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Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia

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Weaving together close to 70 interviews with Jerry Garcia's wives, family, friends, fellow musicians, and other well-known figures in the Grateful Dead scene, Dark Star brings to life one of the most influential and enduring stars in American music. It sheds new light on Garcia's childhood in San Francisco, the formation of his musical identity, the Dead's road to rock sta Weaving together close to 70 interviews with Jerry Garcia's wives, family, friends, fellow musicians, and other well-known figures in the Grateful Dead scene, Dark Star brings to life one of the most influential and enduring stars in American music. It sheds new light on Garcia's childhood in San Francisco, the formation of his musical identity, the Dead's road to rock stardom, and his final, crushing addiction to heroin.At once an evocative chronicle of Garcia's public and private journey and a fascinating look at why his music and his lifestyle had such a tremendous impact on so many, Dark Star is the full, behind-the-scenes story of the making of all icon, and the price of fame.


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Weaving together close to 70 interviews with Jerry Garcia's wives, family, friends, fellow musicians, and other well-known figures in the Grateful Dead scene, Dark Star brings to life one of the most influential and enduring stars in American music. It sheds new light on Garcia's childhood in San Francisco, the formation of his musical identity, the Dead's road to rock sta Weaving together close to 70 interviews with Jerry Garcia's wives, family, friends, fellow musicians, and other well-known figures in the Grateful Dead scene, Dark Star brings to life one of the most influential and enduring stars in American music. It sheds new light on Garcia's childhood in San Francisco, the formation of his musical identity, the Dead's road to rock stardom, and his final, crushing addiction to heroin.At once an evocative chronicle of Garcia's public and private journey and a fascinating look at why his music and his lifestyle had such a tremendous impact on so many, Dark Star is the full, behind-the-scenes story of the making of all icon, and the price of fame.

30 review for Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stacie

    Inspired by a recent trip to San Francisco where we stayed several days in a cozy apartment just blocks from 710 Ashbury, it seemed only necessary to read once again about one of my favorite musicians of all time. Although there were key voices missing from this oral biography that could have helped paint a fuller picture, Dark Star is a great reminder of the light that this American icon brought - and continues to bring through his music - to so many lives. Not all of it is pretty, but he had a Inspired by a recent trip to San Francisco where we stayed several days in a cozy apartment just blocks from 710 Ashbury, it seemed only necessary to read once again about one of my favorite musicians of all time. Although there were key voices missing from this oral biography that could have helped paint a fuller picture, Dark Star is a great reminder of the light that this American icon brought - and continues to bring through his music - to so many lives. Not all of it is pretty, but he had an undeniable gift. Hard to imagine how difficult it must have been conducting these interviews just three months after Jerry's death. I know I'll always remember the exact moment when I heard that he died. And no matter how many years go by, his music will always cut right to the heart.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I liked that this was not a book of one person's opinions, but rather a collection of thoughts from people who were all part of Jerry's life. A little painful to read; when you put someone up on a pedestal it's hard to believe their feet are made of clay. I liked that this was not a book of one person's opinions, but rather a collection of thoughts from people who were all part of Jerry's life. A little painful to read; when you put someone up on a pedestal it's hard to believe their feet are made of clay.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    I quite enjoyed the hundreds of personal comments and accounts of the Great Jerry Garcia: "The Emperor," as Yen-wei Choong called him. More importantly, I appreciated the brutal honesty of those who knew him so well. Unfortunately, so many of those close to him were left out (or opted out) in a very painfully obvious way. The members of that little band called the Grateful Dead were almost entirely absent. I think they might have had a word or two with that Garcia guy. Billy and Mickey are still I quite enjoyed the hundreds of personal comments and accounts of the Great Jerry Garcia: "The Emperor," as Yen-wei Choong called him. More importantly, I appreciated the brutal honesty of those who knew him so well. Unfortunately, so many of those close to him were left out (or opted out) in a very painfully obvious way. The members of that little band called the Grateful Dead were almost entirely absent. I think they might have had a word or two with that Garcia guy. Billy and Mickey are still alive and could have participated if they felt this project worthy. Phil Lesh already wrote a pretty extensive book himself, so I'm sure that is what excused him from the process. Bob Weir? To be honest, I couldn't care less what his excuse is. He wrote the foreward? Well ... it WAS a sorry excuse. Secondly, Steve Parish was given a lot of tongue-in-cheek and flat out blatant grief from Jerry's friends and family. Seen as an over-protector and/or a well-intentioned enabler. He does not seem to answer back, but I also imagine he was pleading Phil Lesh's excuse. Parish wrote a book as well, so that may have been his defense. Finally, the Yoko Ono of the Grateful Dead world: Deborah Koons. She is not necessarily mentioned much in this book, but there have been enough external accounts by those who have felt absolutely no love for Jerry's last legal wife, I find it hard to believe this is the best we have got. It seems almost none of Jerry's loved ones trusted her. And I guess Deborah did not trust a book like Greenfield's, where those who thought ill of her could proudly display their distaste for everyone to see. Her defense is absent ... although I have a feeling that the fans (myself included) don't really wanna hear it anyhow. We have generally all reached a verdict without her testimony. I could not put the book down, and it certainly gave me a more intricate picture of this incredible man. However, stars were lost for key figures not having weighed in when they, more often than not, had a closer look than so many others. So Many Roads ...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeb

