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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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Even though your daughter... still very young, Dan R., and not even at Disney movie age, up the road you'll find there are all sorts of cool pop and jazz albums of Disney music; like just a few months ago a real good one called "Everybody Wants to Be Cat" (named after a song from "The Aristocats") came out, featuring jazz interpretations of all sorts of Disney classics, performed by everyone from Dave Brubeck to Esperanza Spalding. It's very cool...

I'm gonna check out some of that Wayne Shorter you mentioned... Love him!

Dan R.'s picture
Joined: Jun 9 2007
Crazy Fingers

In the first few months of my baby girl's life, I would lull her to sleep singing my best impressions of Crazy Fingers, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Stella Blue, Wharf Rat, and others.

When tummy time became a drag for her, I put on Herbie Hancock's "The Imagine Project" and a few tracks on that album distracted her from discomfort and she really enjoyed herself.

Now at 20 and a half months, as I practice guitar quite a bit and site reading and practicing exercises, I play less music around the house. Still, I'll throw on the occasional Dead tape, and she mostly enjoys them.

Her mom is very much into rap, and I have found that the general sound and vision of rap has changed and I can freely appreciate the artistry of much of what's available.

My little girl loves Beatles much of the time, although some of the flow and mixes of the recent remasters don't gel for me (and can get Valerie into a crying fit), as the song sequences and the pauses between tracks lack for breath can create a stress I didn't experience while listening to them when I was young.

I try to expose her to classical and jazz sounds, and we've had fun listening to Dr. Lonnie Smith's recently released archival recording "Live at Club Mozambique." We also listen to Wayne Shorter Quartet, which she seems to relate to on some primal level (and I feel very comfortable calling them the great jam-band of the jazz scene, even with the night to night setlist repetitions). I strongly recommend some of the european radio broadcasts available at dimeadozen, as they really tell the story of this incredible group.

I know that good energy will ensue when I play Herbie Hancock for her, particularly the recent albums. Further, we've started listening to a lot of KZSC (Santa Cruz College Radio) around the house, as I challenge the expansion of my ears, even though some programs go for the incredibly hypnotic rather than that which arrives at balance.

Her favorite songs remain Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and I continue to wonder when I may learn that Thelonious Monk tune Tinkle Trinkle.

Nonetheless, as my wife and I tend to have very different musical tastes, we always strive to create an environment of compromise; what are the musics that we all can enjoy. I think I probably ponder what pleases my daughter's ear and challenges her intellect more than my wife does, but I have seen how certain musics will get her into a tantrum while others will directly soothe her soul. There is no absolute formula, as she is a constantly changing little life. But we navigate that together.

Regardless, I've got to send some appreciation to Blair: thank you Blair for bringing up this discussion. I didn't want to answer at first, since it is a very personal matter in a way. Nonetheless, I also felt I shouldn't hold back.

Nonetheless, very cool.

In fact, I just recalled that a recent session of Grateful Dead listening at home did get my little girl spinning like a seasoned vet, which was pretty impressive at 19 months!

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Mary, you of all people...

...should know we did do blog about "Mixed Marriages" very early on in the life of this feature... I think more people read it now, though, so perhaps we will revisit the topic someday, maybe from a slightly different perspective...

Heywood Jablome's picture
Joined: Mar 19 2012
I tried!

From birth my daughter has listened to tons of Dead. She would dance for hour in front of the Winterland video in tyedye dresses. Somewher in the 3rd grade she got hooked on jonas bros/gaga/ crap and now hates the dead (or claims to). Now on long trips we alternate whose ipod gets plugged in. Hopefully with all that expposure she will come back around. The last thing to do is turn into my Dad when it comes to music. So I listen with an open mind, suffer and hope.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
WRT the subject of the non-Deadhead spouse

until such time as Blair decides to blog about this subject, feel free to share your views in the Forum topic They Love Each Other. But..., which looks into this area...

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
teanders, love this

"Indoctrination? Maybe. But what better way to teach a child about community than to immerse him in a tribe that values tradition, creativity, and acceptance, with just enough weirdness to make the lesson interesting?"

Joined: Apr 16 2009
Samson & Delilah

My son has resisted the influence, but mentioned that while walking through middle school he always had "If I had my way, I would tear this whole building down" going through his head...

stevepremo's picture
Joined: Sep 5 2007
Lifelong fans

My kids have grown up exposed to lots of music, attending the Strawberry Music Festival twice a year for their whole lives, and enjoying the Dead from a young age. I remember one of our babysitters saying she was surprised when my son Arlo, as a toddler, started singing "Sugaree" as she strapped him into a car seat. They got into other music too, some of which I don't like, but always liked the Dead as well.

My parents also love big band, but we didn't hear much growing up. That's because the big band era ended before LPs became available. But once my dad got a reel to reel and started taping all his old 78's, we had plenty of big band and swing to listen to!

Moses Quasar's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2011
Family and the Dead

You gotta love these cherished family moments...I'll share my story...My kids do not like the Dead(although I caught my daughter dancing while the Dead was playing,but she says dancing "is infectious"!) nor does my wife. Like everyone else I was enjoying an evening libation,listening to the Rheinhalle show,when during the Dark Star my wife screamed " I cant take it! Cant you listen to something else!" I simply explained that anyone in the family can listen to whatever music they want and so will I in my own house!!! I'm a Deadhead all alone here folks!! Dont worry though I WILL NOT BE OPPRESSED!!! Love the E72 shows!!! Good ol Grateful Dead!!!

teanders999's picture
Joined: May 11 2009

My oldest was four years old in 1995. His mother and I and some fellow travelers loaded him up in a rented RV and hit the road for the Deer Creek, St. Louis, and Soldier Field stops on the Tour from Hell. The RV's fan clutch fried in Wisconsin and we jumped the line at each parking lot, begging security to let us in before the engine blew up.
So, the boy grew up steeped in the Dead. He's 21 now, and since '95 we've seen every post-Jerry permutation, from the Family Reunion at Alpine Valley to The Dead at Red Rocks in '03 to Furthur in Chicago the last couple of years.
We're planning our summer 2012 trip now.
Indoctrination? Maybe. But what better way to teach a child about community than to immerse him in a tribe that values tradition, creativity, and acceptance, with just enough weirdness to make the lesson interesting?


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