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: Feb 23 2011
deader than thou

After reading so many of these fine comments I can't help but come to the conclusion that we all were actually born on the bus! Maybe even conceived on the bus! This cosmic conception or birth didn't actually manifest itself until years later, when the earthly bus finally came to our local bus stop and we hopped on.

marye's picture
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Joined: May 26 2007
I never thought of it quite this way before

but it might qualify as How I Missed Getting On The Bus: had we but left our college earlier and had better parking karma, I might actually have caught the boys' set at the Human Be-In.

Alas, we left late and had terrible parking karma, so no music for us; it is a great shame Steve Silberman did not get to witness the events and artistes I did get to see, though, as I suspect he would have been in heaven (I'm assuming he was not there as he would have been a kid, but Steve is a resourceful dude...); Allen Ginsberg was chanting and Lenore Kandel was reading from her Extremely Controversial Poetry du Jour. But this was not my dish, so much, especially at the time.

In my view one gets on the bus when one is ready, anyhow, which in my case was 12/31/80, and it's all turned out fine...

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Joined: Apr 1 2008
A matter of perspective ....

I always laugh when I watch that part of the GD movie with the guy talking about "the good old days" at the Fillmore etc. As a pretty hard core fan that got on in 1989 (due to timing I guess being born in 73), I always think to myself when watching that part, "geez, you were living the good old days!" Frankly, I think I would rather have witnessed the 10/74 Winterland run than any number of shows in the 60s and, of course, I have now heard people glow about the good old days in 89/90 when I first took notice and went to shows. It is all a matter of perspective and nostalgia and everyone is susceptible to it; its just the ones that place a true value judgment on it that are being petty.

Carpe Diem folks! One day these too will be the "good old days"!

frankparry's picture
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Joined: Jun 8 2007
By hook or by crook!

I'm almost ashamed to say that I got on the bus through a classic case of trying to be too hip at a freshers party. Let me explain. Back in 1973 at the University of York, one of the first things people asked you was "What band do you like?" I had only barely heard of the Grateful Dead - someone had played me a few tracks of Workingman's Dead a few years previously when I was just 16 - but something inside me flipped and I just blurted out "Grateful Dead". I must have thought this would would make me look pretty cool. I was immediately asked what my favourite album was (I hadn't heard of tapes at that time) and again I blurted out "Oh the live one". Well, there were several live ones at that time, so I had to bluster a bit. Cue a lot of searching around the record stores of York until I came across the Live Dead album and the rest is history. Caught, hook, line and sinker. Over the years I got to hear alot more of the Dead but had to wait until the 1981 shows at the Rainbow for my first taste of live Grateful Dead. The tape trading common in the States wasn't really very well established in the UK and it wasn't until the mid-80s that I got to hear some of the prime shows and really 'get it'. Of course, I had another long wait for more Dead - 1990 in Paris and London - never having made the long trek to the States to see them on home turf.

My favourite era is the early to late 70s and my only regret is that I never saw the band with Keith and Donna.

pomo1's picture
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Joined: Jun 5 2007
I Remember

when I first got into the Dead in 1977 being told that I missed the true experience because I never saw Pigpen. I was, in fact, ridiculed by a few so-called Heads because of my "newness." What utter nonsense. Thankfully, the vast majority of people at the shows were kind, sharing, non-judgmental and accepting of everyone.

To me, that is the sign of a Deadhead, not what era they started or how many tapes they own, etc. It is the feeling of belonging to a greater community, outside of the everyday world.

Now, admittedly I got "off the bus" for a while in the late 1980s, so I don't know about the later scene, but I have met many exceptional and giving people on this site who embody the Deadhead spirit.

Finally, I have been attending some Furthur shows recently--after vowing never to see anything post-Jerry-- and am grateful that the music still hasn't stopped.

"Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own."

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Joined: Nov 12 2007
The start of something good

I remember my 2 older brothers playing Europe 72 over and over again....that was my first exposure to the Dead when I was about 12 years old in 1973. We were living in upstate NY at the time, and both of my brothers went to the Watkins Glen show. They tried to take me but my mom threw a fit, got my Dad involved, and that was the end of that plan. So they went off without me and the rest they say is history.

My first Dead show was 11/5/77 and was also my first concert ever. What an experience. My brothers called me the next day to see if I liked it, and I asked them if all concerts were like that, which gave them a pretty good laugh.

Saw the Dead up through 95, and have seen Further, Phil, Ratdog, etc since. My wife never saw the Dead, but has become a huge fan and has enjoyed Phil and Friends and Further shows with me.

And just the other day, my 17 year old son came in the room while Help/Slipknot/Franklins was playing, and asked me who that was, in his words the music was "pretty chill". First time he's ever complemented the Dead, so there is hope yet....... :)

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Joined: Feb 24 2011
dead er

i always find people that can remember ever show, date and song, I started following the dead back in 1977. I'm lucky I remember where I park my car now. I am proud to say my 16 year old daughter is loving the vintage dead along with going to current Further, Raddog and Phil and friednds shows over the past few years. Don't judge just be glad they finally get it.

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Joined: Jun 27 2008
Deader-than-Thou

I was Jerrry's babysitter when he was two and gave him a little toy guitar.

uncjhn's picture
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Joined: Dec 5 2007
Long Strange(wonderful) Trip. 30 years on the BUS

I had never really heard of the Grateful Dead until I was 19 and a freshman at Clark in Worcester MA. It was the fall of 1980 and lots of people were skipping orientation to go see the dead in Lewiston Maine. I was asked to go and said why? Then some friends invited me to drive them to New York in my car and pay them something crazy like $75 to see the dead at radio city music hall. They said the music was amazing and tried to convince me but I was not going to be had. Then my roomate conviced me to go to Long Island in May of 81 after school was out and see a few shows at Nassau colesium. The day before we were supposed to leave I won a science award and was asked by my chemistry professor to do some summer research with him. No Nassau for me. Finally it happened in September of 1981 I went with my roomate and his two LI friends to see the Grateful Dead at Lehigh university in Bethlehem PA. We arrived late for the show because my roomates brother,who owned the dominos pizza in town had to deliver pizzas on the way to dropping us off. The show was a blurr mostly. I was sort of familiar with some songs from live tapes and dead set.My first and only passenger. The second set had so many songs. It was overwhelming. Almost 200 shows mostly before 1991. Been at alpine valley the greek red rocks the frost. Saw dylan & Dead Carlos Santana @ the dead at angels camp. Four new years and so much more. Jerry solo duo acoustic band electric band. Bobby and the midnights solo duo rat dog. Old heads new heads its not a competition folks. It's like the acid test its pass fail no grades. I went to see further last summer in Ottawa and sat next to a couple from eastern Canada who were newly into the scene. The guy next to them saw his first show at watkins glenn in the early seventies and I got on the bus in 1981. I've learned so much about life through the music the people and the history behind the band. I was turned on th the likes of Ramm Dass Kessey Keruac meditation jazz organics herbal medicine........ It's been a long strange wonderful amazing mind expanding loving TRIP. It continues on Further. What will today and tomorrow bring? "Shall we go you and I while we can?" Peace Love Health & Happiness.

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Joined: Jun 24 2007
I first got on board in

I first got on board in 1973 with Trucking and Casey Jones and then with a greatest hit 8 track tape (LOL). Then it really took off in 1975 at SHSU in Huntsville and have been obcessed with them ever since. My first concert was in 1977 at Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston. I've been to six shows ( they were crazy) and still have the ticket stubs.

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