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Book Review: “So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead” by David Browne

Believe it or not, David Browne’s “So Many Roads,” yet another new book about the Grateful Dead, reveals things about the band that even the most well-read Deadheads likely didn’t know.

The book’s 15 chapters are named for specific dates or short periods of time and the ensuing narrative weaves its way through and around the respective timeframes in the way Grateful Dead soloists used to weave their way though the band’s rhythm section. It’s an innovative way to tell the story and, coupled with a few eye-popping examples of foreshadowing, makes for a book that keeps readers up late promising, “a few more pages, and I just might get some sleep tonight.”

Good luck with that.

Browne, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal magazines, used innumerable original, mostly conducted between 2011 and 2014, and archival interviews and much of the available written and photographical record to construct a story that runs from “Menlo Park, California, October 27, 1962” (pg. 25) to “New York City, March 30, 2009” (pg. 423).

Along the way, Browne’s thorough reporting leads readers to the Acid Tests; takes them on the Europe ‘72 and spring 1989 tours; grants access to recording sessions; and retraces the steps the band members - all 12 of them - trod as they made their way down, *ahem* so many roads.

Never stooping to sensationalism or peeping-Tom techniques, Browne uncovers heart-rending stories about Pigpen’s slow separation from the band and descent into illness and death; weary recollections of Brent Mydland’s infamous lack of self-confidence and descent into addiction and death; confounding tales of Jerry Garcia’s decades-long transformation and descent into addiction, illness and death; and Bruce Hornsby’s seemingly unlikely, and ultimately, long-running association with the band and its various offshoots.

Browne covers these and other issues with traditional journalism processes and as a result, the stories don’t read so much like salacious tales and/or details about rock-star excesses, but about struggles that a group of imperfect humans faced as they made their way through their chosen path in the Grateful Dead’s world.

The finale, “Epilogue,” brings readers to the Dead’s last go-‘round in 2009 and to the cusp of the band’s 50th anniversary, just before the now-completed Fare Thee Well celebrations/final goodbyes were announced. Though obviously timed to coincide with the festivities, “So Many Roads” doesn’t come off as a rush job. Not at all. Instead, Browne offers an unflinching, but also reverential, look at the band that single-handedly planted the seeds of today’s jam-band scene and the men and women who made up the Grateful Dead and its associated enterprises and devoted their careers - and in some cases their lives - to making it succeed.

Grade card: “So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead” by David Browne - A-

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