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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SPACEBROTHER's picture
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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
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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......

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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.........

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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
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Joined: Aug 14 2007
AHHHHH-

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
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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

Snark's picture
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Joined: Dec 20 2007
Been awhile...

I got on the bus on February 26, 1977. Living in Southern California, there was virtually no airplay of Grateful Dead songs, but somehow they were still "big." I owned none of their records, heard none of their music at the parties I went to, and none of my college roommates up to then were fans of the Dead. I'd read an interview with Jerry in Guitar Player magazine, and I was interested in finding out what sorts of sounds he was talking about--plus, I wanted to see the guitar he talked about in the article (Wolf). That day, I bought a ticket to their show at the good ol' Swing Auditorium (San Bernardino) and headed for the standing room area in front of the stage. I managed to get a decent spot about 20 feet back of the stage, more or less dead center, and I waited for the band to start. I remember asking a guy who was standing next to me if he knew what their concerts were like, and he said that they usually played for about an hour, took a break, and came back for another two hours or so. I remember thinking to myself, "If they play that long, they'd better not suck." They didn't.

They opened with something I'd never heard before--but then, NOBODY there other than the road crew had ever heard "Terrapin Station" before (first time played was that night, as was the case for "Estimated Prophet" a few songs later). All the dozens of other concerts I'd seen had been about stage presence and showmanship, but this concert was far different--in the first set, the band was deeply focused on presenting each song as best as they could, and damn the stage presence; in the second set there was a significant change of focus, and instead of concentrating on each song, they concentrated on the music as a whole, once again, though, ignoring stage presence in favor of sound. I was struck by this purity of focus, and by the utter absence of vanity solos (I still can't call Phil's extended jam between Eyes and Dancing a vanity solo--it was musical exploration instead of, "hey, look what I can do!").

I knew only a few of the songs they played that night (all the ones I knew were covers--NONE of their few radio-friendly tunes were played that night), but the five-note opening to "Terrapin" hooked me and the joyous energy of the crowd filled me, enough so that after the encore of "U. S. Blues" I knew I'd seen and heard something that nobody else was doing in the world of rock music. To this day, thanks to that show-opening number, "Terrapin Station" is my all-time favorite GD tune.

For one reason or another, I only managed to see 3 other shows, so I suppose I'm something of an outsider compared to many folks here, but I've got lots of vinyl memories, and a few decaying cassette tapes, that give mute testimony to the notion that I didn't become a fan because the band was popular, and not because they were the best at what they did, but because they were the only ones who did it.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
BTW...

A couple of people have asked about where to find the first blog ("Welcome to My Blog World") now that this second one is up. Under "the Latest" click on "more" and you'll see a list of recent articles from that section, including that blog. I'm told that soon the blogs will be archived in their own spot. There's a lot of updating that needs to (and will) happen on this website, hopefully sooner than later... You patience is always appreciated!

jarave68's picture
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Joined: Feb 23 2011
turn on, tune in, drop out

This was always an interesting phenomenon. The term I recall is poser. In the punk scene, weekend punks were called that. If you lived with your parents and liked them, you were a poser. Pretty funny when you think about it. "you post crucifixion Christians are posers, man"

I was 13 or 14 y.o. when I first remember seeing Dead Ahead on Nightflight. I was into industrial punk stuff back then so the Dead didn't do much for me.

In late '86 I just turned 17 and the first one of our family friends to go to college came over for Christmas from UCB. He was ranting and raving about this band and popped a tape while we partook in some party favors. The music was awesome! I was ready.

At the end of January '87 we went over to see him in Berkeley, we hopped in a van and drove to the old SF Civic Center. We saw the Chinese New Year's show, we dropped, and I got on the bus.

The funny thing was that I was clad in black, complete with mohawk, leather studded jacket, and steel toe boots. This must have been such a funny sight. I felt at home but would not dance, I just gawked at everyone. We got lost looking for my friend's car, walking around the plaza for what seemed like hours. I even fell in love with this dreadlocked sister (my scarlet begonia). I didn't start dancing until my third of fourth show. I remember the just grabbed me but I wouldn't let go.

When I went back to the South Bay, I got rid of my punk clothing and records, selling and trading everything I could to go to shows. Since this was the Bay Are, they would play a bunch (I never left the state for shows).

After Vince was on his own I only went to one or two Dead shows a year (just wasn't the same without Brent) but saw JGB a bunch (I honestly can't remember how many shows I went to, maybe around 60 combined). Anyway, the scene started getting really sketchy. Heads were stealing from each other, too many cops, the straw for me was when skinheads were hanging out in the parking lot f'ing with people.

Last time I saw the boys was in '94. In early '95 I moved to Miami and was actually trying to get a ride to Tampa but couldn't make it. Too bad.

Now I listen to Sirius and Lone Star Dead to get my fix.

Thank you Blair, for bringing this up.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Wow, you guys are GREAT!

So many cool stories from the young and "less young"! So many memories! I guess the fact of the matter is that anyone who would be hanging out on a site like this 15 years down the road isn't one of those mindless frat-boy "Touch-heads" 20-odd years ago... or maybe they finally evolved. But there have ALWAYS been folks into it for different reasons. On of my closest and most rabid Dead Head friends--who went to WAY more shows than me--shocked me one night after a show, when I was griping about Jerry screwing up the words again (sorry, Jer!), she floored be by saying she never listened to the words so she hadn't noticed! I knew folks who used "Stella Blue" as a bathroom break song! There were always a million opinions, and I was cool with that as long as it didn't impinge on the actual experience at a show...

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