Not sure what to get your favorite music fiend for Christmas? Sick of gift certificates and CDs he/she most likely has? Well, here's something to keep your local Deadhead glued; a book. Yes, that's right a book, one of those fun little things with pages, words and a story (sorry no pictures). Tiger In A Trance takes place on Dead Tour, but it's not about the Dead, or tour really, it's about growing up and uses the mid 1980s Dead life as the setting for this tale. Now be warned, this isn't for the little guy who loves to listen to daddy's Dick's Picks. There are no dancing bears on the lawn and no Bobby songs to twirl with under the sun. This book (Max Ludington's first novel) is the other side of the Grateful Dead legacy; the drugs, the acid deals, the heroin addiction, the death, the depravity, the party, the girls, the pain, the horror, the narcotic induced revelations, and even some music; yup, it's all here.

From page one we quickly begin to associate with Jason Burke, the book's protagonist. The story unfolds in a very easy manner, so much that it's hard to put this novel down. The fact that the scene is a Grateful Dead show, lot, hotel and tour, only adds to the passion of this book and will surely provide music fans with plenty to hold onto. But where a book about Dead Tour would fail, become predicable and maybe even passé, Tiger In A Trance drifts off into another world. A place where we learn about the character's psychology, about his father who passed away and growing up in different countries. We see the world through the eyes of an 18 year old that is drinking in the universe at a dangerous pace, and for many of us, we relate all to well.

Not only is the story line captivating and the setting familiar, but the style of writing, depth of vision and acute sense of detail make this a wonderful book for anyone who has ever walked the dark side or been curious why so many of us do. While it's not safe to assume any of this, it seems clear that while this is a book of fiction, Ludington has likely danced with the demons we uncover, and you get the sense that most of this is taken from experience. Like most great stories the book paints a complete picture of our lead character Jason. We learn of his childhood, the nuances with his mom, the surprises in her past, the unique woman he falls for, the addiction that cripples him (literally), and the fight to get his life back. This is no glorified account of how great life on the road is or how fun drugs are, Tiger In A Trance serves it up with little sugar, and a lot of dark nasty secrets. Give this to the music fan who stares at the car crash, who cringes at the love ballads and longs for the dark, scary songs of the night. While not as ground breaking or revolutionary as Kerouac's On The Road or Dharma Bums, Tiger In A Trance is very much akin to these epic novels in that it tackles the next generation's trials in life. It grasps the volatile emotions of youth and shows how the difficult task of turning from boy to man can be both beautiful, and horrific.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 12/22/04]

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