Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog — Education or Indoctrination?

By Blair Jackson

Last week we talked about the sometimes onerous and unpleasant task of trying to turn friends on to the Grateful Dead. The consensus seemed to be that it’s often not worth the effort, and that maybe it’s better to let folks find the Dead on their own. Quitters! (Just kidding.)

But what about our children? This is a trickier area. Parents have an enormous impact on their kids in nearly every way imaginable, including the music they expose them to.

As a kid growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s, most of the records I was exposed to by my parents on the sleek black mono hi-fi in our living room were either Broadway cast albums or comedy records. By the time I was 10, I could sing you almost every song from My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The Pajama Game (my favorite), Fiorello, Camelot, Oklahoma and various others. My father had been a fan of big-band swing, but we didn’t have any records of that kind of music, for some reason. But he did love the stirring soundtrack for the World War II documentary series Victory at Sea (fantastic music by Richard Rodgers) and we had a couple of albums of college fight songs and an Edith Piaf record or two and one by the beautiful French chanteuse Francoise Hardy, which I never heard but used to stare at longingly—“Ah, ma cherie!” We had a handful of classical records, too, which I ignored until my teenage years. As for the comedy records, the whole family dug Allen Sherman’s clever parodies of familiar tunes, the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the dry wit of Bob Newhart, and anything political—rare was the household in the early ’60s that didn’t own The First Family, Vaughn Meader’s hilarious send-up of the Kennedy White House.

By the early ’60s, my older brother and I had branched off into the pop music of the day—including teen sensations such as Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker and Bobby Darin—and by the time The Beatles hit in ’64 (I was living in Rome, Italy that year), we were long past being influenced by our parents’ tastes. (That said, I listened to Broadway albums all through high school, at the same time I was getting into Hendrix and Cream, and I still remember many songs from those records.)

Fast forward a few decades. My wife, Regan, and I met in the late ’70s working at a rock ’n’ roll magazine (BAM), and we went to many hundreds of concerts and club shows together over the nine years we were married before we had our first child, in October ’90, including around 215 Dead shows during that period. Our favorite weekend pastime in the pre-kid years was driving the back roads of Marin and Sonoma and Contra Costa counties listening to Dead tapes. Our nights were spent working on our fanzine, The Golden Road (and listening to more tapes).

Once we had a little one, we tried hard to continue our carefree vagabond lifestyle, and we succeeded for a while. Little Kyle liked driving around and he also didn’t mind listening to Dead tapes. After a point we also dropped some Disney tapes into the mix, which I had no problem with, since they consisted of old folk songs I’d listened to as a kid and classic songs from Disney films old and recent. We had our daughter, Hayley, three years after Kyle was born, and she was also a mellow car traveler who had no objection to our playing Dead tunes. However, we did start to become a little more selective about what Grateful Dead we played in the car, leaning heavily on shows that contained plenty of melodic rock songs and usually skipping through “Drums” and “Space.” Let me tell you, there aren’t many things cuter than a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old singing along with “Fire on the Mountain” and “The Wheel” from their car seats. I never felt like I was indoctrinating them; merely sharing this music we loved with them.

“Hey, can I get a little more bass
in these things? I can barely hear Phil!”

As the kids got a bit older, they began to crave other music in the car, though most of it was still “our” music. Is there any child alive who didn’t go through a Beatles phase? Mine fell for them hard, and I got to revisit all those great albums one by one, moving from the early pop stuff up to the “weird” later material; most of it great for car sing-alongs. Kyle also really loved Hendrix and U2 (among others in our collection), while Hayley became semi-obsessed with The Doors as she entered adolescence.

But they also developed their own tastes and increasingly wanted to hear their music in the car, which ran the gamut from Sugar Ray to Sheryl Crow to OK-GO to The Killers to the soundtracks of The O.C. television show. After a while, both rebelled against hearing Grateful Dead, and when we’d go on long drives it became common for each kid to have his/her own CD player with big headphones, while Regan and I would sit up front playing Dead CDs, the speakers in the back turned off. There was still common ground — The Harder They Come soundtrack, Beatles and some Pink Floyd, the occasional Jackson Browne or David Lindley album, various African discs — and we would often agree on a disc or mix-CD picked by one or the other kid. Sometimes, on the way back from a long day driving hither and yon, I’d insist on playing a Dead CD, and I rarely met resistance. If they got tired of it, they could go back to their private headphone world.

