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?
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.
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.
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.
would attest to a definite sense of homecoming. Like who KNEW this was here all along? finding the place we belonged at last, etc.
After all, "something new is waiting to be born"....
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.
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...
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"!
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.
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."