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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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.......

Joined: Jun 4 2007
The Grateful Dead Legacy

One aspect that the "Dead-er Than Thou" crowd always took (or take - in present context) for granted is that new fans are what keeps the fire alive. Face it, many of the fans who were on board the bus in the '60s and '70s are getting up there in age (no offense intended to the elder fans) and won't be around forever to keep the Dead alive. It's up to the younger generation to spread the word for the benefit of the fans that aren't even born yet.

chilly1214's picture
Joined: Nov 19 2010
My sister and brother-in-law

My sister and brother-in-law took me to my first show. They are ten years older than me and had been seeing shows since the late 70's. During the summer of 87 I asked to listen to "Dead Set". I was in awe! Loved the music from the first note.They took me to my first show April 88, in Detroit Mi, Joe Louis Arena. We boarded a bus in Toledo Ohio, with a couple of local DJ's from a radio station and headed north. I was hooked from then on.I was 16. After that show I spent time seeing many shows. I'd love to say it was the increased popularity, but in reality it was a couple of old heads, that showed me the festival! At a very good age too......

Joined: May 1 2010
On the bus

Nice post Blair my wife and I have laughed about the different era tags for everyone. We use the following terms tongue and cheek to describe when people we see and talk to got on the bus "Originals" 66-74, "Second Wave" 76-85 (my wife falls into this category), "Touch Heads" 87-90 (myself I guess, the younger people will never know just how derogatory this term could be used as). But alas the first name we have for the next group was not much better and much more derogatory. "Neuvo Junkies" 91-95, (The great sadness 96 and 97, did anyone actually get on the bus at this time???). "Phish Kids" (general timeline for reference only 94-99) "New Golden Age Post Jerry Kids" 99-02 (Panic and Cheese were in top form and the individual members were cranking it out) and "Jerry's Grandkids" 02 to present The truth is it doesn't matter when you got on as long as your open and accepting to what is happening in the moment of which there have bee a lot of great ones over the years!

As far as my own experience I remember my roommate in college kind of forcing me to listen to GD while I was trying to go to sleep because he was so exited "Jerry was back" after the coma and he had some of the December 86 Oakland Coliseum shows on tape. I really didn't get into them. I lived a long way from campus and I remember before I was getting ready to go home one time he said he would make a really good tape that I would have to like for the drive home. While driving I had the tape in the car but avoided it for a while. Mostly listening to Hendrix or The Who probably. Finally I put the tape on (which turned out to be Deadset) and as I was driving this huge thunderstorm was visible in the distance and the music was so alive and at last made total sense to me.. It was awesome and I was on the bus. (This was early 87) Most things are blur since then I just remember getting a lot more GD on CD For The Faithful, American Beauty and Europe 72 and making it a priority to actually see them live which I finally did in 88. Seeing them live was like realizing Deadset during the storm was just a taste of what happened out here. Wow...... Have probably been seeing a show of some kind or another ~ every other month on average ever since.........

Joined: Nov 20 2007
Turnin' 60

I couldn't have said it any better. Sounds pretty ridiculous that it even had to be written but that's another story.

Anyway, this late 60's bus hopper really believes the more the merrier. From the first note I heard while tripping through a great UJB to the day I took my wife to her first show in '86, to the day my son, not born early enough to have seen a show, bought his first "Dick's Picks" because he couldn't get enough, to 8/15/95, to today, it's been a great ride and a long strange trip. One worth every minute and one I wouldn't trade for anything especially with what my calendar wants me to believe, that it's time to slow down. No way, can't stop, don't wanna stop beatin it on down the line!

Gypsy Cowgirl's picture
Joined: Aug 14 2007

I knew I'd forget something.......hearing the GD play in the Panhandle while a teenager was just too much fun.....

Gypsy Cowgirl's picture
Joined: Aug 14 2007
"Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" .......& "Foolish Heart"

Yup, that'd be me.....having had both my ex & my present being into the GD......being a local SF for many generations, my grandma being proposed marriage to in the Staight Theater circa 1915, (& GD playing there about 50 yrs later) seeing Pigpen on Haight st. when I was just a teen-I just figured I was born into it.........later becoming an employee-well, that's another story.....having our grandkids love the music gives us so much gratitude beyond description...However, the cowgirl (or maybe it's the gypsy or both) in me has never made me feel "deader than thou" In fact it continues to blow my mind how the young uns love the music- I think it's great


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