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: Mar 18 2010
The Phil Zone

Not much to add here except- The picture of the little boy wearing the headphones is about as cute as can be. I want to give him a lollipop and pinch his little bass lovin' cheeks!

Joined: Jun 10 2007
Full time!

I'm right in the thick of it with a 6 and 10 year old, and it's Grateful Dead almost ALL the time! From all the shows on CD to the Sirius/XM station, both kids are treated the the very best, everyday, and I have no problem brainwashing them!!! The 10 year old is learning Uncle Johns Band and Bird Song on ukulele, and the 6 year old once stayed in the car in the driveway to finish Morning Dew from 5/8/77 and called it "pretty"! We listen to plenty of jazz, reggae and classic rock also, but I think the world will just be a little more peaceful the more the next generation listens to our favorite music - the Grateful Dead!!!

Joined: Jun 4 2007
You had to have been there

Being brought into this world late 1967, I was pretty much oblivious to most things musical until the ripe age of perhaps 7 or 8 years old. Besides my older siblings musical listening, much of which being classic white boy blues rock of the era like Savoy Brown, Humble Pie, Ten Years After/Alvin Lee, Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan and the like, my parents record collection mainly consisted of stuff like Stan Kenton, Glenn Miller and other similar music from the 40's and 50's, though in hindsight, I can appreciate that when my folks branched off into more modern music like Gershon Kingsley's "First MOOG Quartet", which was pretty edgy for them.

My first personal records were on the back of cardboard cereal boxes, such as these...
...who remembers those?

Anyhoo, not long after that is when I started raiding my siblings record collections, when they weren't home.

As far as the Dead are concerned, it wasn't until after I actually saw them live, fast forward another 8 or 9 years, courtesy of one of my older siblings. It took me about 3 shows between '84 and '86 before I actually started to get it.

Since then, I was able to turn a couple of people onto the Dead, but it wasn't until after they actually got to witness the full experience for themselves in person, much like myself.

Whenever I play the Deads music for noobs, the reactions are mixed, more often than not in confusion as to get reactions like, "their music is good and all, but why would anybody travel around the country to follow this?"

Besides cereal box records, who else remembers Gershon Kingsley's "First MOOG Quartet"?

fluffanutter's picture
Joined: Feb 25 2012
highly impressionable youth

my father was a jazz drummer in chicago in the late 40s, early 50s. i grew up with a lot of jazz. swing & big band music. later he got into a lot of rock'n'roll, stuff like creedence. my house was a wonderful place for music. he never got into the dead though.

i chose not to have children so I don't have a story to tell about what my kids are listening to. i'm sure i'd hate it though and I'd hate to think that i influenced their taste so much they took up the dead. it's not like you have any choice what they listen to after a certain age.

i understand about that sweet spot when your kids are the right age and you can all sing along together in the car or on vaca.. those must be treasured memories and i envy every parent who has them.

uponscrutiny's picture
Joined: Jan 18 2010
I'll wait a little longer

Hearing my then 5 year-old daughter not only sing along to Midnight Moonlight from the Shining Star CD, but also make sounds with her mouth that mirror the riffs that Jerry is playing lets me know that she gets it.

It was a favorite of hers when she was in mommy's belly.

She is now 7 and has never heard of the "Grateful Dead" but she knows who they are.

When she asks I just tell her it's Jerry Garcia's band.

skwimite's picture
Joined: Feb 17 2008
kid rock

Our daughter, now 30, got to listen to all kinds of music and a ton of Grateful Dead but her own taste tended toward Sinatra, Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Who in those early years. The Dead, as far as I know, never took hold and I never wanted to push. We always had plenty of jazz too, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, etc. and she is currently learning the sax, guitar and drums having had their due. I'd like to think the improvisational talents of the Dead wormed their way in somehow. I remember Frank Zappa testifying to Congress during all that censorship craziness telling people to expose their children to more. Good advice.


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