Friday, September 19, 2014

Grateful Dead Sign with UMPG

The Grateful Dead signed a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), which will handle global administration of the Dead's songbook.

UMPG traces its history back to the Music Corporation of America (MCA), which was cofounded by Jules Stein and booked musical acts in and around Chicago during the Capone era. Stein's granddaughter now runs The Nation magazine.

Stein hired Lew Wasserman, who was Ronald Reagan's agent and eventually ran the company. He was considered the king of Hollywood for many years. His best friend of five decades was Sidney Korshak, who was the Chicago mob's lawyer and a fascinating figure in his own right. MCA acquired other companies and eventually merged with Universal Studios. Comcast bought NBC Universal from GE in 2009.


Friday, September 12, 2014

My first book review at The National Memo. This is the third volume in Rick Perlstein's epic history of the modern conservative movement, and his achievement is very impressive. I wouldn't say he has any special insight on California political history, but this book is excellent grist for the mill if you like that history as much as I do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This material is too late to include in the book, but I relished Branford Marsalis's reflections on playing with the Dead in 1991. Lots of mutual respect along with the virtuosity. In the Wall Street Journal, no less.


Friday, August 29, 2014

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

Truthdig posted my review of Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs today. It was my good fortune to attend a book event last week at Pegasus, where I met the author for the first time. I also picked up the poster--actually, four copies, three of which I'll send to the book's editor, Steve Wasserman, at Yale University Press. This book was Steve's first acquisition there, and I'm glad it's getting a great reception.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Phil and Friends at Terrapin Crossroads

I finally got to the Grate Room at Terrapin Crossroads for a performance. What a great way to see music: a short drive from our Richmond home, and no parking hassles or lines. We walked right up to the stage and heard almost four hours of music at close range. Kim Wilson took this photo from our little spot.

On this particular night, Phil and Friends included Anders Osborne, Scott Metzger, Jason Crosby, and Tony Leone. Let me cut to the chase: They killed it. After using advanced medical techniques to revive it, they killed it a few more times.


Victoria Beckham Rocking the Dead T-shirt at LAX

Happily, the accompanying article explained everything: "The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, who were best known for their unique and eclectic style."

Next line, perhaps, of this hot scoop: "Located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose, Palo Alto is a community of approximately 63,000 residents."

On second thought, I'm for whatever it takes to teach a little history. If it's a Spice Girl T-shirt, so be it.

The Spice Girls were a British pop girl group formed in 1994.


The Eagle Has (Almost) Landed

The advance reading copies for the book arrived this week. St. Martin's Press moved up the publication date to January, and I'm still collecting blurbs and photo permissions. But we're getting close.

In other news, I've organized a related class for UC Berkeley's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). It will meet once a week for six weeks starting Wednesday, October 1. Nick Meriwether, Rosie McGee, Blair Jackson, and David Gans have already agreed to share their wisdom on all things Dead. If this class isn't fun, we're not doing it right. More information at


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Books I Have Known

Not much blogging lately for three reasons: paid work, including the Grateful Dead manuscript; book-reviewin' for Truthdig; and Facebook--so many kitty cats, so little time!

Let me focus on the first two reasons and draw the curtain of charity before the third.

The Dead MS is in production. Now I'm working on the photos (and permissions), chit-chatting with the publisher's lawyer about legal concerns, reviewing cover concepts, etc. This week, I also had a chance to discuss some of the content with Joe Hagan, who's in town to research his biography of Jann Wenner. The publication of that book will coincide with Rolling Stone's 50th anniversary in 2017. From all indications, it's going to be fabulous. It was also a pleasure to visit with Joe, whom I met in the most serendipitous manner--a story for another day, when the kitty-cat traffic is less intense.

