Dead-er Than Thou
There’s a debate that flares up every so often in Deadland (most recently in the discussion on the promo page for the 1988 Road Trips) in which older Heads castigate folks who came to like the Dead during the late ’80s “Touch of Grey”/In the Dark era, the implication being that those fans weren’t hip and cool enough to have gotten into the band earlier, and only embraced the Dead once they had become commercially successful. The worst and most cynical of the arguments — and I’ve actually heard this several times through the years — is that to have climbed on board during the late ’80s (or early ’90s) was to actually contribute to Jerry’s death! The tortured logic of this is that because of the band’s increased popularity, their touring machine became ever-larger, which put more pressure on the group to play big shows and to stay on the road, thus preventing Jerry from getting a break from touring he once offhandedly mentioned in an interview he wanted, and contributing to his downward health spiral and eventual death. Whew! Now, there’s a load of BS.
Unfortunately, there’s always been a “Dead-er Than Thou” attitude among some Dead Heads — as if when you started liking the Grateful Dead, how many shows you attended, who you knew in the inner circle and what privileged access you had to information or tapes (or both!) were the measure of your knowledge of or devotion to the band. I can’t honestly say I’ve been completely immune to this affliction myself, but I learned pretty early on that there were always going to be Heads who had been following the band longer, seen more shows, owned more tapes, plus had that prized laminate hanging around their necks I so coveted. So if it truly was a competition, I was never going to “win.”
Of course it’s not a competition. How and when you got into the Dead could be a function of million different factors — your age, whether you had friends who were into the band, whether the Dead’s tours came to your city/region, if you had a good experience at your first show, if they came onto your radar at all… the list goes on and on. Maybe your first exposure was being trapped on a long car ride with some crazed Dead Head who insisted on playing a really badly recorded audience bootleg that featured terrible, off-key singing and what seemed like pointless jams. Then, three years later, someone dragged you to a show and you suddenly “got it.” Or maybe you had a boyfriend or girlfriend who hated the Dead and, even though you were kind of curious about ’em and wanted to go to a show, forbade you from going! (Wow, harsh!)
Whatever happened, happened, and you should feel no guilt about and make no apologies for when you got on The Bus. Heard “Touch of Grey” on the radio, loved it, and wanted to hear more? Fantastic! Welcome aboard! The fact of the matter is, the mid- to late ’80s and the early ’90s was the Dead’s greatest period of fan growth ever, and thousands upon thousands of people who got into the group then became loyal and devoted fans who were every bit as enthusiastic, hardcore and knowledgeable as the grizzled veterans who lorded their longevity over them like some royal talisman. We all have legitimate regrets about what we might have missed in previous eras, but I can honestly say that whenever you succumbed to the Dead’s ineffable magic — that was the right time for you.
Since my biography of Jerry — Garcia: An American Life — came out more than a decade ago, I’ve gotten dozens of letters and emails from people who never had the opportunity to see Jerry or the Dead at all. Many were almost sheepish about it, as if it reflected some character flaw in them that they’d “missed” Jerry, yet in the months or years since his passing, they’d gotten into recordings of the band, the (love)light went off in their heads, and now they were obsessed, too. There’s no Grateful Dead to see, so they’ve gotten their live kicks seeing Phish or DSO or Furthur or whoever lit that light for them in concert. And perhaps they’re just starting to understand the charms of ’76 Dead or ’88 Dead and catching up on the history and what the scene was (is!) all about. Again, I say, welcome aboard! There’s an unlimited amount of room on this Bus; the more the merrier!
Do you have a story about getting on (or missing) The Bus?
This is funny stuff. Reminds me of a girl who was turned onto the Dead before me and acted as if it elevated her somehow. Cracks me up and is so...Ungrateful. I don't care when I got on the bus....I am just happy that it came by and I jumped on for the ride. ★peace
My first show was May, 1968 @ the National Guard Armory in St. Louis, Mo. as a junior in high school. Right then and there, I knew I had to move out to where these guys lived so I could experience them more which I did in 1969 (the earliest I could get there based on circumstances). My final three shows were in March of 1995 at the Omni in Atlanta. Early on, in the Bay Area, I could always buy tickets to the shows @ Pacific Stereo just by walking in when they opened on the first day of ticket sales. Later on, this changed and I moved out of the Bay Area soon after. Since I moved, I then started using GDTS and, later, GDTSTOO otherwise known as mail order. I was always, clear up until the end, able to get good and decent tickets/seats thru mail order. All I know about the Dead-er Than Thou phenomenon is that it seemed like to me, all of a sudden there were tons more people at the shows and they were way younger. I never really experienced the Dead-er Than Thou phenomenon because in conversations with other DeadHeads we were just curious about each other's first shows and it was always non-judgmental. This may have been since I gravitated towards DeadHeads my own age. Now, I have heard anecdotally about this phenomenon but I have been unscathed by it personally.
