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?
You said it all, man!
I had to laugh when I saw this article. Not because I found the topic comical, but more because I've been the newbie and delt with the deader than thou attitude alot.
I came to the Dead in a very roundabout way. In the early 90's I moved from Canada to the US as my father's military career had us move to Virginia Beach, Virginia so he could work with the US Navy. Before that we had lived in Toronto and I was more into punk, metal and alternative music then what I saw as dippy hippy music. During my three years in Virginia, my highschool years, I was constantly being besiged by friends to give the Dead a chance, but my Harder Core than thou attitude kept me from doing so. That and the case of being exposed to horrible auidence tapes. I just didn't see what all the fuss was.
After highschool I returned to Canada, this time to the East Coast and settled into University. The town I was in was a university town and had the obligatory art house cinema. That's where I saw the movie Naked Lunch. I was already a fan or David Cronenburg's films, but Naked Lunch got me into reading Burroughs. Burroughs gave me exposure to the Beat Generation and eventually I started reading Kerouac, Big Sur was my first taste, and I fell in love.
In a local record store I found a CD collection of Kerouac reading selections over jazz (Thanks Rhino). The liner notes had blurbs from writers and authors that had been inspired by Kerouac. One of those blurbs was by Jerry Garcia. That got me curious and I slinked into a local record store, not my usual one, and bought my first Dead album, Wake of the Flood.
I got home and put on the album and I started to get it. From then on I purchased more albums, keeping my love of the Dead as a secret from my friends..which I found later found comical as they had their own musical guilty pleasures...early Genesis, Steely Dan, Rush, etc.
I never got to see a Dead show and I still haven't over the years. Lack of funds, no shows near, no one else to go with...there are always excuses. About a decade later I did start attending local jam band festivals in Southern Ontario, where I had relocated to. I got in with a great group of friends who didn't judge me when I claimed that the Clash was still the only band that mattered, but smiled kindly and just kept sliping me new discs from bands they thought I would like. Some of their friends though, they took one look at me, rocking out to a dead cover band (Caution Jam) wearing black jeans and a Crass (as in the band, not as in obscene) t-shirt and automatically dubed me a poseur. Later they quizzed me on Dead trivia. I failed. I didn't know the dates when members had joined or left the band, I couldn't run down famous set lists and worst of all I haden't memorized all the lyrics. For people that claimed to be open minded they closed off immediately. They were polite, but you could tell they thought I just didn't get it.
One night my buddy Brian and I were winding down a night at a festival and had retired to sit around a campfire and just shoot the sh*t. I told Brian about how some of his friends were acting. Brian was sort of a Neil Cassady figure to many in our small scene, everyone seemed to know and like him. When Brian heard who was giving me attitude about my lack of Dead knowledge he laughed. He told about when those people first came into the scene, how they knew nothing then. He asked me if I really liked the music. I said that I did and he said that was all that mattered.
We all need to remember that we all start somewhere at sometime. I think sometimes some folks love the music so much and have spent so much time learning about the band and its history that they can't accept that someone could hear a single Dead album and "get it". It's almost as if they think to themselves "Hey this guy hasn't put in his time, how can he talk about the Dead". In my own opinion enlightenment can come in an instant, that's what happened to me. One night with Wake of the Flood and I was hooked. Of course looking back I can see the road that brought me there, but it's only a road if there's a destination at its end.
I was turned on to the Dead when i first heard the studio version of ripple and I couldnt stop listening, months later a friend and i went to see The Dead at shoreline amphitheatre, not the grateful dead, but the dead, in 2009 for i was born in 94' and never got the chance to see jerry live. After that show not much has made me happier than the grateful dead. i spend a good part of my day listening, and finding many amazing sbd and audience recordings anywhere from 65 - 95.The only up side to being born as Jerry fades away is that i am looking at the band as a whole, no prejudice to any time period, as each has its own ups and downs, and its all unique in its own way. I have also been to a few Furthur shows and theirs nothing like it, and nothing at all like the shoreline show back in 09, but as i sit here listening to the scarlet>fire from this april 88 show, i know their was once something even greater and i couldnt even imagine what it would feel like to be their. and the same goes for when i hear an "alligator" from 20 years earlier. Were all here reading this post because we all love the dead, as long as your their for the music, then everythings ok, if anyone thinks i cant listen to these recordings or go to see Bob and Phil live because i was born too late then they are very mistaken, my life wouldnt even be half a life without these guys music. if it wasnt for younger people carrying on their musical spirits, then eventually nobody would be left to do so. Long live the Grateful Dead, They brought overly excessive amounts of happiness to me in my generation, im hoping some can still see it in the next.
