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?
Thanks for saying that Blair.
An important message that was well said. a reminder for all of us: there will always be someone richer than/smarter than/better looking than/more successful than/deader than thou. If you are more concerned with keeping score, than with enjoying the game, you will be a loser, no matter what the outcome. This, whatever it is, is no competition, it is something all of us can enjoy.
My first exposure was summer of 67, with the first album. Intrigued me, but not in a blow your socks off way. My first show was Yasgur's farm, but truth be told, I don't remember any of their set. Workingman's and American Reality, on the other hand, resonated with my soul, but I never really got fully on the bus until my first real show - the War Memorial in Syracuse, October of 71.
I never racked up that many shows by count, but each one was an epiphany for my soul. And managed to get to some of the legendary - Barton Hall, Englishtown, Watkins Glen. Somehow, for inexplicable reasons, there was always something magical about reconnecting with old friends -- inevitably leading up to a show a whole bunch of cosmic events serendipitously fell together, and lo and behold, these events culminated in a show for us to share.
It matters not how many, or how early, but whether or not you made that connection. A connection that all of us are still enjoying.
My favorite dead experience? Many years later, having worked in the corporate world for many years. I went out to the parking lot at the end of a long boring day. And found on my car a sticker: "we are everywhere" no doubt prompted by the Steal Your Face on my bumper, a kindred soul had reached out. That sums it up for me.
I'll admit I went to my first Grateful Dead show in 1992 to chase a girl. She then told me she was going to see them in Vegas. My response? "Why? They'll be back." Ha!!! To be young. I went to Vegas and have been a huge fan ever since. I went to a Ratdog show at the Fillmore and this guy kept asking me "Seriously... Why are you here? Are you a cop?" I listen to shows or watch DVDs while I jog. I'm a professional and wear a tie to work. Anyone can be "deader" than me if they want to. That won't stop me from enjoying this music, and I continue to find new areas to explore. Like my name suggests (giant nerd) being cool is not a priority. Liberty is!!!
I first got into the band when I was introduced to their music back in 1967 by Owsley Stanley. I've been a fan ever since. How many shows have I been to? The same as any other real fan, not enough. It doesn't matter when you came to appreciate their talent and genius, just that you have.
I knew about the Dead and "Deadheads" from an early age because I had older siblings who owned some albums (AB, WD, E'72) and played 'em to death. They were part of my musical heritage and so I always liked the band without knowing or caring much about them. I didn't really "get into" the Dead until long after I'd been through the mind-expansion mill and Jerry was long gone. I stumbled onto a Dick's Picks in a Borders in Albuquerque and flipped over it (DP 16 if you really want to know).
All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. -- Spinoza
Caught the bus junior year of high school and it took me to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY. for a couple of nights with the Dead and the New Riders in November of 71. Been fortunate to be able to still ride. Janet
Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest places if you look at it right
Either you're on the bus or your off. You can be a Bolo or you can be a Bozo, but either way you're still on the bus.
For me, even though I heard American Beauty before, I really heard it one winter night in 1973. Left an indelible mark that's still there. It had me pay homage to the Haight in the very late 70's. It still resonates in my head every day. And I wonder has it really been that long or is this a dream I'll wake from tomorrow morning.
I never saw them with Jerry, I would have been 12 years old and my only heroes at that time were basketball players. I'm 27 now and they are my favorite band. I would consider myself a very open person when it comes to listening to music and when I was a freshman in college I figured I would download some and give them a chance. I listened to Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. I didn't really appreciate it the first few times I listened, but I dug the Wake of the Flood album and decided to actually purchase a CD. After going to Best Buy I found the Dicks Picks Volume 14, with the four discs from Boston in 1973. I was blown away. The jams with the jazziness did it for me. I discovered more and more and more and eventually saw 'The Dead' play Lakewood in Atlanta in 2004. Now I listen to them at least 25 hours a week at work. I love all periods of Dead, but my favorite is 72 - 74. When I was at work, I often go on archive.org and listen to shows from the current month and day. I listen to whole tours, years, and venues. I am not a typical deadhead. I am a Republican, don't believe in a lot of the things that Deadhead's stand for and I can't stand the parking lot scene. Went to the Furthur show in Atlanta and was disgusted by the majority of the people that were there. I also was dissapointed in the show and have decided that I will no longer see the other members projects because they seem so disapointing every time I go. Now a lot of people give me crap because my ideals are different than most deadheads, but I love the music as much as any fan out there and I completely agree with Blair. I just sometimes hear things about not being a real fan because I'm not into the scene and I have a job that I won't miss to go see a band. I just want everyone to know that it's about the love of music for me, nothing more and nothing less.
The first time I heard the Grateful Dead was one hot summer long long ago. I had a neighbor that was paying me to water his lawns. I had my Panasonic AM blueball radio, and heard Truckin. That was truly music to my ears, but never followed up.
I got on the Bus in 1976, when myself and a couple of high school buddies drove to San Francisco to see The Grateful Dead and The Who at Oakland Coliseum. After that I went to shows in the Los Angeles area and went to see JGB whenever he was in town. This continued through the string of Las Vegas shows right up until Jerry's passing. Since Jerry died, I have not been to a show.
I am 16 years old and DSO got me hooked when i was 10 or 11 and since then i've seen every Dead, Furthur, and Tribute show i could get too. NONE of my friends are into it, or even fathom what could make someone want to collect over 400 SBDs (guilty) before they can even drive but as difficult as being a "freak" has made high school, it has helped my soul ten times more. Your last paragraph alone makes this the best blog i've ever read. Thanks Blair!
I grew up with all of my friends older brothers and sisters being deadheads. When I was 14-15, I entered a contest on WBCN in Boston i twas 1983, and won 2 tix to a JGB show at the Orpheum Theater. I had to basically run away to go to the show. Me and my buddy hitch hicked into Boston and tried to by some acid in the Boston Commons. Of course we got fucked, and bought some paper that did nothing for us, oh well. We got to the show, and were brought up to the 3rd row, right in front, radio station tix! I was soon passed a bowl from an 'old guy' sittng next to me, and was totally blown away by the show. I remember most of all, they did "Harder They Come' and the amplifiers had something spinning inside them, for real. It changed my life, to be part of that crowd. After the show we were stuck, and had to call my buddies dad to come pick us up in the city, which wasn't at all the way to end the evening, but led to many a great time at many shows after that. Looking back, I am glad I saw them all the times I did in the mid to late 80's, but now, I just cant listen to any Dead unless its pre-78. Thats how I'm Deader than Thou now...