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Garcia: An American Life

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  551 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
He was there when Dylan went electric, when a generation danced naked at Woodstock, and when Ken Kesey started experimenting with acid. Jerry Garcia was one of the most gifted musicians of all time, and he was a member of one of the most worshiped rock 'n' roll bands in history. Now, Blair Jackson, who covered the Grateful Dead for twenty-five years, gives us an unparallel ...more
Paperback, 520 pages
Published August 1st 2000 by Penguin Books (first published 1999)
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M. Milner
Mar 25, 2015 M. Milner rated it really liked it
This is a big summer for Grateful Dead fans, both the 20th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death and the 50th anniversary of the band’s formation. It’s no wonder the band is getting back together and playing a few shows – albeit at a rather expensive ticket price.

And in the years since the band’s legacy has changed a bit: people generally look past the troubles of their later years (rough performances, riots among fans, a grueling tour schedule) and focus on the brighter spots. Recent archival re
Dawn Lennon
May 15, 2014 Dawn Lennon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
A well-written biography, especially an extensive one, is a gift and that's the case with Garcia: An American Life. It is thorough and beautifully constructed to chronicle events and to capture the cultural conditions and essence of relationships in Garcia's world.

The power of the book to me was the insights it provided into the genius of a great musician who is so completely given over to his talent for a lifetime. It was fascinating to be absorbed by the extraordinary diversity of musical infl
Travis Haight
Mar 22, 2017 Travis Haight rated it it was amazing
The only reason it took me forever to read this one is because I read several music books before it, including two other Dead books (Long Strange Trip and Phil Lesh's memoir). I am glad that I finally finished it, because it was an amazing, balanced, well-informed but not slanderous book. I was fully expecting there would be nothing but, or mostly hero worship, with the writing supporting that. Another really good music book, and not just for Dead Heads. I love how you get the whole story, and n ...more
Oct 28, 2016 Jon rated it it was amazing
I've been wanting to read this for quite some time now, glad I came across a copy of it at my local library. It's probably the most thorough and thoughtful Dead related book I've read yet, it was great that Blair Jackson had access to so many in his circles.
Robin Martin
May 07, 2014 Robin Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It could be that music is one of those things left that isn't completely devoid of meaning. Talk--like politics--has been made meaningless by the endless repetition of lies. There is no longer any substance in it. You listen to a politician making a speech, and it's like hearing nothing. Whereas music is unmistakably music....Music goes back before language does." JG
Jackson has done a remarkable job weaving this tale of Jerry Garcia so that all of the different threads of the man and the music
Sep 23, 2007 Elyssa rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, music
I borrowed this from Goodreads friend Ethan (thanks!) and it was a great overview of Jerry Garcia and The Garteful Dead. This book is best for serious fans because there are in-depth passages about particular songs that are more meaningful if you know them.

I most appreciated the honest depiction of Jerry Garcia and his addiction, which prevented him from having optimal relationships with fellow bandmates, friends, and family. After reading the specific timeframes of his active drug use and his
Apr 28, 2011 Rick rated it it was amazing
Excellent account of the life of Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia. Was a very complete and insightful account, using lots of first hand information from people in the Dead family who were very close to Jerry. Jerry comes off as a super nice guy, though not a guy who always nurtured his closest relationships---particularly with his wives and children. He was a musical "everyman" though who played and loved many different styles of music and excelled at all of them.