My first show was on NYE of 1972-73. I had recently moved to Berkeley from the east coast, having just graduated from college. I arrived in September, so on New Year's Eve I had no party to go to because I didn't know anyone. My roommate and I heard that Country Joe McDonald was playing at Mandrake's, a long-defunct bar on University and San Pablo. My roommate and I took a couple of Quaaludes, just to make things interesting, and went down to Mandrake's around 9PM. Ten minutes after we arrived, a couple of guys walked up to us and said, "We have four tickets to the Grateful Dead at Winterland but we've taken acid and can't drive. If you drive us over there, we'll give you our two extra tickets." Well, that sounded just fine to us so we got into my car and headed over to Winterland. We arrived in time to catch the end of the New Riders' set. The place was packed and we lost our friends but found some space on the floor. When the Dead came on I don't remember much about the music, except for the fact that during the slower songs, drums, and space my friend and I kept falling asleep because we were on 'ludes. Not the drug of choice for a Dead show! At some point during the show, some guy appeared on the light rig, balancing precariously. The music stopped, and Bill Graham came onstage to talk the guy down. After what seemed like an eternity, the guy moved off the light rig and was grabbed by the roadies. The music started again and then of course pandemonium broke out at midnight. The show ended around 4AM and my friend and stumbled out onto the street, not really knowing what hit us.
A year or so later I got a job at Mt. Zion Hospital, just down the street from Winterland. Periodically throughout the years, when I saw the people gathering outside the venue as I walked to my parked car, I was bewildered as to what all the fuss was about. I had totally missed the bus due to my poor choice of drugs.
A few years later, I met some people who were into the Dead, and was intrigued by descriptions of their experience at shows. in 1981 I was invited by a friend to see a couple of shows up in Oregon, so I went. the first show was at the MacArthur Pavilion on the U of Oregon campus, across the street from a graveyard. Everyone was hanging out in the graveyard (which seemed so appropriate), being mellow while they waited for the doors to open. I totally dug that scene! Then, during the show, they played Shakedown. I had heard the song on the radio and liked it a lot, but it sounded so different live! I turned to my friend and started pounding him on the chest, shouting "I coulda been seeing these guys for the past 9 years and I MISSED IT!" That was the moment I *got it*.
From that day on I saw every Bay Area show, plus some shows in Southern California, Sacramento, and New York. I've seen a total of 250 shows between that first show in 1972 until Jerry died. I made some lifelong friends, had some amazing experiences, and heard some great music. The Dead changed my life, for sure. I guess I missed some of the best years, but I had some great times and I realize that there's no telling when you're going to get on the bus, but when it comes by and it's your time to get on, you just get on.
Ahhh...the Golden Age of Rock Radio...KZAP and KSAN. You could not possibly listen to these stations and not have your musical world expanded exponentially. I still remember the meditation hour on the early KZAP-an hour of humpback whale songs or something similiar. I'd love to get my hands on an old KZAP cat bumper sticker.
(sorry, it's not every day you hear from someone who invokes the name of KZAP any more...)
My first intro to the Dead was in 1970 courtesy of KZAP in Sacramento. Mr. Smith, our hippy art teacher, had his stereo tuned to to 98.5 on the FM dial and that's all it took. My friends "forgot" to invite me to the Kezar show in 1973. My first taste of Jerry was New Years Eve that year when he joined the Allman Brothers and Boz Scaggs to jam into the the morning at the Cow Palace. A second attempt at a Dead show in 1974 fell short-it rained and Bill Graham let the crowd into Winterland early-no tickets. Little did I know those were the last shows before the Hiatus. There were some epic JGB and Kingfish shows enjoyed during the break-one memorable night at Winterland when Nicky Hopkins was with the JGB stands out. Finally, the first show was one for the Ages...Golden Gate Park. That began a run of some amazing shows-Winterland NYE runs up to and including the Close of Winterland. From Egypt with Love 10-22-78, a Reno show (watching people tripping hard in casinos afterward was a highlight), Keith and Donna's last show at Oakland Coliseum, the Warfield shows, early Oakland Auditorium shows at NYE, the Greek Theater runs, and the Who and Dead Day on the Green. Somewhere in the early 80s there was a definite shift to the vibe in the crowd. I remember a lot of pushing and shoving up front, people arguing about being "in their space". Finally it was easier to listen at home instead of dealing with attitude while trying to trip on the music. It felt pretty weird to miss shows, but easier to watch from a distance. Listening to friends talk about all the "wannabe" deadheads convinced me I made the right choice. I really enjoyed the attitude of those who acted like in was an inside joke-if you didn't get it, you weren't part of it. Sad to see.