In related book news, it appears that Toby Gleason will publish an anthology of his father's writings and private papers. For my money, Ralph J. Gleason was one of the coolest cats on the Bay Area scene during the 60s and 70s. In addition to mentoring Jann and co-founding Rolling Stone, Gleason wrote for Ramparts, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Down Beat magazine; wrote all of Lenny Bruce's liner notes; championed the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane; and was the only music journalist on President Nixon's Enemies List. Very excited about that project, too, and glad I could help conceptualize it.

The Truthdig reviews are an intermittent pleasure enhanced by carefully chosen assignments. The last review was of Matt Taibbi's The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. That one was picked up by AlterNet, and when I last checked, only the New York Times review had drawn a larger online audience. The one before that was Dean Starkman's The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism. And the one before that was Curtis White's The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers. To my surprise, that review won the 2013 National Entertainment Journalism Award for Online Criticism. All of my Truthdig reviews can be found here.

OK, enough about that. Back to serious kitty biz.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Terrapin Redux

Lots to report since my last post, including another visit to the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the usual good time, and I took away a dozen or more gems for the Dead book. I also had a chance to visit with Rosie McGee and Rhoney Stanley, who attended the conference for the first time. Both have memoirs out (Rosie's Dancing with the Dead and Rhoney's Owsley and Me), which I reviewed at Nick Meriwether's request for Dead Studies.

Another benchmark: I submitted my manuscript to St. Martin's Press this weekend. I also met my editor, Marc Resnick, for the first time. The book is now scheduled for publication in Winter 2015--about this time next year.

Marc was in the Bay Area for a book party at Terrapin Crossroads last night. The book is Alan Paul's One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band, which will debut in the top ten this week. I had a chance to meet Alan as well as Jay Blakesberg, who took photographs, and Benjy Eisen, the Rolling Stone contributor who's working with Bill Kreutzmann on his memoir.

This was no ordinary book event. Alan plays guitar, too, and he joined Mark Karan (RatDog) and the house band, American Jubilee, for a set of blues numbers and "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad." Everyone had a great time, and we all wish Alan (and Marc) continued success with the book.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Terrapin Crossroads

I've now visited Terrapin Crossroads three times for no-cover bar music. I heard the Terrapin Family Band twice (with slightly different lineups) and the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen once. These bands, and this venue, are a significant if pleasantly understated contribution to the Bay Area music scene. I've also seen Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Mumford and Sons recently at the Greek Theater, and they were all awesome. But I recommend Terrapin Crossroads and these bands to anyone who enjoys professional, soulful music without the hassle that often goes along with shows at larger venues.

On my first trip, I heard the Terrapin Family Band with Brian and Grahame Lesh. They started with the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" from the Some Girls album of 1978. It was an interesting choice, especially for a band made up of guys in their twenties. They also played several bluegrass numbers, including the Stanley Brothers' "Long Journey Home," and ended with a superb version of The Band's "The Weight." There were about 50 people in the bar, and we spotted Phil Lesh sitting at a cafe table near the soundboard, working on a plate of pasta, singing along, laughing, and clearly enjoying himself.

This week, the Terrapin All Stars with Stu Allen featured Naturally, the 1972 album by J.J. Cale that included "After Midnight," which they killed. Each number opened out to a jam that built slowly to a climax; then the band tucked it all back in, usually under Allen's restrained vocals. That style worked especially well on "Bringing It Back from Mexico," which combined a swampy blues sound with vintage hippie lyrics about smuggling weed. ("I think I'll get me some to go/Bringing it back from Mexico.")

Yesterday I dropped in for brunch and heard the Terrapin Family Band. Once again, the band drew a set of strong and compatible songs from different sources and periods. Not all of them were famous; one was the Deep Dark Woods' "Two Time Loser"; another was Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." They also played "Long Black Veil" "Long Journey Home," and Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel." The execution was flawless, with no nonsense or chatter, but I really appreciated their ability to simultaneously curate and put their own stamp on songs that predate them by decades. It's gratifying to see younger people exploring and continuing musical traditions that, in this case at least, mean a lot to me and my generation.