    A biography of the iconic guitarist of the Grateful Dead as told by friends, lovers and family. The book does a wonderful job of weaving together tales by those that knew him and paints a picture of a gifted artist and deeply flawed human being. Anyone that has a glossy image of Jerry Garcia will come face to face with his troubled personal life and addictions. It's not all dark; there are many stories of his early days that show Garcia as an up-and-coming banjo player and his turn to jug band mu A biography of the iconic guitarist of the Grateful Dead as told by friends, lovers and family. The book does a wonderful job of weaving together tales by those that knew him and paints a picture of a gifted artist and deeply flawed human being. Anyone that has a glossy image of Jerry Garcia will come face to face with his troubled personal life and addictions. It's not all dark; there are many stories of his early days that show Garcia as an up-and-coming banjo player and his turn to jug band music that eventually morphed, strange as it sounds, into The Grateful Dead. One story tells of The Grateful Dead (then The Warlocks) playing behind a stripper at a burlesque house. For fans of Garcia, this is a fascinating book that takes the man off his pedestal and shows him simply as human as the rest of us.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lysergius

    Dark Star reveals Jerry Garcia through the eyes of those closest to him: the ex-wives and lovers who lost him to the road, the close friends who watched him battle a long-running heroin habit, the children of fellow members of the Grateful Dead and the musicians who looked up to him as a guru. Together these voices present a striking portrait of a compelling artist - psychedelic guru, addict, outlaw, and rock'n'roll icon. This is an interesting approach to biography, and it produces a pleasing mu Dark Star reveals Jerry Garcia through the eyes of those closest to him: the ex-wives and lovers who lost him to the road, the close friends who watched him battle a long-running heroin habit, the children of fellow members of the Grateful Dead and the musicians who looked up to him as a guru. Together these voices present a striking portrait of a compelling artist - psychedelic guru, addict, outlaw, and rock'n'roll icon. This is an interesting approach to biography, and it produces a pleasing multi-faceted view of the subject.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John Wallace

    Great perspective into Jerry's life. Key participants are missing, however. Would have been better if other members of the Dead and Steve Parish had participated. Great perspective into Jerry's life. Key participants are missing, however. Would have been better if other members of the Dead and Steve Parish had participated.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Squitiro