Thanks be to you, Blair for writing about this phenomenon in such a calm, reasoned and kind way. As I told David Gans earlier this week on the Well, I have always treasured and valued your writings. Please keep keepin' on.
You know the old story about people grumbling that those who showed up late to a work party got the same reward as those who had been at it much longer.
But if your cup is full, how could you begrudge someone whose cup became full more recently (or more quickly) ?
hmmmm...I've been seeing dead and extended-family dead shows since 75 or so. i didn't even know this was a phenomena. (maybe cause i wasn't dead enough to be in the "cool guy crowd"?) what i've found is GENERALLY, people who don't like the dead, don't know the dead, or they just don't wanna learn what they don't wanna know. but it's their loss.
if people get it and like it, cool. if not, cool. when you get it and like, cool.
In Chicago, there was a kid behind me who called the Shakedown before I did. It turns out he never saw Jerry... he just picked it up from the tapes!
Hal R. Knew he meant ~ Peek... PEAK ! lovin your Mountain Times & you are more than grateful ~ what worthy~ seeing what you have.. feeling what you felt.. dang that sounds cheezy ..
I have just recently explored the PNW & what a time I had. The sheer beauty of the land and the Sea ... Like nothing I've seen before ...
This type of thing, as other commenters have pointed out, is endemic in our world, file under oneupmanship. But I did experience it, as a newbie Deadhead, all the way back in 1970. I got into the band via Workingman's Dead, then went to see them at the Fillmore East in Aug. 1970. So, at high school (9th grade) that year I was telling anyone who would listen about how great the Dead were, when a 10th grader heard me. "Have you ever heard Live Dead?" he asked condescendingly. My answer was no. "Then you don't really know the Dead." Did I feel small.
From LA in 90 we hit the tour and always made a lot of money. A lot of money. We didn't have to slum it, stayed in nice hotels and always paid our bills -- right to the end. We weren't into the cult aspect. We loved the scene, even if we arrived a bit late. Summer tour 90 through Boston garden 91 was smokin'.
I think the song Picasso Moon could have been about us. You were either buying or selling.
A class act is a class act, regardless.
Been chipping up rocks from dawn till doom
While my rider hides my creases in the other room
/While I barely made it in before the hordes(first show 9/3/85). I saw a tremendous difference between the crowd at my first show on 9/3/85 and my 13th show 6/19/88. There is something to be said for getting turned on to a hitless, underground/cult type band by a cool friend over a few bongs and albums, and hearing mainstream media outlets talk about the "freak show party" playing the local shed this summer and every fratboy and his brother coming down to crash the party. I realize that just sounded way harsher than I meant it to. But while numbers were one of the problems. It was more complicated than just that.
I suppose, in all fairness that I first arrived at the bus stop the moment I first smoked a joint and heard the Beatles' White Album. I was probably 15 or so, it was the mid '80s and I had been heavy into the Beatles for a while before I ever Turned On. I had grown up with my older brothers' taste/influence in music, Led Zep, KISS, Van Halen, Nazareth, etc. The Beatles were quite the musical revelation when I first "discovered" them. I was mostly familiar with their early stuff at that point, but loved it all. Then I turned on to pot and heard the White Album for the first time. Everything Changed.
Suddenly, I was reading, watching, and listening to everything relating to the Beatles (and really, the Sixties in general) that I could get my hands, eyes and ears on. 70's rock was great and all, but this was a whole new world. I just started really grooving on the whole cultural phenomenon that had occured just before my birth.
Now, being a "Hippy"(because in my head, all I had to do was smoke weed, put on some sandals and love beads and Poof! I'm a Hippy now:)), and thinking the Beatles were cool, was NOT cool in my neighborhood, my friends & family thought I was really wierd. I became the school's token (& tokin') flower child. I really thought that I knew what the 60's and hippies were all about. I started listening to other psychedelic stuff, Hendrix, Cream, even relatively obscure stuff like Moby Grape, 13th Floor Elevators and so on, but somehow the Dead stayed just off my radar.