Kyle got back into the Dead a bit in late high school (though he was more passionate about the Wu Tang Clan, other rappers and all kinds of jazz), and after he went away to college (UCLA) he got into them even more. He’s seen Furthur three times, he can play a few Grateful Dead songs on the guitar, and just today he called me to tell me he’d finished reading and enjoyed my Garcia biography. But his favorite bands are My Morning Jacket, Of Montreal, Neon Indian, Flying Lotus and a bunch of other 21st century bands. Good for him!

During the four years Kyle has been in college, Hayley (who’s now 18) has been more tolerant of Dead in the car, but also perhaps more vocal about insisting that we check out the artists she likes. Fortunately she, like Kyle, has good taste, and as someone who still writes about music for a living, I appreciate her hipping me to folks like Noah & the Whale, Devendra Banhart, Edward Sharpe & His Magnetic Zeros, Beirut, Andrew Bird and Angels & Airwaves. She’s learned a lot of Dead songs just through osmosis (I’ll find her singing “Brokedown Palace” to herself, a song I sang her as a baby; Kyle too), and she’s learned to love songs such as “Sugaree” and “New Speedway Boogie” through our family-wide love of Jackie Greene. When she saw Furthur at the Bill Graham Civic on 12/29/11 (along with Kyle) she proclaimed it the best show she’d ever seen. She’ll be going off to college next year and will no doubt be exposed to all sorts of other cool music by roommates and friends.

So I guess this story has a happy ending. The circle is unbroken. We all have Grateful Dead in our blood.

What’s been your experience? Did you try to turn your kids on to the Dead? Or are you one of those kids who was subjected to the Dead by your parents (and lived to tell about it)?

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Mike Edwards's picture
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Joined: Jun 17 2007
Worcester 11-5-85

That was a fun night. They played the rarely performed Kansas City in the first set, but it was singing Happy Birthday to Bill Walton (along with some of his world champion Boston Celtics team mates who were on stage) at the start of the second set that I remember best about this one.

Happy Birthday to Bill

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Joined: Apr 14 2012
Some Heads Are Thicker Than Others

Following my conversion to the world of the Dead 1970, my older brother would complain constantly about "that music," whenever I put a record or later a cassette on. He was into Bowie, Roxy Music, etc., and couldn't decide what to criticize more about the Dead--the "endless" jams, the vocals, the "hippy-dippy" ethos, or the horde of apparently mindless fans. I put up with this abuse for 15 years. This despite attempts to force the issue: Watkins Glen in 1973 was on his birthday but that didn't seem to have much impact. He also agreed to attend a show in Burlington, Vermont in 1978, but we lived there, duh. And he still couldn't get my passion for this music.

Then I got a call in 1985. I was living in Wisconsin . . . he was in Nantucket. The night before, he had gone to see the Dead at Worcester with my other brother. Good seats, but . . . and then he saw Bill Walton, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird on the side of the stage. Perhaps he realized, "if Larry Bird can dig these guys, WTF am I doing," or perhaps it was the song combination or the "air" in the air. Who knows. But he called me the next morning to announce that he had finally found his way on the bus. He actually apologized to me for all the &^%$ over the years. 26 years later, he has now gone to more shows than I have, and now we go to them together as two aging relics of the 1960s. It's a sweet circle.

(Just realized I attached this to the wrong blog; this one was to be for the last one on friends. Oh well.)