I just got back from catching an evening with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon-the 40th anniversary of the recording of Live at Fillmore East. There was a kid kneeling at the balcony railing in front of me holding a brand new vinyl copy of the album. He was probably sixteen or so, and had been into the Brothers for a year. He was there to get his copy signed. Right behind me there was a dad with his 9 year old son-his first show. New blood keeps it alive and the Dead are no different.
Reading the blog about the release of E72 and the resulting panic was amusing. It appears in the end that most got the full bells and whistles version, but the hysteria whipped up in between was a hoot. Everyone got pilloried...new fans, old fans, people trying to make money off the Dead (like that NEVER happened before), Blair Jackson, Rhino, Phil, Bobby, you name it, they were responsible. Somewhere a lot of Holier than Thou folks forgot...it is all about music. WWJD and I ain't talkin' 'bout Jesus...
the very first time I listened to GD had to be around 81. I was in 7th grade and my best friend's family was having a garage sale. His mom was selling his older brother's records, which included Lynard Skynard, Black Sabbath, and GD's Working Man's and Skull and Roses.
We picked out the records and listened to them, having never heard any GD before. We were warned 'its acid rock, it will melt your mind' I don't remember anything distinct about hearing Bertha for the first time except that our impression was 'This is NOT scary!!'
I bought In the Dark and Skeletons in 88. I loved the 'hits' but I did not get any closer than that. I dont get high and I dont like the contact buzz, so I never attended a show.
In 2006, I joined a GD tribute band in Detroit, playing bass. We never played out, and again, another tribute band in 2010 in Houston. This band played out a few times, but folded after some memebers insisted I leave or get high.
I love GD, I love how I can listen to a 76 recording of Me and My Uncle, and then a version from 91. I love how the band grew and the songs evolved. I am very impressed with all the musicians but most impressed with Jerry. He was so brave to keep challenging himself with new styles and playing with artists in different styles.
And I like all the GD jrs - Phish, String Cheese, etc.
As embaresing as it is to admit, I turned down pit tickets to SPAC 1983 from a senior in my German class when I was in 10th grade. He wanted to turn me on to the GD but all I cared about at the time was seeing Men At Work. Yes I do admit it. Anyways I didn't see either that summer. Somehow the Music gods invaded my mind during the next year and I found myself going to SPAC 1984 with my brother and friends. My friend Dave (God rest his soul) and I heard that you could sell tie dye t-shirts at the show so we bought some containers of cheap RIT dye and made about 10 shirts. We had no idea what we were heading into! Needless to say we learned real quick about how serious people were into the whole scene. We still managed to sell our shirts for $5 a piece and I also remember (to my embaressment) refusing a t-shirt for Jerry poster trade as I wasn't sure if I was really into it. Dancin' in the Streets opener produced, well quite a "lawn dance" which amazed me, although my friend Dave and I spent most of the show trying to stay out of the rain. I remember being disapointed that I only knew a couple of the tunes that night. It wasn't till Halloween 1985 in Columbia SC, my third show that I really "got it". I haven't looked back since!
It's April 67 and my older brother Alan's on a swing spring break from Cal.
"Michael come in here" he says. He plops down a record he's hiding behind his back on our
brown boxey Motorola. The needle drops on the LP.... Organ swirl, blast-off "See that girl barefootin' along"...When the roof of my mouth dropped..and I returned to earth..he showed me the cover...things never quite looked the same again..and never have since.
First show 9/15/67 Hollywood Bowl.. the Janis got busted.. Dead'll do an extra set show.