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Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead [Hardcover]

Phil Lesh


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Book Description

April 18 2005
Right in time for the Grateful Dead's 40th anniversary, eccentric bass player extraordinaire Phil Lesh has delivered fans a most welcome gift: his autobiography. There are many books out there about the Dead told from the perspective of roadies, journalists, third party observers, and fans.However, with the exceptions of Jerry Garcia's ramblings in Garcia: A Signpost to New Space and Conversations With the Dead, Lesh's Searching for the Sound is the first time a founding member of America's favorite band tells their own story of what it was like inside the Grateful Dead. And what a wonderful, strange tale it is. Phil Lesh, considered the most academic of the group due to his avant-garde classical composition training, literate mind, and passion for the arts, decided to write his story himself. Written without the crutch of a ghostwriter, Searching for the Sound might be considered disjointed in places, but overall it comes across as conversational, intimate, informative, and candid (particularly regarding topics of drug use and death). If you are familiar with the band and their extended family, their history, the sixties' musical milestones and influences and all the band's famous tales (the Garcia/ Lesh "silent" confrontation, being busted on Bourbon Street, the Wall of Sound), you may be a little disgruntled there is not much new here in the way of content. However, what is "new" and totally satisfying is Phil's warm, optimistic perspective on the many events that helped shape his life. As described by Lesh, his life's journey, much like the Dead's music, is "a [series] of recurring themes, transpositions, repetitions, unexpected developments, all converging to define form that is not necessarily apparent until it's ending has come and gone." For the many fans who enjoyed the fruits of his life pursuit of sonic explorations,Searching for the Sound isa welcome addition to their Dead library. --Rob Bracco


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company (April 18 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316009989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316009980
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #697,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh has written the memoir one might have expected: energetic and flawed, but sure to be loved by fans. Lesh joined the band's original members—Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman and "Pigpen" Ron McKernan—in 1965 and helped morph the legendary outfit from its beginnings as a jug band to the unique, psychedelic improvisational jam band that spawned arguably the most loyal, iconic audience in popular music history: the Deadheads. What a long, strange trip it was. For 30-plus years, from being the house band for Ken Kesey's acid tests to stadium tours in the 1980s and '90s, the band pioneered a new paradigm for musicians, operating as an extended, albeit dysfunctional, family. Along the way, three keyboardists died, two managers robbed the band, bad deals were signed, massive debt was accrued and drug and alcohol problems flared. In 1995, the trip finally ended (or did it?), when Garcia died. Lesh infuses his prose with his wacky personality, which is endearing, but also maddening, especially when he's rendering acid trips or discussing music. Indeed, many fans who twirled ecstatically at Dead shows will struggle to follow Lesh's extended explanations of the band's compositions. Also, the second half of the band's life gets short shrift. Nevertheless, Deadheads will surely celebrate Lesh's honest, intimate remembrances. (Apr.)

From Booklist

Lesh, founding member of the Grateful Dead and bass-guitar visionary, adds his biography and his take on Dead history to the burgeoning literature about the band that is famous for its devoted fans, for keeping the spirit of the psychedelic sixties alive, and for rarely recording a commercial hit. After covering his childhood at a blistering pace (by page 12, he has flunked his army induction physical), Lesh turns his attention to matters musical, including meeting original Dead keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, who seemed "greasy" but performed a "raucous blues stomp," and then encountering the rest of the Dead gang, not to mention psychedelicized novelist Ken Kesey and sundry other sixties notables. He rehashes some notorious incidents in the band's annals, such as when in 1970 at the infamous Altamont free concert, the Dead refused to take the stage because they were scared; the atmosphere there was so unsettling, Lesh says, that he decided "not to take any acid that day"--given how things turned out (a tripping spectator was murdered by the Hell's Angels "security guards"), fortunate forbearance on his part. Lesh also recounts the subsequent comings and goings of band members, the death of Jerry Garcia, and life as a more mature presence on the rock landscape. Very few bands stay together as long as the Dead has, and fewer still attract new fans. A literate piece of rock history by a genuinely historic figure in rock music. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  91 reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago... April 16 2005
By Bruce Crocker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
No one book can ever tell the entire tale of the Grateful Dead. Searching For The Sound by bassist and founding member Phil Lesh is the first book by a member of the band to focus on the band itself and Phil has a tale to tell and tells it well. The book starts with Lesh's birth and quickly moves on to his discovery of music. Then Lesh takes us through the embryonic San Francisco scene and on into the evolution of the Grateful Dead. The rest of the book focuses on Phil's intertwined life with the band, the band's extended family, and, ultimately, Phil's own family. It takes only the last dozen or so pages to cover the years since Jerry Garcia's death, but the subtitle of the book is My Life With The Grateful Dead and that name passed into history at the end of 1995. The drugs are there, but rather than glorifying them, a full reading of the book shows that, in the long run, the drugs took a heavy toll. Lesh's writing style is conversational and stream of consciousness and fits perfectly with the story he's narrating. Ultimately, it's a book about MUSIC, its creation, and its powers. In the spirit of the age of disclosure, I must admit to attending 27 Grateful Dead shows between Penn State '79 and Las Vegas '95 and have followed the band members in whatever incarnation since the death of Garcia. I don't think this makes me biased, but I thought you should know. I found the book to be an eye opener and it added context to a major part of my life during the last quarter of the 20th Century. A non-Deadhead should enjoy the book, especially anyone with a taste for biography and the history of rock. If you're looking for the description of one endless drug trip, stay away [or better yet, read the book with an open mind]. I enjoyed Searching For The Sound and would love to see Lesh give us another book sometime in the future.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's all about the MUSIC May 18 2005
By Blind Mello Jelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is so refreshing to read a book by a musician who is in it for the MUSIC. I knew some background on Mr. Lesh. I'm not a rabid Deadhead...never quit my job and followed them on tour or anything, but I have seen them at least six times. I've read the books by Hank Harrison, Blair Jackson and Rock Scully and enjoyed them all, and have many of their CDs. But Lesh's book is a well-written memoir of what it was like being on that wonderous ride through that unique time in history. If you want to hear stories about shagging endless lines of groupies, or snorting endless lines of cocaine, go elsewhere. Lesh touches on the drug element in the band, but doesn't dwell on it....except for maybe the LSD experimentation which was so crucial the the development of the band. And I've honestly never read such a "dead-on" (sorry) description of the effects of mind-altering drugs. Lesh is obviously an intelligent man, and to be honest, he loses me occasionally when talking about electronics/sound/acoustics, but I knew enough about him to expect that.

