the context leaves me out of this mind set. I was amazed by the CIA's direct involvement in America's acid culture via the experiments with hallucinogens, and perhaps overreacted to it. Though Christgau and I don't differ here. Our more serious differences are in how we read culture and politics. The idea that the Dead beat the New Left in the longevity race by being more "American" is Hunter's too, as stated in the book. Christgau fills it out by bringing in the issue of "individualism." I think you've said something about the Dead's purchase on "individualism," too, David? No? Anyway, there's no doubt this is part of the American ethos, the American dream, as understood by Madison Avenue and its poets. Whether it is always progressive is another matter. Or even inimical to the ideals leftists hold, as RC argues. He's right to remind me, however, that neither bohemianism, an adjunct to bourgeois culture, or leftism, as a continuing vision or faith in radical social change, ended with the '60s. ...I've said too much as usual. Thanks for relaying the whole review, DAvid. I'd like to hear others' reactions to it.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 16:55
You have NOT said too much, ferchrissakes.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 17:11
I responded to a putdown of the book out on rec.music.gdead today: Subject: Re: The book "Sweet Chaos" Date: Sun, 07 Mar 1999 13:40:04 -0700 From: David Gans <firstname.lastname@example.org> Organization: Truth and Fun, Inc. Jgmdjc wrote: > While there is some interesting parts, I find this book to be more about > the author than about the dead. I feel it is just another way for someone > to make money, putting the Gdead out there, knowing people like me will buy > it. This is such a cheap, shallow and meaningless form of attack. Believe me, there are easier ways to make a buck -- and much, much larger markets to tap -- if all you want to do is make money. Jeez. > The author talks about Cuba, Vietnam, radicals, etc. You can find this > information out in any college class, history book, etc. To have it > rehashed in a book that is suppose to be about the dead and their fans is > useless. The author talks more about her experiences and how they just > happen to be going on at the same time as the dead were doing somehting > else. The book goes no where many times. Man, does my mileage ever vary. I suppose if all you care about is gossip about the Grateful Dead, then this book is not the first one you should pick up. But if you skip "Sweet Chaos," you'll miss out on on some pretty interesting behind-the-scenes stuff -- AND a lot of very useful perspective on what the Grateful Dead represented in the times from which they emerged. From Robert Christgau's review of SWEET CHAOS in today's Los Angeles Times -- >> Since "Sweet Chaos" is ostensibly--and also actually--about the Grateful >> Dead, you might think it peculiar that it reveals even this much about its >> author, whose earlier tome, as near as I can tell without actually reading >> the thing, only breaches polite standards of "objectivity" in its intro- >> duction and postscript. But then, "Sweet Chaos" is a peculiar piece of >> work. Although much of its story was familiar to me as the reader of >> several books and countless articles on the Dead, I found Brightman's >> retelling swift and compelling. And for a literary scholar to describe any >> species of rock and roll with such clarity, delicacy and detail is a >> mitzvah, if not a miracle. (N.B. I wrote the blurb for the back cover of "Sweet Chaos," so obviously I am a supporter of the book. But I wasn't paid a cent for writing the blurb. Just so's you don't write my support off as a product of financial selfin- terest.) (ALSO: Brightman is being interviewed on the web at http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue -- please drop by and read the inter- view, and if you'd like to ask Brightman a question about her financial motivations or whatever else, email the question to me and I'll post it.)
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 17:12
... and this is one of the reponses I got: Subject: Re: The book "Sweet Chaos" Date: 07 Mar 1999 16:16:34 PST From: "Zugumba" <email@example.com> Organization: Concentric Internet Services Newsgroups: rec.music.gdead Sweet Chaos does contain some "behind the scenes stuff" that is interesting; there are very interesting tidbits about Hunter, for example. But the book's very title presents itself as a book about the Grateful Dead's "American Adventure", period. But it isn't. It is ultimately a book about Carol Brightman (4 chapters are title "Their Subculture and Mine"! - a big hint of the unbridled narcissism that pervades the book, especially the latter half) and the constant self-references are not only annoying, but undermines and weakens the book. If the book were titled and sold with a little more candor, I wouldn't have put it down with the same feeling: the book is about Carol Brightman and the Grateful Dead, despite some interesting information and analysis, are used as a vehicle to tell her tale and (here comes my most cynical criticism) to help sell it. The funny thing is that her tale is from one of the very people (if we are to believe other good sources and Garcia himself) that often annoyed the hell out of the Dead: after all these years they still want to steal the mike.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 17:17
It's frustrating to read some of the criticisms I see out there, from people who aren't interested in anything but the Dead. Where I see an interesting person offering some valuable context on the history of the Dead, some of these (I have to believe they're KIDS, but I can't be sure) see only exploitation of their idol.
Barry Smolin (shmo) Sun 7 Mar 99 17:46
Most of the complaints (of the "only the Dead matter" variety) that I get about the diversity of music I play on my radio show come from older folks.I find the kids are much more open to everything that's going on, partly because active Deadheadism (touring, etc.) is less a part of their experience.