    Really fantastic book! There’s a backstory to this review: My husband was mayor of a large city, so I have the most minuscule taste of what it’s like to be recognized on the street. Little nothing me helped run his grassroots campaign. And because he was a populist, I could actually feel the prayers of those who wanted him in office. Now, for the review: I was moved by many things in this biography, but my favorite passage came from Randy Baker. “The most likely way for Jerry to die would have been Really fantastic book! There’s a backstory to this review: My husband was mayor of a large city, so I have the most minuscule taste of what it’s like to be recognized on the street. Little nothing me helped run his grassroots campaign. And because he was a populist, I could actually feel the prayers of those who wanted him in office. Now, for the review: I was moved by many things in this biography, but my favorite passage came from Randy Baker. “The most likely way for Jerry to die would have been from something sudden. I think he might have been able to rally and recuperate from anything that was lingering, in part because of the number of people who would pray for him when he was ill.” I believe Baker is spot on. More, I sure hope that our beloved Jerry Garcia was ready to cross over – and I sure hope the reports are correct that he had a smile on his face when he did. That would make me feel so much better, especially considering all the joy and comfort that I am still bestowed with from his soul having been on this earth. Thanks, Mr. Greenfield for a wonderful read. Wishing you all things wonderful. Gloria Squitiro: A First Lady of Kanas City and author of May Cause Drowsiness and Blurred Vision: The Side Effects of Bravery

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark Nenadov

    Garcia was a man of immense talent and magnetism, who ultimately destroyed himself.. but not in an instant as many stars have, but slowly. This was an OK read but I think it didn’t live up to its potential. It’s a really neat concept, build a biography through anecdotes shared from people who surrounded the person. The approach certainly gives a layered view and prevents one slant from easily dominating the narrative. As unique and compelling as it is in that sense the result was a bit underwhel Garcia was a man of immense talent and magnetism, who ultimately destroyed himself.. but not in an instant as many stars have, but slowly. This was an OK read but I think it didn’t live up to its potential. It’s a really neat concept, build a biography through anecdotes shared from people who surrounded the person. The approach certainly gives a layered view and prevents one slant from easily dominating the narrative. As unique and compelling as it is in that sense the result was a bit underwhelming in some senses. At times there was a fair bit of a tabloid vibe. I found it odd that so little of the content came from those who performed with Garcia for 30 years (nothing from Phil Leah, for instance, and very little If anything from the others) and yet tons of space is devoted to the children of his fellow band members. It may that the band members were unwilling to talk, but I still see it as a flaw in composition. Reading this you definitely get a feel for Garcia both at his best and his scraping-the-bottom worst, warts and all, for all this book’s flaws it does give a very nuanced, textured look at an enigmatic and complicated musician. Side note: John Perry Barlow refers to Thomas Aquinas In one of his anecdotes. Didn’t see that one coming!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Allan Heron

    Interesting but ultimately unsatisfying oral biography of Garcia. It rather assumes a wider knowledge of his music as this is only covered in the most tangential of ways. As such, there's no context to underpin the tale being told by those who knew him, or to get a sense of why he was so loved. As it is, why he was so loved will leave the less-interested reader somewhat bemused. Interesting but ultimately unsatisfying oral biography of Garcia. It rather assumes a wider knowledge of his music as this is only covered in the most tangential of ways. As such, there's no context to underpin the tale being told by those who knew him, or to get a sense of why he was so loved. As it is, why he was so loved will leave the less-interested reader somewhat bemused.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    What a wonderful way to learn about Jerry Garcia's life! The interview transcripts were clipped and organized nicely to give an intimate look at the development of his musical career and personal flaws. As well-done as this oral biography is, it would have been better to have more voices from the other band members, since it's clear that they were a really insular group (for better or worse). What a wonderful way to learn about Jerry Garcia's life! The interview transcripts were clipped and organized nicely to give an intimate look at the development of his musical career and personal flaws. As well-done as this oral biography is, it would have been better to have more voices from the other band members, since it's clear that they were a really insular group (for better or worse).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ross Warner

