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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noonie's picture
Joined: Jul 31 2007
We just love music

i have two children Levi age 4 and Zoe age 2 and as for now they love the dead. We have music playing on our house litterley abot 90% of the time. That's just who we are are a music orientated family. We listen to all kinds of music from black sabbath ( which levi said is to scary for him) to coltrane, hindu chants etc. Levi asked me one time why i allways listen to music i told cause when i hear music i realy hear god. He just look at me, put on his thinking face the said so do i. When he was about 15 months old he would wake up go into the living room point at the boombox and say cd, cd, cd until we put on some tunes for him to dance to. Thats just what we do in our home.
Is it indoctrination to a small degeree yes. It's just that when you find something that gives you so much happiness and joy you can't just keep it to youreself. i just want to see my children as happy as they can be and since music is what makes me happy i pass it on to them.

Joined: Jun 5 2007
Kid's rock

My daughter is a Beatles nut, she was trying to get Paul McCartney's phone number one time. My middle son is a Tom Petty fan, and my oldest son will listen to anything...Black Flag to Jackson Browne...My oldest did mention Furthur at McCoy stadium this summer so that is a good thing. I'm just glad that my kids like decent music and not the pop radio stuff...

SaintSteveg's picture
Joined: Nov 19 2008
It's all good

While I've been more or less obsessed with the Grateful Dead for most of my adult life, I have always had very wide ranging love of (most) all music, and my kids, now all grown, came out the same way. Both of them have music as an important part of their lives, as I do, and both found partners (my daughter a husband, my son a girlfriend) who feel the same. I'm pleased. When they were little I can remember singing to them in the bathtub: Dark Hollow, Monkey and the Engineer, El Paso, stuff like that. They also got a good dose of Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Bob Marley, etc.

My daughter's taste is more pop and country flavored, and I don't think she chooses much Dead on her own, but she's raising my grandkids to be musical and I love that. I took her to her first concert about 1994 to hear Bruce Springsteen and she has always dug the boss.

My son is the real prize in this area, though. He has incredibly deep and broad taste in music, and he's crazy about the Dead. I used to love taking him to shows, usually blues or classic rockers. He has gone way over into bluegrass at the moment. He lives in Denver now, and in 2010 I went out there (I'm east coast) and we saw Furthur at Red Rocks - one of the great times of my life. For Christmas I have give him a 6-volume set of all the 11-11 30 days of Dead, and he loves it, calls it a graduate level course in Dead show history.

bruno14's picture
Joined: Sep 18 2007
I don't know why but I was

I don't know why but I was really surprised when my first kid started to listen to music that I liked - on purpose. He was born in 1993, and of course he heard what we listened to but when he was in middle school he started talking about, listening to, pursuing, various kinds of old rock and roll. I remember when he suddenly knew about Led Zeppelin (I loved them at the time but, like a lot of music, that love didn't stay with me). So when he was twelve I took him to a Ratdog and Neville Brothers show (the night before Katrina hit New Orleans). I think I was more introducing him to the Nevilles, but he loved Ratdog and especially the jams. He is now in college and overlapping musical tastes is something we really share. We have seen Ratdog, Phil and Friends, The Dead, Furthur, and others as well (moe, Railroad Earth, etc.) together, and buy each other music. Phish is his favorite now (I took him to a show but it didn't grab me).

Like I said, it surprised me when it first happened, I guess because rock and roll seemed so specifically generational when I was that age - the sixties and early seventies - that I assumed without thinking about it that each generation would have its own version...

Mr. Pid's picture
Joined: Dec 22 2007
Boo Boo Toes

Way back when my kids were still very young, on Sunday mornings my (then) wife would take them off to Sunday School and I would usually slap on some Dead and try to jam along on my bass. One day when they came back I happened to have E72 on with the album cover out. My son, who was three, points at the cover with a look of absolute delight on his face and loudly proclaims, "Boo Boo Toes! Yea!" Apparently he had picked up on my pattern and was playing a little guessing game with himself about which record I would have on when he came home. And was quite pleased with himself that he had guessed correctly. His sister seemed rather pleased, too. I guess it was their favorite.

They heard a lot of Dead growing up.

When my ex and I eventually split she moved to Secaucus, just across the Hackensack River from the Meadowlands. I recall being at at least one of my son's Little League night games when the Dead were playing Giants Stadium and you could hear the show wafting through the air, just barely audible over the din from the traffic on Route Three. They noticed it too. Toyed briefly with the idea of taking them to a show then but they were really still too young for all that. Especially as it was the 90's and the scene was soooooo different.

Flash forward a few more years and I finally took my daughter to see RatDog in early 2003, and then The Dead later on that year. Lucky kid got a Dark Star her first time out and then a Tomorrow Never Knows her second trip! Guess I should have taken her to more shows...

The daughter found her own way to a stop on the 09 Dead tour with her Mom in tow and I ran into them both cruising Shakedown. We all had floors so we hung together and it was a good time.

In 2010 we all ended up at Gathering of the Vibes, me, the son, the daughter and the ex, along with a friendly tribe of people who I largely met here on this site. I was pleased that finally we were all able to boogie at a Dead-related show.

