Get Shown the Light: Improvisation and Transcendence in the Music of the Grateful Dead

Duke Univ. Nov. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781478024972. pap. $28.95. MUSIC
Kaler (STREAM, Univ. of Toronto Mississauga; Flora Tells a Story) is not the first scholar to discuss the Grateful Dead within a religious context, but he’s seemingly the first to discuss this aspect of their music from the band’s perspective. His thesis is that the Dead essentially functioned as a religion. As evidence, he presents inconsistently reliable statements from band members. Close to three-quarters of the book is devoted to the Dead’s music and their improvisatory practice, which the band believed helped them achieve their spiritual goals to be transcendent. Kaler is better skilled with that material than with the ethnomusicology and religious content that comprise the other quarter of the book. Overall, this reads more like a series of articles about the Grateful Dead, improvisatory music, and religious experience, and not as a book with a fully worked out and integrated argument.
VERDICT For Grateful Dead scholars only.
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