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?
I worked in a record store for years starting in the mid 70's. I owned "Skull and Roses", "Wake of the Flood", "Blues For Allah", and "Terrapin Station", but I really didn't get what they were all about, and actually kind of lost interest other than "S&R". That would change.
In the early 80's, I had a friend who was in law school with a another guy who was the biggest Dead fan I'd known up to that time, and it rekindled my interest-he was the first person I'd really known who had actually seen the band. By '84 or '85, I'd met 2 guys in medical school who were tapers, and they had taped quite a few shows starting in about 1981, and they really were the lynchpin. They shared loads of tapes with me, and social gatherings for the rest of our time in school together often featured excellent tapes from their personal collections going back to the 60's. It was one of those times that I heard 3-18-67, and the history of the group really hit me, and I was on board.
I was able to get into some really good tape trading networks by the end of the 80's, and met 2 other guys in North Dakota (where I've lived for 20 years), who had hundreds of shows, and I spent months copying from them- I bought 2 duplicating decks strictly for this purpose. These trading networks morphed into internet groups, and it just exploded from there. I got up to about 1200 shows before the online postings of shows (gdlive.com, deadlegs.com, etc), and then with the opening of archive.org) made all of this wonderful music very accessible. My town had a massive flood in 1997- fortunately, my entire Dead tape collection was on the SECOND floor of my house!!!!
2 oddities about my Dead "career"-1) I lived in San Francisco as a child from '66-'67, and my parents used to like to drive through the Haight, and 2), I never saw Jerry, which is unforgivable considering how the sharing of tapes benefited me so greatly. Went through a lot of bad personal stuff that didn't help me in the ability to actually get out and see the genius that was Jerry, but I still can't believe I didn't get it done.
I've been lucky enough to see the band in the "Dead" and "Furthur" incarnations, and I am truly blessed to have seen these bands. My current wife, who knew nothing about them prior to our meeting, still describes the 5-5-09 show in Chicago as one of the most fun concerts
she's ever seen, and my 22 year old daughter (who has Down Syndrome) is a big fan- that is truly special.
Got on the bus in '67 at a show in SF, by the late 80's I was off the bus. Never was into concert countings but still listen today.
Fun topic Blair! Of course we all know "it doesn't really matter anyway"...
But for the record, I first started in listening to Live Dead, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, and remember when Europe '72 came out. Musta been 72. I was turned on by my best friend, whose older brother was into the Dead and the Allmans. My friend had been to one of the shows in Portchester in 71 at age 14, and I always envied the fact that he got to see Pigpen...
But I really got on the bus at the Syracuse War Memorial 9/28/76. So one of Dick's Picks was my first show!!! It's too bad that the live recording doesn't start a few minutes before the band launched into Cold Rain and Snow, because there were a fun few minutes prior to that. The house lights went out, two orange spotlights focused on either side of the stage, two flagpoles emerged and dropped American Flags, and then the National Anthem was played over the PA system. And THEN the curtain rose and the Dead launched into that incredible show!! And that's when I REEEEALLY understood what it was all about!
Over the years I had the good fortune to be at many great shows. I remember Cornell 5/877, camping out in front of Barton Hall all day just getting high and waiting in great anticipation. A close friend who had been on tour was telling me every hour "just you wait til they play Scarlet Begonias!" I had no idea how he knew, as shows prior to 77 were a lot more random (you couldn't count on any particular song showing up on any particular night - which made every night so special!), but MAN was he right! Aside from my first Scarlet>Fire, and an overall incredible performance, I VIVIDLY remember walking out that night in May and it was snowing! I remember looking up into the bright street lights and seeing all these white crystals coming down. It was the perfect ending to a truly cosmic night. I won't weigh in on whether or not this was the best show ever (I don't think such a thing exists), but I will say that I'm incredibly thankful to the heads who made those tapes and circulated them so widely.
I also have to comment on the day in 79 when a guy showed up at our apartment with dozens of free tickets to an unadvertised show up in Billerica, MA (5/11/79). What a blast!!! It took me YEARS to find a recording of that show, and although the one I have is scratchy and the sound sucks, it's still a blast to listen to because you can tell the boys were having so much fun, as was the audience.
Then there was my first introduction to Brent at the Cape Cod Coliseum on 10/27/79, another night when they were on fire! Just listen to Franklin's Tower that night, and you'll get it.
In 79 I also roomed with a dude who claimed to be a friend of Dan Healy. Well who really knows, but the dude had a suitcase full of soundboard cassettes, which opened a whole new chapter in my life with the Dead. I've been addicted to live recordings ever since....
So many good memories....
Thanks everyone for indulging me.