(pholk) Sun 7 Mar 99 18:54
Doesn't the reaction sort of back up Brightman's analysis of the Dead subculture wanting to remain apolitical? I haven't read the book yet, but what I've seen here seems to suggest that this is part of the argument. Obviously many of us who have been a part of the "subculture" are also interested in intellectual, cultural, and political issues. But as a whole, it seems to me that both a strength and serious weakness of the scene is its ability to contain music, spirituality, and culture in a very decontextualized and benign way. This way of thinking also lends authenticity and purity to the scene itself, as if it floats outside of larger historical contingencies that are not obviously and directly expressed by the songs and players themselves. That isn't putting it clearly, I know, but I think there is something to the mythology of the entire Grateful Dead subculture that makes responses like we've seen to Brightman's book make a certain amount of sense.
Carol Brightman (brightman) Sun 7 Mar 99 21:03
This is so frustrating. I wrote a long response to all these posts and LOST IT. So now it's almost midnight and do I start over? Do I dare to eat a peach? and walk upon the beach? Never! Where was I. ..I think pholk has it right. All this horseshit about Carol Brightman is really about the poltical movement. And Zugumba's got it right, too----the very people that Jerry and the band (especially Bobby with his "the stage is not a pulpit/the stage is not a pulput" mantra and his terror of "Communists!!" seizing the stage at Columbia in '68 and Paris in '72, as he told me and probably dozens of others) were askeert of have come back to haunt them. Well, not them, but some facsimile of them imbedded in the fans. Nobody can take away the Dead's mike, but somebody can set up an alternative mike in the theatre of the mind, a la Kesey at a genuine Acid Test, so that just maybe you will hear the Dead's swansongs set off against the caw-caw of something different. BTW, does anyone know who creates topics on rec.music.gdead, such as "Sweet Chaos: Narcissistic"?? On the subject of titles, here's one from rec.music.gdead: Sweet Chaos: How the Dead's American Adventure Compared to Carol Brightman's American Adventure." And speaking of titles, in Books in Print for months the book was entitled "Fat Trip," a book about "Weight Loss." A story that's told in today's New York Times Book REview (see Bookend).
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 23:23
>both a strength and serious weakness Ain't it the truth!
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 23:24
>BTW, does anyone know who creates topics on rec.music.gdead, such as "Sweet >Chaos: Narcissistic"?? Anyone can start a topic on rec.music.gdead. People respond to them using various newsreader software, so the subject line becomes the title of the thread.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 23:40
Carol, I was looking you up in the New York Times book section archive (I'll post some URLs below) and I saw this: Carol Brightman is the co-author of ''Larry Rivers: Drawings and Digressions.'' Tell us about this, please!
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 23:43
Review of "Writing Dangerously" 12/92: <http://search.nytimes.com/books/search/bin/fastweb?getdoc+book-rev+book-r+1522 0+2+wAAA+Carol%7EBrightman%22> Review by Carol Brightman of TRUE NORTH A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway: <http://search.nytimes.com/books/search/bin/fastweb?getdoc+book-rev+book-r+1722 9+5+wAAA+Carol%7EBrightman%22>
Mud Love Buddy, Feelin' Groovy... as long as you've got your health! (almanac) Mon 8 Mar 99 13:17
Carol had a very funny, harrowing tale on the "Bookend" page of yesterday's New York Times Book Review, recounting the not-so-sweet-chaos surrounding the marketing of "Sweet Chaos" -- which, because of confusion over an unused working title, "FAT TRIP," was mistakenly promoted to many booksellers as a *diet* book! The piece will be on the NYT website for the rest of this week: http://www.nytimes.com/books/yr/mo/day/bookend/bookend.html
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 8 Mar 99 13:24
Heh! Brings me to a question... The term "Fat Trip." "Fat" meant nothing to me. I guess if I read a different spelling, "Phat Trip," I'd think it was simply a later generation of psychedelists than my own. Maybe I just knew all the wrong heads, but I am guessing it's 90's lingo. You think?
Gary Lambert (almanac) Mon 8 Mar 99 13:31
<scribbled by almanac Mon 8 Mar 99 13:33>
Mud Love Buddy, Feelin' Groovy... as long as you've got your health! (almanac) Mon 8 Mar 99 13:34
No, it was a favorite phrase of Garcia's, perhaps coined by him, used to distinguish the really profound, surreal, serendipitous life experiences from your garden-variety psychedelia. It never became a big slogan among my crowd either, but its origins are definitely Dead-related rather than a neo- hippie thang.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 8 Mar 99 13:51
an alternative mike in the theatre of the mind (jberger) Mon 8 Mar 99 14:26
Carol, it seems that some wounds heal very slowly. Witness the recent protests in southern California about the video store owner who has posted a large banner of Ho Chi Minh in his store (at one point there were close to 20,000 protesters!).
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