Grateful Dead

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?


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Joined: Nov 1 2010
On the Bus

I got on the bus in the mid 70's. A new freind let me listen to Skeletons in the closet. I listened and could not get enough. I started buying all the older albums and the new ones. I was able to watch a bunch of shows at Cal Expo and Bay Area (Loved Day On The Greens). I even went to Univ. of Oregon for a concert. Now I am not a Heavy fan in that I followed them from concert to concert and cannot tell shows apart. But I do have lots of memories and Tattoo's of GD. I do not have a problem of when folks got on the bus. Just that we all get along share our stories of all the good tmes we had. With the vast array of music there is bound to be differences but that is ok. What we have now is wonderful memories of shows and all that went on during those shows and travels.


unkle sam's picture
Joined: Oct 3 2008

hahaha lamo, that made me smile big, so, is that the california roll?

lamagonzo (not verified)
On the bus...

...from the firs note at a live show - Mississippi in Prov. 78. Before that, listening to the vinyl. Before that dosing. It really was instant karma for me.

I do know what Blair means when he speaks of people who were deader than thou. All I know is that the trip got progressively worse as the year went by. I could put a number on it -- but that just throws you right back into it, sort of like the E72 thread

It was nice to pick up some useful information from them, if you stand listening to them. So I guess I'm an "old school dead-head" because of the way I roll my joints.

Joined: Feb 24 2011
interesting topic ...

Myself, I hopped on the Bus in 1996. After watching the GD Movie on VH-1, i ran out to my local dept store, found Hundred Year Hall, and it really blew me away.

I remember how the music would intensify my high, but not only that, the next day, I would drive somewhere, jam out, not smoke anything, and when i arrived at my destination, i really felt like i was so high. I had the paranoia going on.

I really was bummed out for several years, that i had missed Jerry and couldn't imagine what it was like to have been there.

But after so many Other Ones, DSO, Furthur, Dead cover bands, Camp Fire Jams, it just feels like home, like i've always been here.

Now its hard to listen to the Jerry ballads and not cry. Especially So ManY Roads.

I think everyone has their own road to travel down.

And i think everything happens for a reason.

I am grateful that i was turned on, and thankful to have my mind blown so many times.

David Gans wrote that he believes that Garcia and Hunter wrote just as good if not better than the Lennon and McCartney.

I'm with David on that one. But don't get me wrong, I love me some beatles.

But there is nothing like a Grateful Dead Concert.


Joined: Nov 13 2010
Got on the bus gradually...

1974--13 yr old kid sitting in the back of my cousin's friend Monteen's blue Camaro driving down the Great Highway with Loose Lucy playing loud on the 8-Track. Sounds cool to me. 1975--Jerry Garcia & Friends at SNACK Sunday is the GD playing Blues For Allah->Johnny B. Goode. Very weird...very memorable. Started buying a few of their records, beginning with Europe '72. 1978--Got the lucky raffle number at the San Mateo Jeff's Jeans which meant I could buy two tickets for the Closing of Winterland. My 15 year old brother (his first show, my "second") and I drove up in the '69 Torino early in the afternoon of 12-31-78 to be part of the scene (it was and we were!) and that was it. Both of us hooked for life.

The world needs more deadheads. Always has, always will. The kindness, humor, trust, generosity, creativity, and craziness that was all around informed and influenced us as young adults. Those characteristics flowed from the stage, spread to the floor and then back again. I don't look much like the prototypical deadhead any more, pushing 50 this year and all, but I learned many life lessons going to shows and listening to that wonderful music. (My oh my, but those songs still stand up, too!) If being a young deadhead, even one who never saw Jerry, means embracing those qualities along with loving this unique and beautiful music, then more power to you all.

I wish I'd known enough to steer clear of the powders back in the mid-eighties, but I survived anyway--much thanks to the Dead. Play on, band---


Underthevolcano's picture
Joined: Feb 6 2008

I bought the first album when it came out-that's right! Along with JA, CJ and the Fish, Doors and Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc. The Airplane, Doors, etc more polished in the studio and the Dead sounded rough and wooly to me---but there was something that nagged at you-esp. with Morning Dew for me. I was also reading Ramparts-anyone remember that "New Left" journal? There were always ads for psychedelic posters in there too which was fascinating for us East Coast folks. Anyway, along I went until a day when some friends and I visited one of our teachers-an English teacher who was playing the "Anthem of the Sun" album and raving about it. Drum roll and flutes please: Something in my brain clicked and I really got what they were trying to do. The rest, as they say, is history.

Joined: Jun 5 2007
Mid eighties head

I went to my first show in Houston at Astroworld in August of 1985. I don't remember much until I was getting a soda and a hot dog and I heard and felt the Beam during Space. That was the weirdest sound I had ever heard and had not felt subwoofing like that before. I took closer notice and danced my ass off the rest of the show. The next day, we drove to Austin, to Manor Downs, and I ate some blotter and proceeded to have my mind blown off for three hours. I saw things and felt things I still have trouble articulating clearly. When I tripped and sw the Dead, it was a very visual thing, hard to explain, but I most certainly "got it". The Dead were mood sculptors of the highest degree.

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
It used to seem as if

I kept missing the "real" bus, due mostly to living in The Middle of Nowhere, Maine at key time in my life. Four of my friends and I considered ourselves "Dead freaks" even though we'd never seen the band and had just the available early-70s vinyl to listen to. We had no earthly clue where this band might be playing live, we just knew that it wasn't at the Bangor Auditorium....a testament to just how little information leaked into our isolated small town.

Were we provincial? Oh yes! Were we bona fide Deadheads? I say yes! to that as well.

Our circumstances, of course, eventually changed....I just sometimes wonder how things might have been different living somewhere else, or in an age when this kind of information is available instantly regardless of where one might live.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
I think a lot of us

would attest to a definite sense of homecoming. Like who KNEW this was here all along? finding the place we belonged at last, etc.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Interesting theory, aboltuch...

After all, "something new is waiting to be born"....


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