The moral of the story: st
Nov 25, 2014 Fredonia7 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
He was there when Dylan went electric, when a generation danced naked at Woodstock, and when Ken Kesey started experimenting with acid. Jerry Garcia was one of the most gifted musicians of all time, and he was a member of one of the most worshiped rock 'n' roll bands in history. Now, Blair Jackson, who covered the Grateful Dead for twenty-five years, gives us an unparalleled portrait of Garcia--the musical genius, the brilliant songwriter, and ultimately, the tortured soul plagued by his own add ...more
Aug 30, 2011 Rick rated it really liked it
a fine entry into the field of biographies of pop stars. Jackson is an insider in the Dead 'family', and speaks with years of authority and after considerable access. His is a polished, readable, and eminently fascinating account of the one of the great rock guitarists. I'm not sure that Jackson offers anything that will surprise die hard fans, but in some ways that's okay; he has produced the definitive biography in one easily accessible location. Best read while a '69 Dark Star roars in the ba ...more
Dec 26, 2009 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Deadheads
A passionate, insightful, knowledgeable portrait of the leader of the Grateful Dead. Jackson gives a very human, balanced, and detailed account of Jerry's life. Great quotes throughout from Carolyn Adams, John Kahn, and Robert Hunter lend a tone of credibility to a story that has been told by many folks in different ways. allows you to create a soundtrack as you read through the book and experience the evolution of the music as a part of the reading experience - I highly recommend it
Bill Williams
Aug 09, 2012 Bill Williams rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-loved
This is one of the first books I ever read that wasn't in some way, shape, or form mandatory. It really sparked the love of reading I have today and the stories are just amazing. I haven't gone back to it in some time and should probably download it and read it again soon. It was an awesome portrait of Jerry and the band and really makes you feel like you were there with them. The Acid Test parts especially where they mess up the dosage were great.
Mar 03, 2012 Justin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't put this book down. I especially loved the first part of the book, detailing the interrelationships of the musicians during this time. They all played together on an informal basis and knew each other in different lights, but they recorded as seperate acts. What energy was moving through that part of the country that incited such clarity and creativeness, not just in music, but art and philosophy and politics?? and this was before LSD...
King Downy
Oct 27, 2014 King Downy rated it it was amazing
Mr.Jackson's book Garcia: An American Life was truly a great, descriptive book that clearly gives a fun read about one amazing life to look through, like Jerry Garcia. Anybody who is interested in Jerry or the Grateful Dead must read this book. It is one great story about Jerry's life and is very fun to read. Although its a little big, its very much worth it.
Michael Lello
May 17, 2013 Michael Lello rated it it was amazing
Amazing biography, from Garcia's upbringing in San Francisco to his rise to fame and eventual demise. A candid and well-rounded look at the man, including his drug addiction and failure as a husband and father. You don't need to be a Deadhead to enjoy this, but fans of the band will love it, unless they are a Jerry hero worshipper.
Steve Rueffer
Dec 26, 2012 Steve Rueffer rated it liked it
Shelves: music
Like many of the other reviewers, it took me years to finish this book. Some interesting info and insights, but quite a dry read for a guy who lead a pretty interesting life. It does tell the full story, but I'm sure it could have been done with better flair.
Patrick Pressley
Oct 17, 2010 Patrick Pressley rated it really liked it
Well researched and well balanced story of Garcia's life. Probably will only appeal to people who are really into the Dead or Garcia's other projects. It gets pretty detailed and geeky but I liked it alot because I'm into that sort of thing. Inspired me to want to play more music!
Brian Bickersmith
Mar 05, 2010 Brian Bickersmith rated it liked it
took me a few years to really get going with it as i picked it up put it down and picked it up.. it was like so and so did this and so and so did that then so and so did this and that... i got more into it once garcia started playing banjo then guitar...
Jan 15, 2008 Sarn022 rated it really liked it
Much detail. Spans life of Garcia, with first hand accounts from Garcia and those close to him. The 60's guru, leads a movement into the new century, and suffers from the suffocation of fame, the burnout of the road, and the double-edged sword of drug use.
Phil Thoden
Jun 15, 2015 Phil Thoden rated it it was amazing
As he once so beautifully sang, "You gave all you had. Why you wanna give more? The more that you give, the more it will take. To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake."

A musician I am glad to have heard perform dozens of times.
Feb 13, 2009 Erik rated it it was amazing
This was an OUTSTANDING biography, a definitive telling of Garcia's live and times, and of those in the circle around him. It's not often that I regret reaching the end of a book, but this was one of those rare times. Highly recommended!
Jul 25, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, biography
Jackson's is as good a second-person account of Jerry's life as any and if you like Jerry I would go here rather than to McNally for the skimmy. It was entertaining and in-depth. And Jackson kept his ego out of it!
David Ward
Garcia: An American Life by Blair Jackson (Penguin Books 2000)(780.92) is an intimate portrait of the legend by Blair Jackson, who wrote about Garcia for twenty-five years. My rating: 7/10, finished 2001.
Dec 16, 2008 Rob rated it really liked it
The definitive read on the fascinating life that was Jerry Garcia. Blair Jackson nails it. A great read on a great life.
Aug 11, 2008 Steveg rated it liked it
A fine book by a fine writer. Jackson writes from a solid historical perspective, and spends time telling the tales of how certain songs came to be. He surveys the whole scence, despite the title.
Ray Richard
Dec 17, 2016 Ray Richard rated it really liked it
Very well written bio by someone who was there.
Jul 26, 2007 Don marked it as to-read
Shelves: music
This book looks like I've read it, but glancing through, I don't remember anything about the text. And it's just been a few years! Ok, it's on my to-read list.
Kirk Bower
Just ok. Just talked abou the same stuff over and over
Dana Thompson
Fabulous and balanced book about Jerry Garcia. Thoroughly enjoyed it!
Douglas Graney
Aug 20, 2008 Douglas Graney rated it liked it
Not all that different from a Grateful Dead bio but if you're looking for info on the various Jerry Garcia Bands, this is the one to get.
Jul 23, 2012 Ian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book about Jerry. I enjoyed it immensely. I didn't want it to end.
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BLAIR JACKSON penned Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped and wrote and published 27 issues of the acclaimed fanzine The Golden Road. He is also the author of the definitive biography, Garcia: An American Life.
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“Speaking more generally about what attracted him to bluegrass banjo, he said it was 'just the sound of the instrument, and then the fire, you know; the speed and all that. I was attracted by the intensity of it, really. And I was drawn to that incredible clarity-- when something is going along real fast and every note is absolutely clear. That, to me, was really amazing-- the Earl Scruggs instrumentals...' But Garcia refused to commit himself to just one style of music. Though bluegrass became his overriding obsession for about two years, he still dabbled in folk, old-timey and blues whenever the opportunity arose and there were players around.” 3 likes
“Hunter he had these big tins of crushed pineapple that he'd gotten from the army,' Garcia said, 'and i had this glove compartment full of plastic spoons, and we had this little cooperative scene, eating this crushed pineapple day after day and sleeping in the cars and walking around.” 1 likes
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