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?


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Joined: Feb 23 2011
The Bus came by and I got on...

Hey Now,
I think we all probably know the likes of the "Bleedin' Deacon" that Mr. Jackson described...and I really can't blame them for trying to own the music a little more...being a Deadhead is a very personal experience...a very special experience to me...through good times and not so good times...I choose to share my love for the Dead and not steal it away. Whenever I can I try to extend my knowledge and experience, because that's what it's all about, to me. The first music I ever bought was "Go to Heaven" in '80 from a kid in 6th grade. Little did I know that 30 years later I would be still be "searching for the sound". My first show was '87 in Providence w/ many to follow. I was/am blessed to have a passion in my life that involves music, community, friendship and purpose. I can't thank The Grateful Dead family enough for making my like that much better for being there. Peace

My Masterpiece's picture
Joined: Jan 10 2009
June 22, 1991

Soldier Field June 22, 1991. I was 19 and it was hook line sinker for me. I remember seeing a Summer Solstice Pay-Per-View event a couple years prior and was curious ever since, not so much due to anything related to Touch of Grey (although it may be why they showed up on my radar to begin with). My friends older brother had an extra ticket and thats all she wrote. (Thanks John Gazda if your'e out there). Anyway, I still have such vivid memories of that first show, I could honestly say it changed my life, and no not because of any chemicals or organics(those came later). The whole experience was just so eye opening, the music, the community, the raw positive energy that you could just feel all around you. It just blew me away.

I caught 50+ shows after that one and I'll admit that I suffered from envy of those who had been around for much longer and/or seen more shows, and as I added a ticket stub to my collection or a new tape my own chest grew a bit larger. I only catch 1 show/yr nowadays (kids, house, job, etc.), although that itch for more is always there, and I'm still guilty of bragging from time to time:)

Thanks for the entry Blair!!! I'll be looking to see my brothers and my sister (new and old) on 3/10 in Times Square.

pchulo58's picture
Joined: Dec 10 2008
Where it all began

Was tripping at a yankees game and my friend asked me if I wanted to go see the grateful dead movie at the ziegfield theater in NYC. Had no clue what I was getting into but what a wonderful surprise. Next day we bought tickets for Englishtown which is in my hometown and what an amazing first show. All roads were closed and had to walk for miles. Left home on friday and got home on sunday. Best halfstep ever without a doubt. People always ask what the dead was like and I always say you had to be on the bus to understand. Like we say we are everywhere.

Joined: Feb 3 2011
"Dead-er than Thou"

I boarded the bus on 12/07/68, as a high school senior, at Bellarmine College (now University) here in Louisville. Had their albums, knew of the band's special vibe from reading about them at the time, but I wasn't "grabbed" until that concert. MANY years later I got a CDR of this one. Still don't know why the whole performance doesn't circulate, but the roughly hour&1/2 that does make the rounds affirmed for me that I had, indeed, been privy to magic.

Next time as a college freshman @ Tulane, opening to the Warehouse, night after "Busted on Bourbon St" (I was flying back to school from winter break and missed opening night) and the following afternoon's "Bread for the Dead" legal fee fundraiser. 10/71, 06/74, once a year 76-80, missed 81-83, averaged 2-3 a year 84-95. For me personally, the band's first fifteen years were far more exciting than the last fifteen.

Once around '90 I was approached by a deader-than-thou young woman who took issue w/ my Hawaiian shirt. I told her I didn't need a uniform (GD &/or tie-dye). With a closet of GD & tie dye shirts, I would wear them anywhere BUT a GD concert. Wore a Miles Davis shirt one time. I told friends who asked in the final decade of the GD that I thought the band was playing more consistently but with less sense of adventure. Again, for me personally, the 1st 1/2 of the band's existence, I went to concerts hoping (and sometimes getting) a night of being blown away. In the final stretch, I had to content myself with "moments" rather than "concerts."

None of this is to show any lack of respect for those who either came on board later, or just preferred later shows than earlier ones. I just know what did then, and what still does now, bring a &^%$-eating grin to my face and what doesn't.

And we bid you goodnight . . .

Joined: Jan 19 2011
I fell in with the wrong crowd.

They fed me a steady diet of Europe 72 and Live Dead. They took me to see Kingfish and The Jerry Garcia band. It was all good. Then one day they took me Golden Gate park, because there was supposed to be a free show. My on my, that was one fine day to get on the bus.

From then until I started reading comments on, I never had a whif of dead-er than thou. A concept that I do not understand. This is the most open club world; if you say you belong, you belong.

Joined: Feb 10 2008
On the Bus since....

...Rochester June 30 1988. That is how I personalized my Europe 72 box. I am proud of it. My younger brother was the Deadhead of my family. He was into them way before I was and I always said I hated them. Shakedown Street, however, intrigued me. When In the Dark came out, I was hooked. Yes. I am one of those "Touch Heads". I don't really care what anyone thinks about that because I don't care when you got on the bus. As Blair said, welcome aboard. Reading these posts, I am glad to see so many young people are touched by the music. You see, it is not about when or how long you have been there, but that you are there at all

Over the years I have shared my tapes and cdswith so many people who never got the chance to see the band. Through this I learned that seeing the Dead was a privledge and not some sort of stature. I was 20 at my first show. Wish I could have seen them earlier but it didn't work out that way. Privledged to see Brent, Branford, Dark Star, etc. You get it.

I currently follow Widespread Panic and the same sort of BS goes on there. I gues it is just the way it is. I am glad that I have found another band that gives me joy as the Dead used to. In the end though, it will always be the Grateful Dead.

ggdead's picture
Joined: Aug 20 2010
excellent message, Blair

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.

giantnerd's picture
Joined: Jun 24 2007

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!!!

Joined: Nov 20 2010
Early on the Bus

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.

hsauertieg's picture
Joined: Aug 10 2010
Waiting for the bus

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).

H.R. Sauertieg

All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.
-- Spinoza


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.