My son has since headed off to The Haight were he's ingrained himself with the Occupy SF group. Very pleased to see him fighting for all our rights.

The daughter has some Dead CD's in her car and her kids are starting to pick up on it, too, although the granddaughter seem to have a clear preference for Beatles. Her favorite song is Strawberry Fields Forever and she enjoys it when I play it for her on guitar and likes to sing along.

OBTW DoubleT, a thread for spouses/SO's who aren't into it already exists right here. Answers aplenty in the by and by.

Joined: Oct 1 2007
Def. of Rock and Roll....

We all know that the best def. ever given of rock and roll is it is whatever music your parents hate! My kids heard the from before they were born, and I played Uncle John's Band to them, badly, on my guitar, from birth. That song still holds sway with them, but they needed to find their own musics, and musics not anything like that they could pull off my walls of records and live recordings! I never leaned towards "kids music" when they were very little, believing that good music is what they should hear. Now my older one listens to bad rap and hip hop, but his musical knowledge is huge. He will walk in the house and say "Turn off that Don Cherry," or, "another lame Dark Star!" I have little tolerance for commercial rap, so that is what he listens to! My children never go to my gigs, they find the music I play totally unlistenable, and uncool since, well, their dad plays it! But, they do understand the Dead, it is in their DNA so to speak, but as we all know, if you were not there, it is hard to explain. Of course the music speaks for itself, but how to you impart the feeling to your kids of driving across country, meeting heads in random places, forming life-long friendships on the road, have crazy adventures that should/could have turned out bad, but turned out great, moments of musical transcendence shared with many, tales of shows you managed to get in to, show you did not, random acts of kindness, etc etc. That is not what going to popular music shows these days are about.

Joined: Feb 28 2011
Passin' it on to Kory Quinn and my other boys

Took all my boys to a local GD outings when they were about 7 or 8. I had joined the WharfRatz and yellow balloons some years before so-no worry- I was past my "Assistied Adventures" stage of life.
Played the music in the car,at the house. They ever seemed all that taken with it but they all had a musical streak. They knw the words and sang along, better singers than me.All played and sang in various groups. The youngest as a member of the Naval Academy glee Club for 4 yrs. Now he's a Marine Corps officer. He has my Dead and Further, Old and In the Way,Dawg and Jerry on his MacBook when he heads to Afghanistan. And he is more into modern coutry-ish music lately.And yes there were/are young deadheads at the Naval Academy, I got introduced to a few of his deadhead classmates and they had a Stealie Flag in their wardroom.They got infected by their parents/siblings.

The boys all seemed proud that I was a long term "dedicated deadhead" but they had their own way to travel.

The middle boy is now a musician and plays as (nom de musique)Kory Quinn and the Comrades home based in Portland now,Plays all over the NW and SW.He gave an interview in Park City UT where he credits me for turning him on to the Dead and how it opened him up to all the roots Americana that informs his originals and covers he includes. He does a mean Althea along with others that fit his groove from the 70's and 80's songbooks FOTD, Mama Tried etc. Our discussions of sublime'sScarlet Begonia's when he was in high school what started it all, he says.
They always ask iif am still going to shows.And yes i am. Hopefully they will produce some grand kids I can embarass and amaze and pass it along to.

Joined: Jun 4 2007
Two year olds

My two year old boys hear endless Dead, Stones Dylan in the car. They have never complained. They know that "Space" isn't anything to be afraid of and after all it's only Jerry.

My 9 month old heard his first Franklins Tower from 3/77 Winterland the other day and it made him laugh, especially when Dad would sing along in terrible falsetto on the chorus "....the dew!"

My stepson who is now 21 never could understand it. "what's this? More Dead?" in a weary tone with an eye roll. I never held it against anyone who responded that way and so many people have and still do.

One of wife's favorite (unrealized) threats when in a fight with me. "I am going to smash every one of those fcking Grateful Dead CDs!!!!"

Remember when iPods came out? We thought we could "share" iTunes when we first installed it. "you bastard what's this Space and Iron Man and all this garbage on my iPod?!"

Maybe a topic of a follow up post....nonDead Head spouses!

Joined: Nov 15 2010
Out of the mouth of babes

Once when my son was about five and we were on vacation we were visiting friends who were playing Dead music in their house. When we walked in, he turned to me and said, "Dad, this sounds like our house."

Underthevolcano's picture
Joined: Feb 6 2008
real music

We have a son and daughter -one in college and one in HS. They have both grown up listening to Dead, Miles, Coltrane, Airplane, all the SF bands of the day, Jerry solo, King Crimson, etc. Their enthusiasm for the Dead has waxed, waned and waxed depending on age. One thing for sure-they are looking for "real" music and spurning the cynical pap-they seem to have a great sense for what is merely contrived "product". Lately, my daughter has been searching my record collection for stuff that has Jerry doing contributions-Airplane, Empire, sunfighter, Crosby, etc. As we all know-Jerry added some wonderful guitar and pedal steel to a lot of albums. She is going back to Beatles as well-esp. Abbey Road and the White Album. My son is grooving on Dub Step style stuff right now with a lot of interesting stuff that smacks of Mickey/Billy drums/percussion also with a look at King Crimson side projects.


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