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Joined: Sep 4 2007
wish i could be

wish i could be there...REALLY... wish...i remember reading about jerr talking about scotty stoneman...but he ain't around no more..but listen i was poking around about and was reading that interview you did with jerr way back...and he was talking about some very interesting stuff...vonnegut...sirens and ruben and cherise...and his working process with hunter...boy do i miss garcia interviews...when i was reading the interview i could hear the cadence of his voice and the bubbly enthusiasm...the rush of words and imagination...just like what his playing was like...ya know? good stuff! anyhow..nice to talk to you. i digress.ha.

marye's picture
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Joined: May 26 2007
If you're in DC this evening

(sorry, the Hee Haw reference, followed by the Jerry reference, put me in mind of it) there's a Rex Foundation benefit you might want to check out, with Hunter/Garcia songs played by Jesse McReynolds (one of Jer's bluegrass idols), the New Riders, and Moonalice. Details here.

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Joined: Sep 4 2007
fingerprints across the brain

it's an interesting discussion...our wee brains are such sponges at an early age..there's this book i have called "this is your brain on music" which goes into great detail about that...and how we glom onto stuff...
but as far as personal experience goes i remember my folks watching alot of hee-haw when i was growing up and listening to tammy wynette 8 tracks(remember 8 tracks?) i was sort of baffled by the cornieness of hee haw even as an infant and sort of embarrassed that my folks liked it...then some ten years later i was listening to jerry rip it up in that bakersfield style that buck owens owned(don rich?)..and thinking this is just about the coolest thing since sliced bread.
i think after an initial rebellious period where you think your parents are hopeless dorks you sort of start to dig the traditional stuff...just like the dead went through their machine eating dissonant anthem period to arrive at workingman's and american beauty..it was going around...i think of that picture on the inside of big pink of the guys with their folks.
god bless the dead for holding onto some of that anthem spirit and continuing to get weird though.
to quote hendrix:

“A musician, if he is a messenger, is like a child who hasn’t been handled too many times by a man, hasn’t had too many fingerprints across his brain.”
-Jimi Hendrix

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Joined: Sep 2 2008
My 24 year old son is a total

My 24 year old son is a total Dead Head. He has seen Further many times, and together we have seen DSO and the SoCal band Cubensis together. He saw Phil and Friends at Bonnaroo when he was still a teenager. He is 24, rides a bike since he never got a license, and the Dead are aways playing in his headphones.

The girlfriend is coming around. She prefers the danceability of Cubensis over the DSO spectacle. She picks out the cds when we drive, and Europe 72 is always the first one she grabs.

The buddies and I in our band Dwarfrat have worked up 5 sets of music, with at least three given over to the Dead. Our bass player and rhythm/singer were Dead neophytes. They are impressed with the cleverness of changes and lyrics.

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Joined: Oct 23 2008
Mixed Results

Basically what I've found over the years is that either people LOVE the Grateful Dead or HATE them.

I had a friend in college who was curious about them and their music, so I let her borrow my vinyl to ease her into the 4 minute versions of their songs. Within a week she became voracious, needing more and more! She went on to be a big fan!

When my son was born, all I really wanted him to get from me was my taste in music. I put music on whenever we were in the car and at home as much as possible. Unfortunately, the GD just never "clicked" for him. He has his own tastes, which is fine. I am just inwardly disappointed that he never became a fan. Maybe it would be different if I took him to a show now. But I would hate to pay $ for the ticket to have him want to leave before the end of the first set.

To each their own, I guess.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Insulting bagpipes...

...is a time-honored tradition. No apologies necessary. Besides, we all secretly love 'em. (I do, anyway). Same with accordions...

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Joined: Oct 7 2011
my apologies.....

to Hunter and any other fans of the bagpipes.
From Dr. Lunchbox's description, he definitely listens to the "cat being strangled inside a shopping bag" version. And at 7 AM, neither would be acceptable to me. I have a low tolerance for pain at that time of day.

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Joined: Mar 8 2009
Bagpipes...

All depends on what kind of pipes and how they're used. Highland (Scottish) pipes can sound like a cat being strangled inside a shopping bag. Even good pipers can sound bad with the wrong arrangement/accompaniment.

Uilleann (Irish) pipes are quite pleasant.

And yes, there is a difference.

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