I had read about Haight Ashbury, the Pranksters and the Dead and all, but I just kinda thought that all of that was ancient history, ya know, I'm sixteen and that stuff had happened nearly 20 years earlier. It's really a trip, now that I'm 40 and writing about these events that occurred 25 years ago to realize how fresh the 60's must have still been in many people's memories at that time.
Anyway, eventually I actively sought out a source for this Mythical LSD that had been the catalyst for the whole thing that was so intriguing and attractive to me. I had read Huxley, Castaneda, Ram Dass, Kerouac. Now I needed to find out.
I finally tripped for the first time in '86. My dear friends Mom (& my pot connection) Sara, was a real Head,not a Deadhead, but a true freak nonetheless. She agreed to provide us stupid kids fine quality acid, as long as we tripped with her and she could babysit. I dropped a whopping dose of some of the cleanest, strongest acid that I have ever been blessed with to this day. Beautiful.
The next morning as the sun was rising, still tripping hard, Sara's boyfriend Jay stopped by. When we were introduced, he said "KC huh? Like Casey Jones?" Blank Stare. He goes "You know like the Grateful Dead song...?" I honestly had no idea what this dude was talking about. Well, he figured that this would be the perfect time to dig out a dusty old record called Skeletons From The Closet. (See? I told you they weren't Deadheads:)) Well, he played Casey Jones for me, and that was cool and all, but really a different song on that album was what caught my ear, St Stephen. Everything Changed. Again.
Skipping ahead another year or so, I had added a few Dead albums, (mostly early stuff Anthem, Aoxomoxoa) to my large collection of 60's rock&roll, but still didn't quite "get it", I thought I did, but still sort of assumed that the Dead was a "Sixties band". Then out of the blue, here comes Touch of Grey. Totally Amazed. I remember thinking "Fuck Me, the Dead are still around? How could I have missed this? I mean, I literally had never heard of Deadheads, much less seen one, never heard Truckin' or Casey Jones on the radio, (or if I had, I didn't know who they were) And now all of a sudden here is this band that I thought was this cool, obscure 60's relic all over MTV and the radio. Needless to say I was pretty confused but stoked. That summer the GratefulBobDeadDylan tour rolls within 100 miles of town. I made the mistake of asking my Mom if I could go, Her response? "Bob Dylan? Who?..NO! I said "not The Who Mom, the Grateful Dead!"
Anyway, it was not to be. My first Show turned out to be Autzen 8/28/88, 1 year later. ( I was still living at home, but didn't bother to ask permission this time.) I just scored three tix, told my buddy Alex (who was pretty punk rock) and the weird older guy, Blaine, who we partied with (& bought our beer on the weekends) that we were going to the Dead.
We road tripped down to Eugene the night before the show, the psychedelic journey began approximately halfway there and did not end for days. This post has already been too long for me to begin to describe our many and myriad adventures that fateful day. However there were a couple of particularly memorable moments.
Looking all around the stadium for my friend Colin, who I knew would be there with some amazing weed. At last I gave up any hope of possibly locating him amongst the wildly undulating technicolor crowd and returning to my bewildered and heavily tripping friends' seats in the bleachers, only to have Alex say "Hey isn't that Colin right there?!" 2 rows directly in front of us!
Alex, with his Combat Boots, Mohawk and rolled-up jeans Moshing all by himself to Truckin'!
Then The Defining Moment. I had purchased Terrapin Station a couple of weeks earlier and loved it, but had no delusions about them actually playing this "old" & "obscure" tune. Sure enough, second set, Terrapin Station! Un-freaking-believable! I literally had an out of body experience, watching Autzen Stadium turning to and fro a mile below myself dancing in the sky&crying tears of joy! And then, out of Drumz... The Other One! Again, I could not have possibly guessed that Jerry and the Boys would rip out this psychedelic gem to feed my head!! "The Bus came by and I got on, thats when it all began"!
Overall, I swear, the imagery that is found in the tune The Music Never Stopped, It All happened just like Bobby says on that beautiful day!
I do qualify as a "Touchhead" or "In the Darker" or what have you, as I turned on to the Dead before Touch of Grey, but didn't see my first show until after that album's release. However, that being said, I can honestly say that I've never felt any judgement, resentment, or any other kinds of bad vibes from elder Heads. Only acceptance and love.
Thanks, Folks, for sharing your wonderful stories. Love, KC