It's rare you get to read a book by a dedicated musician, and not a *ROCKSTAR*. Listening to the Grateful Dead taught me a lot about listening to music in general. After appreciating the dynamic between Garcia, Lesh and Weir, I was able to move on to Coltrane, Garrison, Jones and Tyner and many more great combinations after that. I've always admired Lesh as a musician, but now I also admire him as a writer, a husband and a father. Go in peace, Mr. Lesh! Thanks for the great read!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What the professor, er I mean, the bass player is thinking May 25 2005
By Michelaneous by Michele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm so full of music and nostalgia, having just finished this book. I didn't want it to end. I'm exhausted--feeling like I just danced my way through a weekend of shows--and yet, so high on the memories, I'm thrilled and honored to write this review. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Phil, for writing "Searching For The Sound." It's a wonderful book. The best I've read about the Dead. Thank you for sharing everything behind that omnipresent smile you always seemed to have on stage.

Our intimate circle of Deadhead cohorts--best friends, pals, passing and long-term acquaintances that began in Southern Illinois (particularly along with the fabulous and memorable cover group, "Uncle Jon's Band,") through our crew called "East Bay Deadheads For Peace" formed during one of many Berkeley Greek Theater shows, always called Phil "The Professor." I confess I never knew why until I read this book. Wow. Phil brings an intellectual integrity to the story of his own musical education and, of course, to the band--to the history of the music driving The Grateful Dead, and to all of us who continually flocked to see them play for us and for each other. Phil lets us in. Tells us what it was REALLY like. Even when I knew what was coming, I experienced the pains (and the joys) through a different and certainly wiser set of eyes. This book is written with true love and deep respect for all members of the band and above all, for THE MUSIC.

What amazes me most about his book is the clarity of Phil's memory. He recounts (particularly the early days) with such detail that I can't help but believe this is transcribed from personal journals. Passages like: "the whole urban symphony of Industrial Man, coming from near and far, high and low, finally weaving a shimmering web of discontinuous rhythm, and in the longest slow fade ever, subsiding over hours to a dull roar, felt rather than heard, only to rouse itself anew as the sky brightened with the light of another day." Whew! This amazing, true, brutally honest, funny, insightful memoir is full of such . . . such . . . stuff! And it's not just trippy memory-packed description that blew me away. When he describes the "dark and stormy night" that defined their Woodstock experience, he describes the faltering sound-system as an electrical edifice with "a saber-toothed crotch cricket of a hum."

To anyone who not only experienced the phenomenon that was (is) the Grateful Dead, and particularly to those who appreciate the value of music, I highly, highly recommend this read. I haven't felt this emotional over a book in a long, long time. I love you, Phil.

Michele Cozzens, Author of A Line Between Friends and The Things I Wish I'd Said.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I found the sound. Jan. 13 2006
By Tha Notorious P.A.T - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Look out of any window, any morning, any evening, any day."

Box of Rain by The Grateful Dead

Searching for the Sound tells the story of The Grateful Dead, America's original psychedelic improvisational rock and roll band, through the eyes of one of the found members - bassist, Phil Lesh.

In the book, Lesh writes in a conversational, eloquent tone as he recalls all the good times and all the bad times. Lesh tells the story of how The Dead went from playing at Ken Kesey's Acid Tests to playing at sold-out stadiums thirty year later?

A great factor of the book is the honesty in Lesh's writing. He doesn't sugarcoat the things that were going on - he tells the real story. He tells how drugs brought the band together and how they eventually tore the band apart. He recalls the death of three keyboardists and the beloved Jerry Garcia.

Though drug abuse and death are recurring factors throughout the book, it is not all dark. Lesh also fondly remembers impromptu free shows in San Francisco, Woodstock, The Pyramids, and many other legendary events.

In my opinion, the only bad part about the books is that the language gets a bit too technical when he is talking about musical composition and theory. Aside from that aspect, I loved the book and would recommend it to anyone, Deadhead or not.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best book so far on the Dead April 17 2005
By R. J. Marsella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Phil Lesh writes with an open and candid style that makes reading his account of the Dead's history an absolute pleasure for both Deadheads and other lovers of music. Phil's story starts off with the typical childhood stuff but rapidly moves to the music scene in Palo Alto and later San Francisco that ultimately coincided with the Summer Of Love and gave birth to the Grateful Dead. The Dead were certainly unique in all of rock in the way their music blended so many influences and Lesh's story clearly demonstrates how those strains of jazz, blues, country,and even classical influences came into play in the extended instrumental explorations the Dead were famous for. I was particularly intrigued by how he describes the influence of John Coltrane on his own muiscal development.

Garcia emerges from this as the Jerry we all know and love. A true musical explorer of the first order.

Anyone who loved the Dead will surely enjoy reading this. Anyone who didn't "get" the Dead should read it anyway because it will give you some insight into what the music was all about.

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