    Robert Greenfield also wrote an excellent book on the Stones' 1972 Exile tour. This was great as was his book on Bill Graham. It's not easy to include the right quotes to tell a story via oral history and Greenfield nails it. Robert Greenfield also wrote an excellent book on the Stones' 1972 Exile tour. This was great as was his book on Bill Graham. It's not easy to include the right quotes to tell a story via oral history and Greenfield nails it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melodie Griffin

    An amazing collection of interviews that account for Jerry Garcia's life. It gave details that showed the good, bad, and ugly. An amazing collection of interviews that account for Jerry Garcia's life. It gave details that showed the good, bad, and ugly.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Amazing

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chrissy Bell

    Great stories from the past. A commentary of the time, and of Jerry's reach in the music industry. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Great stories from the past. A commentary of the time, and of Jerry's reach in the music industry. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    Apparently an "Oral Biography" is a collection of interview snippets, where the "author" has put them into more or less chronological order. In some ways, it feels like a cheap way to get out a book with a minimal amount of work by the author. On the other hand, if the subject is interesting, or the people who are doing the talking are interesting, then it can be enjoyable. And this book basically was. To answer the old question about who, of anyone, I would like to be able to meet and have dinne Apparently an "Oral Biography" is a collection of interview snippets, where the "author" has put them into more or less chronological order. In some ways, it feels like a cheap way to get out a book with a minimal amount of work by the author. On the other hand, if the subject is interesting, or the people who are doing the talking are interesting, then it can be enjoyable. And this book basically was. To answer the old question about who, of anyone, I would like to be able to meet and have dinner with, I would for years have answered Jerry Garcia. This book hasn't changed my mind on that, but it probably changed my expectations a little. It would be hard for me to say how deep an influence he has been on me, how much I admired him (and still do), and how mad it made me when he died. When Pigpen was sick, there was an interview with Garcia where he basically said that Pigpen had been given an opportunity. He was now in a situation where he could chose to live or die, and Garcia believed that he would chose life. Of course, he was wrong about that. Even worse, nothing could be clearer than that Garcia was put into the same situation himself, with the same end. It was always hard for me to accept that, on some level, Garcia chose death. As for the book, I would have liked it more if the band had contributed to it, and others who are notoriously absent from the list of "voices." I would have liked it a lot more if it had focused on the music, the song-writing, etc... Instead, it tends to focus, like so many rock bios, on the drugs and the gossip. The band members have basically small cameos in this view of his life, and that makes me think that this is a pretty limited, and probably distorted view. And yet, there is quite a bit about this book that I liked. Because of the format, we get a kaleidoscopic and sometimes contradictory view of events. This can be annoying, but it also adds a kind of depth. It also allows for some very fun, and some very sad, stories. The big revelation for me here was Merl Saunders, who I like the best of all of the "voices." He's another guy I would like to get to know, and I loved his accounts both of his time in the early 70s playing with Garcia, and then later of the time he spent with Garcia after the coma. I will leave it at that. Garcia is a subject that I could talk about forever and still not get to the bottom of how I feel about him. I'm glad I read this book, despite its manifest flaws.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Surprisingly readable for a book made up of hundreds of interviews, with no narrative intervention - a real testament out Greenfield's abilities as an editor and interviewer. This book was great, actually, but must be understood for what it is - an extremely subjective approach to biography, with almost no input from the subject himself, Jerry Garcia. That's a huge grain of salt that you must hold in your hand the entire time that you are reading this book. Also missing are many other voices - pe Surprisingly readable for a book made up of hundreds of interviews, with no narrative intervention - a real testament out Greenfield's abilities as an editor and interviewer. This book was great, actually, but must be understood for what it is - an extremely subjective approach to biography, with almost no input from the subject himself, Jerry Garcia. That's a huge grain of salt that you must hold in your hand the entire time that you are reading this book. Also missing are many other voices - people who have passed away, people who refused to be interviewed, etc. if you have little knowledge of the Dead, Garcia's life, or the political and cultural context of the time, you could walk away with a very skewed understanding of Garcia. That said, you get such a rich sense of Garcia's personality, ambitions, and approach to life and music from this roster of friends and loved ones. What a collection of reminiscences. I have to say, despite the fact that Greenfield and virtually all of the interviewees loved him and respected him, I put the book down really disliking Garcia as a person. Man, he was a supremely bad father and husband.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily Ballard

