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Listening for the Secret

The Grateful Dead and the Politics of Improvisation

Ulf Olsson (Author), Nicholas Meriwether (Editor)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 200 pages
ISBN: 9780520286658
May 2017
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
Listening for the Secret is a critical assessment of the Grateful Dead and the distinct culture that grew out of the group’s music, politics, and performance. With roots in popular music traditions, improvisation, and the avant-garde, the Grateful Dead provides a unique lens through which we can better understand the meaning and creation of the counterculture community. Marshaling the critical and aesthetic theories of Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault and others, Ulf Olsson places the music group within discourses of the political, specifically the band’s capacity to create a unique social environment. Analyzing the Grateful Dead’s music as well as the forms of subjectivity and practices that the band generated, Olsson examines the wider significance and impact of its politics of improvisation. Ultimately, Listening for the Secret is about how the Grateful Dead Phenomenon was possible in the first place, what its social and aesthetic conditions of possibility were, and its results.

This is the first book in a new series, Studies in the Grateful Dead.
Series Foreword

1. Popular Avant-Garde? Renegotiating Tradition
2. Wave That Flag: An Apolitical Band
3. Crashes in Space: Aspects of Improvisation
Coda: Listening for the Secret

Ulf Olsson is Professor of Comparative Literature at Stockholm University.
"...presents a complex but rounded picture of a band that was both deeply traditional yet genuinely avant-garde, fiercely independent yet—at least in its latter years—undeniably mainstream, apolitical yet politically challenging."—All About Jazz
"Scholars and cerebral Deadheads alike will be delighted by Ulf Olsson’s acid test: he subjects the Grateful Dead to a barrage of Big Ideas and determines that the band passes with its freak flag flying high. A must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the improvisatory possibilities of the countercultural cast of mind."—David Farber, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor, University of Kansas

"A splendid account of the music of the Grateful Dead as a form of improvisation that remains both in and out of dominant culture, weathering all politics, all setbacks and defeats, with equal tenacity."—Wai Chee Dimock, Professor of English and American Studies, Yale University, and editor of PMLA

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