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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gratefuldaddy's picture
Joined: Jun 8 2007
Truly a grateful daddy

My oldest daughter (now 34 with kids of her own) grew up listening to, and loving the Dead. She also enjoyed bringing friends over to see my "Dead Wall." One entire wall in the den was deadicated to my huge bootleg cassette concert collection with homemade labels. When she was in high school in the mid 90s we both started listening to Phish together. We still trade lots of tunes back and forth.

My youngest daughter (now 12) isn't the Deadhead her sister was, but I get a kick out of listening to her absentmindedly whistle or hum along to their tunes I'll have playing while she is engrossed in some game on her phone. Last summer after getting home from a week away at camp she said she missed us so much she sang Dead songs to herself to feel more at home.

PonchoBill's picture
Joined: Jul 29 2009
it's funny...

cause when I was young my father always played me the kind of music he really enjoyed. Elton, Billy Joel, Guess Who, Faces, Meat Loaf etc. I hated it then, but I love all of it now. I'm pretty sure the same will happen with my kids. I don't really try to influence them but I know that when they are older they will appreciate what I happened to call great music...eventually. Who says "kids never listen"?

Deadicated's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
One would hope

education. But I guess there's been a little indoctrination bleed.
My earliest musical recollection was playing bongos to a Trini Lopez record while my parents watched slack-jawed, no doubt believing they were witnessing the next Olatunji or, more likely, gene Krupa. This was 1962 or '63. Another was digging the way my momma really got down to that Judy at Carnegie double disc. Then it was Beatles, Freddie & the Dreamers, and Herman's Hermits - maybe a dash of Kingston Trio courtesy Uncle Ray - but always the jazz bubblin' and simmerin' via my dad. He was a player with an Ellington influence. I can remember he loved to have his cocktail and cigarette poised at the ready while tickling Satin Doll and maybe I Let A Song go Out of My Heart. Every once in a while I'd break out my brushes (having graduated from bongos to drums) and play along, but I really was not into it - it was his - man, he owned that stuff.
There was one comedy record - Bill Cosby's "Why Is There Air?", which still kills me to this day - "come around, idiot, come around!"
So crateloads of years later and it's Friday the 13th, July '90, and Meghan must hear Mozart's Clarinet Concerto by Thea King and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate first thing after she's born. Then it's probably Best of Studio One on the way home and, without further ado, a taste of Bob Marley once we get there - dancin' in Dad's arms to the reggae - a lot.
She goes with me to see Immortal Beloved at four 'cause she's going to learn how to play Moonlight, Pathetique, etc. She, too, digs the Beatles. She's five when I'm again on the bus with Hundred Year Hall and gettin' way into jazz ('bout time!!!). We see a few concerts - Norah Jones "Come Away With Me" tour. The Afro- Cuban All-Stars where we meet Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and he offers us back-stage passes 'cause we're talking Spanish with him. Fast forward some more and she's in Cuba for a semester while at Tulane and gets to see Chucho Valdes with Wynton Marsalis. Each Spring she's found time to attend jazzfest and I'm finally going to get down there myself this year. The big draw for me is Bunny Wailer, not only because he performs about once a decade but because Meghan and I used to dance to a song called Child of the Universe, which she definitely is one. Hopefully, we'll be able to catch Herbie Hancock the next day - Dad could be on his own as her friends will be demanding her time.
I do have a wife and other child, but theirs is a another stoooory.

segan63's picture
Joined: Nov 1 2010
Bedtime Songs

I have an eight year old son who I have been singing bedtime songs to for years. I would sing Dylan and Beatles songs, but mostly Grateful Dead songs. Our favorites were/are Brown Eyed Women, Candyman, and Dire Wolf(although that song initially scared him a bit!)

He listens to a lot of pop music now(as I did when I was his age), but the effects of my indoctrination are ingrained. He was doing some Science homework the other night in his room and called out to ask me if "space could be stopped". I put on my scientific hat and explained the space in the universe was still expanding to this day. He responded "No, daddy, I mean can you stop playing "Space" on the stereo because I can't concentrate..."

Joined: Jun 6 2007
I used to sing...

...."Bird Song" to my babies, dancing lightly with them in my arms and even sort of scatting (doot-dooting) the guitar solos... "Brokedown" was always a hit with babies as well... We had a never-fails CD we'd sometimes play softly...a beautiful and calming disc by a Ugandan singer named Samite--I thank him to this day!

Joined: Mar 8 2009
Just getting started...

My son is 8 months on Friday (!!!) and I have solidified myself as the master of bedtime. Bedtime routine includes me singing "Sweet Baby James" (as that's his name) and "We Bid You Goodnight." The latter works like a charm. I've also got "Row Jimmy" and "Brokedown Palace" on standby when needed. I have a great picture of him at about 6 months sitting in his Bumbo chair watching The Grateful Dead Movie. So I think my kid is getting both an education and an indoctrination. Time will tell I suppose.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
and here

is the link to the original Mixed Marriages blog.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
but yeah

the subject does have a way of coming up. And it doesn't seem confined to our generation, heh.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
yer right!

coffee first, post later...

Joined: Nov 12 2010
The circle is unbroken!

Sitting at dinner the other night my daughter (32) said "Dad when your in your den do you think you could turn your music down a bit so we can hear the T.V". Immediate flashback to 40 years ago and my Dad yelling at me to" turn that bloody music down I can't hear the T.V."
Jeez nothing changes!!!!


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