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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pomo1's picture
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."

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....... :)

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.

Joined: Jun 27 2008

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

uncjhn's picture
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.

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.

tphokie1's picture
Joined: Jun 9 2007
Got on the bus late

I am 54 years old and often regret that I didn't discover the Dead earlier. I actually discovered the Dead in 1986 so I got on just before the explosion in popularity. I was introduced to the band when I moved next door to a couple of Deadheads. I was hooked when I heard an audience recording of the 1977 Eyes of the World from Englishtown NJ! Only saw the Dead 8 times and the Jerry band once. All of these were life changing experiences! My 14 year old son loves the Dead and he never saw them, although he has seen Furthur, Ratdog and Phil and Friends a bunch of times. I don't think it matters a bit when you got on the bus just that you get on!

There were many times that I envied those who had seen a bunch of shows and got to tour with the band. I'm sure that was a powerful experience in and of itself, but I also came to realize that some of those folks had become hyper-critical of every note played while I savored every moment! Everyone has their own trip! Peace to all!

Joined: Sep 10 2007
I'll regret this

Amongst some heads ?...LOL Guilty! - everyone The worst were (still) the most heard.

dennisoc's picture
Joined: Feb 13 2009
what?...oh that.

I recently married a younger woman (born before I attended my first tripping dead album in 1970) who turned out to be a world famous medium. I have witnessed and recorded sessions with Jerry and Kesey etc. They are still lovable nuts.

13 plus of us finally sold everything we owned and traveled from Cincy to San Francisco...only destination was a Dead show with New Riders and Waylon. We called our bus Sunshine scatted deadheads from Oregon (Eugene of course) to New York to heaven.

Lots of concerts all over the country in 40 years. Loved and recorded the 30 days of dead you did here.

The best one is always the one that playin now.

Wage Peace

Joined: Aug 17 2010
got to agree

with spacebrother need to keep this bus running.......


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