    I devoured this book. I wouldn't classify myself as a dead head, but a dead fan. I have been a fan of music from this time and the "scene" associated with it. This book was written in a weird fashion is the only reason I gave it 4 and not 5 stars. Its written in oral form of interviews from several people in chronological order of his life. I got used to it, but didn't particularly love it. I loved reading about the early drug use of psychedelics and the things that were gong on during that time I devoured this book. I wouldn't classify myself as a dead head, but a dead fan. I have been a fan of music from this time and the "scene" associated with it. This book was written in a weird fashion is the only reason I gave it 4 and not 5 stars. Its written in oral form of interviews from several people in chronological order of his life. I got used to it, but didn't particularly love it. I loved reading about the early drug use of psychedelics and the things that were gong on during that time. It was sad to read about the evolutionary track of Jerry's drug use that ended up in heroin and ultimately taking his life. I loved the book and love Jerry more for reading it, even though he was a shitty husband and father.....

  18. 5 out of 5

    Niklas

    I wasn't going to read this, but then I thought I'd just peruse it before I returned it and then I was hooked. Being an oral history it's just that-recorded conversations. Many persons who knew JG speak of him during different eras of his life. I picked it up right in the early seventies which is my favorite Grateful dead period. His wife, managers, members of the Jerry Garcia band, and New Riders of the Purple Sage and many others all chime in about what their relationship to Jerry was and what I wasn't going to read this, but then I thought I'd just peruse it before I returned it and then I was hooked. Being an oral history it's just that-recorded conversations. Many persons who knew JG speak of him during different eras of his life. I picked it up right in the early seventies which is my favorite Grateful dead period. His wife, managers, members of the Jerry Garcia band, and New Riders of the Purple Sage and many others all chime in about what their relationship to Jerry was and what they were up to. Fascinating (to me). Also a sad tale of addiction....

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roz Milner

    Garcia was a complex guy; he was one of the most talented musicians of his generation, yet he never really craved the spotlight. He had problems with food, drugs and women, but how much of that can one attribute to his watching his father drown as a small child? To having a finger cut off by his brother? Greenfield ultimately paints a picture of a man devoted to his craft who succumbs to escapism: heroin, binge eating, yes-men who allow him to live a life of excess and constantly moving from lov Garcia was a complex guy; he was one of the most talented musicians of his generation, yet he never really craved the spotlight. He had problems with food, drugs and women, but how much of that can one attribute to his watching his father drown as a small child? To having a finger cut off by his brother? Greenfield ultimately paints a picture of a man devoted to his craft who succumbs to escapism: heroin, binge eating, yes-men who allow him to live a life of excess and constantly moving from lover to lover, leaving a train wreck of ex-wifes and children in his wake.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I enjoy that this book is not written in the traditional style of a biography. A story told by one person, usually based on second hand knowledge from someone close to the person, who from just what is generally known. This is a compliation of fond memories from the people that knew Jerry the best. From friends to family, you get a sense of who he really was by hearing it in the words of his loved ones.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia by Robert Greenfield (William Morrow & Co. 1996) (Biography). This biography consists of interviews with over seventy of Jerry's friends, companions, and contemporaries. This book contains new insights into the legend. My rating: 7.5/10, finished 2010. Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia by Robert Greenfield (William Morrow & Co. 1996) (Biography). This biography consists of interviews with over seventy of Jerry's friends, companions, and contemporaries. This book contains new insights into the legend. My rating: 7.5/10, finished 2010.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    The content of this book was good, but the format frustrated me about 15 percent of the way in. It reads like a transcript of a documentary but without narration and segues. So without faces and voices to accompany these friends of Jerry's as they tell their stories, that got old real fast. Die-hard fans would appreciate it more, regardless of the format. The content of this book was good, but the format frustrated me about 15 percent of the way in. It reads like a transcript of a documentary but without narration and segues. So without faces and voices to accompany these friends of Jerry's as they tell their stories, that got old real fast. Die-hard fans would appreciate it more, regardless of the format.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bill Glover

