Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of The Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip
by Joel Selvin with Pamela Turley
De Capo Press
When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, it marked the end of the Grateful Dead. What the “Core Four” – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann – did next is the subject of this sobering and illuminating volume.
Sobering because, much like Garcia’s long-time roadie Steve Parish’s 2003 book, Home Before Daylight, which showed us how Garcia’s long-time addiction to heroin robbed him (and selfishly, us) from the full measure of his talent, Selvin and Turley’s Fare Thee Well shows us how the remaining members abandoned the hippie code that kept the Dead afloat and successful for years. Garcia quipped at one point – “Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us” – and it turns out, it had to be him. While Garcia was alive, the band was able to become one of the world’s most profitable touring groups, despite not having new records to promote (namely because of Phil Lesh’s reluctance to studio recording), but once he died, it all went to hell.
From estate issues concerning Garcia’s will and his two Doug Irwin guitars, as well as his wish to provide for his first wife, Mountain Girl once he passed (over the objections of his last wife, Koons-Garcia) caused a split among the faithful, and the end of the group’s democratic union. No longer would decisions be made “all for one, one for all”. Lesh and his wife Jill began to clash with Bob Weir, whose addiction to painkillers and white wine rendered him unable to fully function, although he stayed on the road, touring, in what seemed to be a long escape from reality.
Over the years the four would reunite, either with “Phil Lesh and Friends” or Weir’s “Ratdog”, finally performing a series of shows as The Dead, ending up at Chicago’s Soldier field (the site of the last Garcia Dead show 20 years before) with “Fare Thee Well” in 2015. You get the feeling the four will never play together again, in any formal fashion. Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann, along with John Mayer are on the road as “Dead & Company”, while Lesh performs at his Terrapin Crossroads bar, happy to be off the road and away from the madness that the band seemed to foster.
You come away from reading Fare Thee Well somewhat conflicted. As a fan, you are gladdened to see the remaining members overcome their grief and ill will to continue to create music, for their own sake. More power to them. But as this book so clearly shows, whatever made the Grateful Dead special died along with Jerry Garcia, and frankly, anything after that is just merchandising. The Dead is gone. Long live the Dead.