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Grateful Dead's Bill Kreutzmann drums up his autobiography

In his new autobiography, Grateful Dead co-founder Bill Kreutzmann celebrates the long, strange trip of his life and times.

IT'S OFTEN said that those who claim to remember the 1960s weren't there. Well, Bill Kreutzmann was there, and he does remember them - or at least some parts thereof. Others, he admitted during a recent phone call, needed some fact-checking during the writing of Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead, released last week by St. Martin's Press.

"The research took a lot of time. [Co-author Benjy Eisen] had to research a lot of information that I gave him. Some information I gave out wasn't exactly [accurate]. We had to change dates and stuff. I couldn't remember that stuff over 30 years, 50 years."

But enough was recalled to create a candid, freewheeling autobiography, the title of which succinctly sums up his life as a founding member (and one of two drummers) of the iconic band whose sonic blueprint was an often-psychedelic blend of rock, country, blues and jazz, and which pretty much single-handedly led to today's jam-band scene.

According to Kreutzmann (pronounced KROYTS-man), who turned 69 last Thursday, the book was a by-popular-demand project.

"I would be telling these stories at parties or after shows . . . and different people would say, 'You have to write these down,' " said the Palo Alto, Calif., native, who nowadays splits his time between San Francisco and Hawaii.

"I started thinking seriously about it 3 1/2 years ago. I had an interview with [Eisen] on Jam Cruise [a music-themed cruise featuring performances and meet-and-greets with genre artists], and he did a really good job. So I interviewed him for the job as my co-writer, and it turned out to be a very smart idea.

"It was just sort of an idea of having all these things happen in your life and I realized, gosh, they're all spread around. It was like, be concise and put them all into [one place]."

Sadly, the tome's subtitle could have borne a fourth "D," for "death," as that has been a thread running through the band's history.

In addition to the 1995 demise of guitarist Jerry Garcia, which resulted in the retirement of the name "Grateful Dead" (for its upcoming shows in Chicago and Santa Clara, Calif., the unit is performing as "The Dead"), keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan died in 1973. He was the first of three Dead keyboardists to pass away while in the band; the others were Keith Godchaux and Brent Mydland.

So, how did Kreutzmann deal with this aspect of his band's story arc?

"You never get used to losing somebody," he said. "If you do, your psychology is not working right. You just have to go through the grief. You have to let the grief do what it's going to do with you."

Kreutzmann, who will sign books tonight at the Barnes & Noble on Rittenhouse Square, acknowledged that writing Deal was a journey of self-realization. He admitted he is quite pleased with what he learned about himself.

"The thing that I mostly discovered in doing this book was the amount of love I have inside of me that I can put into music," he said. "I love to play music. I had no idea how much I loved it. And then you start writing the book and you realize how people enjoy what you do, and it reaffirmed my feeling about playing music."

If there is one takeaway from Kreutzmann's life, it's that he certainly never expected the past 50 years to unfurl in the manner in which they did.

When the Grateful Dead formed in 1965, he said, "The only expectation was the desire to play music as best as we could. We didn't expect to be rock stars, we never expected to get as famous as we did. We never set goals or anything like that.

"The only goal we had . . . was to play music at the highest level possible. I think we did a pretty good job."