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?
...very well, where do I begin? My first show was Syracuse, April 82. I was as wet behind the ears as a newborn babe, and had no idea what was going on at any given point in the show. It all seemed so chaotic, with no structure at all... the whole freeform jam concept was very new to me. (Up to that point my concert experiences had all been with groups that pretty much only played their albums verbatim.) The night seemed a blur, with only a couple of the GD songs seemed familiar to me- however, many of the songs in the set list would become huge favorites of mine in due time. I do vividly remember the drumz portion, when Billy beat on that huge tom and made the walls of the War Memorial shake. Man, I could feel the reverberations from my seat in the very back of the auditorium. Wow.
Up to that point most of folks I hung out with would snicker whenever the subject of the Grateful Dead came up, as they kinda looked down their noses at Dead Heads and regarded them as fanatical nut jobs. However, I never fit in with the beautiful people, I was like Zimmy says, "Always on the outside of whatever side there was". Day late and a dollar short. But the band and fans were OK with freaks. That appealed to me as well. Who or what you were wasn't nearly important as where your head was at.
A year later I saw the band again in Binghamton (4/12/83). This time I was better prepared, having done some 'homework'. The music was hot, and I witnessed firsthand the love that the fans had for the band, and vice versa. I could see this was indeed something special and that resonated with me. Just listen to that show sometime, you'll see what I mean. They closed it out with NFA, left the stage, but the audience kept singing "Love is real and not fade away" and pounded out the shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits handclap until the band came back out for the encore, where they resumed NFA for a bit before going into Baby Blue. It was kinda like the band was saying, "We love you too!" To me that was powerful stuff, this band/fan interaction.
But it was a week later when we were partying it up, with a fungus among us, that it really hit home. I just had to hear some more GD so we threw Dead Set on the turntable (remember those?) It was then, midway through the first side, in this strangest of places, that I was indeed shown the light, and finally stepped on the bus... I came to the realization that "there is NOTHING wrong with the Grateful Dead". and proclaimed this to my friends. They just laughed, perhaps they already knew, and we went on to have a great time. But this brief moment of enlightenment would change my life forever. I can still remember that pivotal point like it was yesterday... and here it is almost 28 years later.
Since then, the Grateful Dead has provided the soundtrack to my life, and I have had many profound insights and epiphanies while listening to their music. I cannot say that about too many other musicians. Beethoven is the closest I can think of right now.
I am thankful that I was born in this time and place, on this rock, to witness something as rare and unique as the Grateful Dead. In the long run I don't believe that it really matters WHEN you first got on the bus, but rather IF you get on the bus at all. And I think that if more people got on the bus, this world would be a much better place.
When I was a freshman in college I was so musically closed-minded that I did not want anyone to play Dead records on my stereo. I never did figure out why. My roommate got tickets from his older brother for the 1/11/79 show at Nassau Coliseum so I went on a whim thinking I should see them while they were still around. By springtime and Europe 72, I was firmly and forever on the bus to over 200 shows through June 25, 1995 in DC. Although I sometimes "qualify" someone's interest in the Dead by asking how many shows they've seen and what first one was, it is not in a judgmental way. It's just to see if they were as insane as I was/am. I took more than a few people to their first shows and introduced them to the bus. Most got on, some did not. I thought it would last forever, and when it didn't, it made me wish that I had paid more attention along the way.
Freshman year at Queens College, 1974, a buddy showed me the album jacket of Europe '72. Something about that picture grabbed me. Then the music played. And I became a Deadhead on the spot. Saw a few shows with Jerry and the JGB or Legion of Mary with Merl Saunders until the Dead came back on tour in '76. Remember that mail order? Limit 2 tix per person per show. And only available to those who answered the call of "Dead Freaks Unite" on the Bertha album. Great shows in the Northeast that summer with the first set often ending, as I recall, with long spacey jam in the middle of Playing in the Band. And that was only the first set! Long hiatus from live shows from 1980 - 1994. Got to see Jerry one last time at the Giant Stadium show a year before he left us. Then a smattering of shows as the boys toured as The Other Ones and as The Dead. Finally with the re-grouping as Furthur the energy of the band, the crowd and the shows rivals what it was back in the 70's. I think Jerry's smiling. And Jackie and I are back at the shows again.
Unfortunatly I never got to see The Grateful Dead live, what an experience i imagine that was. I have seen Furthur, and the vibes there are amazing I can only dream about what they where when Jerry was around. I am not one to follow bands like a religion but something about this music transcends physical reality. What is it? Whatever it is it is something different than i have ever experienced. Almost like something spiritual is channeling through it, some sort of energy, i dont know. Anyone else get this?
(even i think this is weird but true)
Even though I had started listening to the Dead when their first album came out, my first concert was when they opened the Labor Temple in Minneapolis on January 2, 1969 (hope the exact day is correct!). This was quite the show and tickets were $3.50. The Labor Temple was an old union hall in "nordeast" Minneapolis that was easy hitchiking distance from where I lived in Dinkytown. I even walked this distance more than once. I don't know what it was about the Labor Temple, but you could go up and sit in the balcony if you wanted, you could get right up to the stage if you wanted, or even hang out in the middle of the floor, lying about as you wished. The acoustics were great! I saw a lot of fantastic shows there, like Savoy Brown, Jeff Beck, etc. but the Dead starting the shows at the Labor Temple was something extra special.
Over the years, I have seen the Dead quite a few times - Eugene, St. Paul, Portland, Minneapolis, etc. My favorite show was 1972 when they played on the U of M campus in Northrop (which also had great acoustics). This was after they released the Skull and Roses album. At this show I started to really appreciate Phil Lesh's bass work. Before the Dead came onstage, the New Riders played. This concert was 5 hours total if I remember correctly.
In 1970 I really got on the bus with the release of Workingman's Dead and I saw them at the Guthrie Theater. At the time I had a head shop, was heavily involved in the antiwar movement and the burgeoning environmentalist movement and was involved in the first Earth Day in Minneapolis. New Speedway boogie set the tone which I have followed for over 40 years.
I don't know, but I been told
If the horse don't pull you got to carry the load.
I don't know whose back's that strong
Maybe find out before too long
My back's still strong.
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.
WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN
hahaha lamo, that made me smile big, so, is that the california roll?
...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.
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.
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---