On June 19th, a new book on the Grateful Dead will be released titled Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter Of The Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip. While numerous books have been written on the Grateful Dead—ranging from near-academic chronological accounts of the band’s long-storied history to highly specific tomes dedicated to single shows—Fare Thee Well sets itself apart, diving deep into the frequently turbulent relationships among the surviving members of the band following Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995.
Written by Joel Selvin, a noted music critic who came to fame with his weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Fare Thee Well holds nothing back in detailing the frequently messy lives of and in-fighting among the surviving Grateful Dead members from 1995 up to the Grateful Dead’s final, historic Fare Thee Well concerts in 2015. With a focus on Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, the book’s approach is specific yet expansive, tracking other key figures in the extended Grateful Dead family as they weave in and out of the Core Four’s post-Jerry lives.
As a fan of the Grateful Dead, in all honesty, the book can be difficult to get through; it shows our musical heroes from the storied band at their sometimes-best but frequently worst, leaning into all the messy details and drama that plagued the Grateful Dead following Jerry’s death. If Amir Bar-Lev’s recently released documentary, Long Strange Trip, implied that Deadhead’s god-like reverence of Jerry Garcia played a hand in the drug addiction that finally did him in, Fare Thee Well refuses to let readers see the surviving members of the band as anything but truly and deeply human.
The tales told in the book range from feel-good to hauntingly sad, cringe-y to enraging. Perhaps most interestingly, the book establishes early on the moral code that the Grateful Dead adhered to while Garcia was alive—the all-for-one mentality and the band’s strict adherence to a code of silence when it came to the personal relations among the band—and slowly shows how many of these chief principals decayed with Jerry’s loss. As a reader, this is inherently guilt-inducing: knowing that the band at one point wanted to keep these secrets close to their sleeves, then reading through a 268-page book laying out all the dirt for fans to consume.
In fact, Selvin recognizes this in the acknowledgments section of the book,
Even all these years later, the remnants of the band’s code of silence remain. People around the musicians continue to be reluctant to openly discuss personal matters or band politics. Many declined the opportunity. Most of the people would have likely demurred had it not been for long-standing personal relations.
While the acknowledgments offer a rundown of well-known figures close to the Grateful Dead, it seems as though only Bobby and Mickey spoke to Selvin for the book. That said, Fare Thee Well seems well-researched, though it’s difficult to tell how much contributors’ long-standing resentments have shadowed the “truth” of the book.
It seems glaringly obvious throughout that Phil Lesh and his wife, Jill, had very little if anything to do with the project. The writing on them is unforgiving, and Lesh frequently plays the antagonist in Fare Thee Well, with him and his wife depicted as egotistical, combative, unfair, and, at many points, cruel. While it’s likely that they were menaces at points in the years after Jerry’s death, it’s interesting to see how the book is so quick to vilify them.
While many passages go deep into the various terrible things the Leshes exacted on the other members of the band—and this is not to defend some of their actions, because they range from annoying (declaring themselves the only ones capable of carrying on the Grateful Dead’s spirit) to despicable (Jill Lesh yelling at a backup singer on tour in front of her child that the singer will always be a nobody)—one wonders what is lost by not having the Leshes’s perspectives on certain situations.
At one point late in the book, after paragraphs have been dedicated to outlining various fights between the Leshes and other members of the band, in less than a sentence, Selvin offers why Phil and Bill Kreutzmann had such an on-going tense, if not bad, relationship: Phil always held onto the fact that Bill Kreutzmann had drunkenly groped his wife’s breasts backstage at a show. That incident is glossed over, shockingly so in the era of #metoo, and never referenced again outside that one sentence—highlighting how eager the book is to find the bad guy without contextualizing the various hurts they might have experienced.
However, the book is more than a collection of accusations levied against the Grateful Dead bassist. There are charming stories, like a brotherly fight between Mickey and Bobby, with spaghetti central to the fight itself and the way the two lovingly made up the next day. There are stories that are so terrible it’s almost funny, like Bob Weir unceremoniously using a hose to spray Jerry Garcia’s ashes off the side of a boat during an ash-spreading ceremony gone truly awry (“You’ve got to get it all in the water!” he tells those on the boat). There are stories that are truly devastating, like most passages with Vince Welnick, who is a hauntingly sad presence throughout Fare Thee Well.
Overall, Joel Selvin’s Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter Of The Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip is a captivating and fairly comprehensive summary of the Core Four’s years after Jerry Garcia’s death. It’s not necessarily a pretty read—it can brutal at points—but if anything, it will make readers so grateful for the Fare Thee Well shows and that we have been able to see the four of them performing altogether, knowing that will never happen again.
You can read a description of Joel Selvin’s upcoming book on the members of the Grateful Dead and their lives after Jerry below. You can also pre-order the book, which is due out on June 19th, via Barnes & Noble.
The Grateful Dead rose to greatness under the inspired leadership of guitarist Jerry Garcia, but the band very nearly died along with him. When Garcia passed away suddenly in August of 1995, the remaining band members experienced full crises of confidence and identity. So long defined by Garcia’s vision for the group, the surviving “Core Four,” as they came to be called, were reduced to conflicting agendas, strained relationships, and catastrophic business decisions that would leave the iconic band in shambles. Wrestling with how best to define their living legacy, the band made many attempts at restructuring, but it would take twenty years before relationships were mended enough for the Grateful Dead as fans remembered them to once again take the stage.
Acclaimed music journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joel Selvin was there for much of the turmoil following Garcia’s death, and he’ll offer a behind-the-scenes account of the ebbs and flows that occurred during the ensuing two decades. Plenty of books have been written about the rise of the Grateful Dead, but this final chapter of the band’s history has never before been explored in detail. Culminating in the landmark tour bearing the same name, Fare Thee Well charts the arduous journey from Garcia’s passing all the way up to the uneasy agreement between the Core Four that led to the series of shows celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary and finally allowing for a proper, and joyous, sendoff of the group revered by so many.