History walked off the page for students in Associate Dean Chip Capraro’s First Year Seminar recently, as Dennis McNally, publicist and chronicler of the Grateful Dead stopped in to visit, sharing his experiences on the road with one of rock music’s legendary acts.
The class, which applies gender studies theory to the biographies of famous musicians, is studying the nature of masculinity through the eyes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Springsteen and Kurt Cobain. McNally’s own experiences helped students contextualize and understand the life of Garcia and the role that rock music plays in American culture. “The students really responded to it,” Capraro said. “It made things come alive.”
McNally was in Geneva with RatDog, a band headed by Bob Weir, formerly of the Dead, who played to a sold out crowd at the Smith Opera House the same week.
A scholar and writer, McNally is best known for his book “A Long Strange Trip: The History of the Grateful Dead.” McNally began studying the history and culture of the band in the early 1980s at Garcia’s request. As their relationship became closer, the Grateful Dead hired McNally as their publicist in 1984.
McNally attended St. Lawrence University and then received his masters and doctorate in American history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His dissertation, a biography of Jack Kerouac, was published by Random House in 1979 as “Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America.”