    No, I wasn't going to read this back in high school when so many kids were trying to out Deadhead each other. But it was interesting and quick bathroom reading for Gathering of the Vibes weekend. Once in a while cranking some really good live Dead makes me feel like it's '94 and I'm cutting class with Juice. Freedom and dizziness. No, I wasn't going to read this back in high school when so many kids were trying to out Deadhead each other. But it was interesting and quick bathroom reading for Gathering of the Vibes weekend. Once in a while cranking some really good live Dead makes me feel like it's '94 and I'm cutting class with Juice. Freedom and dizziness.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I found the format of this book hard to read at first, since it is comprised of blocks of text from separate interviews without any transition. But after you get going the stories begin to weave together and it becomes a very mesmerizing, although at times hard to stomach, account of Jerry Garcia's life. I found the format of this book hard to read at first, since it is comprised of blocks of text from separate interviews without any transition. But after you get going the stories begin to weave together and it becomes a very mesmerizing, although at times hard to stomach, account of Jerry Garcia's life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joe Rodeck

    The first half is mostly acid. The second half is mostly Garcia's physical decline. Awful book. It's obvious that most rock and roll cognocenti--execs, producers, musicians, critics and fans--smelt a rat when this author came around with his mike trying to make a quick buck. So you get mostly ex-girlfriends who say things like "That's just Jerry." The first half is mostly acid. The second half is mostly Garcia's physical decline. Awful book. It's obvious that most rock and roll cognocenti--execs, producers, musicians, critics and fans--smelt a rat when this author came around with his mike trying to make a quick buck. So you get mostly ex-girlfriends who say things like "That's just Jerry."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ilene Richards

    As a life-long Deadhead, I continually read everything I can find by and about the Grateful Dead.DARK STAR is a series of conversations with people who knew Jerry very well. It was published in 1996, just a year after he died...And the book pulls no punches. Read it

  27. 4 out of 5

    Zachariah

    A multi-faceted insight into this inscrutable man. Quintessential rock star life of introverted drive to perfect artistic abilities tempered with a reckless abandon to drug-gluttony, philandery, and buddha-like eschewment of judgement.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    They don't come more demystifying than "Dark Star." There are lots and lots of otherwise untold anecdotes & first-hand perspectives, but they come at the price of reading the most depressing of all possible tellings of Jerry Garcia's life story. Forget about the music, abandon hope, etc., etc.. They don't come more demystifying than "Dark Star." There are lots and lots of otherwise untold anecdotes & first-hand perspectives, but they come at the price of reading the most depressing of all possible tellings of Jerry Garcia's life story. Forget about the music, abandon hope, etc., etc..

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Pappageorge

    I learned so many new things about Jerry and his relationships, his musical history from the stories and memories told by his friends and family. Very interesting read, especially if you are a fan of Jerry Garcia.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    What a piece of crap. To me, an "oral history" is just a lazy excuse for not bring able to write a real book. This garbage reads like 356 pages of Facebook statuses. Waaaay too much time spent on Jerry's heroin addiction and not nearly enough on his musical genius. What a piece of crap. To me, an "oral history" is just a lazy excuse for not bring able to write a real book. This garbage reads like 356 pages of Facebook statuses. Waaaay too much time spent on Jerry's heroin addiction and not nearly enough on his musical genius.

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