Jerry died as a result of the abuse of tobacco etc. Period. We could all learn a lesson from that. It was at the Keystone Berkeley in 1971, up from L.A. visiting my cousin in Berkeley., that I first brushed shoulders with Jerry (literally brushed shoulders, as the band had to walk through the audience from the backstage area at the back of the club to get to the stage). They let me in at age 17 (a couple of years later, you had to be 21), but a special hand stamp denoted that I couldn't buy beer! I was hooked, but didn't get to see a Grateful Dead concert until the following year. That was at the Hollywood Bowl in June, 1972, the day after I graduated high school. I went to nearly every concert on the west coast, between Canada and Mexico, for the next six years, and then tapered off. I was always aware of some sort of weird hierarchy among the deadheads, as Blair wrote about, but the love and pot smoke that was in the air always seemed to equalize everybody, including the band itself! Last fall, at a Furthur concert at L.A.'s Greek Theater, I was lucky enough to be seated next to a great young couple who were relatively new to the scene. Their wonder and excitement really brought me back, and I was able to share a bit about my history and experiences. It was a beautiful thing, and there is absolutely no logical reason for us "grizzled veterans" to lord it over newcomers to the bus. We all share a common love.
i have been on the bus since i was floating around 20,000 leagues under the sea. both my parents have followed the dead since the 70s and actually met at a show in 1990 right before my older sister was born
my first time going to see them was at only 3 moths old and have not stopped going. i remember being three years old and actually crying when jerry passed and i learned how to play guitar and bass by listening to my collection of dead constantly.
i don't think that the younger crowd should be judged we actually should be respected because we're carrying on the love and traditions that come with being a "deadhead" and to me there is no such thing as "deader than thou" since i have followed since before birth and will follow them to my dying days
My first show was Cinci '89. I was privileged to see 10 shows that year including 6 of the 11 amazing Summer Tour shows. I came from a small group of Ottawa Canada Dead Heads and we were so supportive of everyone wanting to see some shows that it never dawned on us to judge people when they starting touring or how many shows you saw. We just knew that we watching a very special band and that the scene was about love and sharing, not judging each other.
So I was a Touch-Head, and very glad to have seen the band in '89. Should I have seen more shows or started going earlier? Who cares. Peace.
I saw 380 shows. I was there pre-coma and post-coma (which makes me smile even though it's so wrong) and I saw shows every which way you could see them I suppose.. from the front row of very small forums, to the very back row of giant stadiums, from behind the fence to behind the soundboard (gotta love eating chocolate cake on the couch). I saw some with a backstage pass but no ticket and some with a ticket but without hope of a pass, be it soft, hard or otherwise. I saw them in the North, South, East, West and between, though I never did get overseas to see them, which has always been my "loss" in the Dead-er Than Thou race.. but my theory is, if you hear a Dead song, any old Dead song, whether it's a studio version or one that's badly recorded, and you get goosebumps.. then you are Dead Head no matter how many shows have passed through your head.
My conversion came in 1981 at a place called Laury's Records in Niles, Illinois. "Dead Set" had just came in and they opened 1 copy to play in the store. Needle hit vinyl, Jerry's guitar came over the speakers, and one Side 1 later I was hooked! I went to my first concert on the day after X-Mas of that year with my Deadhead friends Ray and Vicky at the Rosemont Horizon (was anyone else there?). The following summer had two great concerts: Bobby and the Midnights at the Park West (I sat at the table RIGHT AT BOB'S FEET HOW COOL IS THAT?), and Jerry with John Kahn doing an all acoustic set at the Auditorium Theatre. Finally that year the Dead came back in August for a weekend at Alpine Valley (I went Saturday).
I don't know where this puts me in the food chain but as far as I am concerned Dead Fandom is the greatest family on Earth and there is ALWAYS room on the bus for more deadheads!
I moved from Southern NY state to Southern Cali in '80. About a year later, my best High School friend visited me from back east. He was attending Davis & Elkins College in West VA and had gotten into the Dead. I was hooked on my first listen to "He's Gone" and Jerry's "Reflections". I proceded to collect everything I could by the band and finally saw my first Dead related show in '82 - Bobby And The Midnites at the now defunct Country Club in Reseda (fun fact - the Country Club building was the club where the Boogie Nights people hung out in the movie of the same name). My first proper Dead show was at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in '82. I saw a solo show by Jon Anderson of Yes on Friday night, and left for Ventura afterwards with a 12 pack of Heinekin and NO MONEY! What was I thinking? I was so unprepared for the utopia of the parking lot scene! What a blast! The next day I got in the interminably long line to get in, and as luck would have it some folks passed by who were behind me in line at the Midnites show, and they let me line up with them as they had special passes, in the front of the line. Amazing shows! This was the weekend when a huge locomotive barreled through behind the band as Jerry sang "wish I was a headlight, on a north bound train". By Sunday morning I was STARVING! Unfamiliar with cool sharing nature of Dead Heads, I refused my friends offer of breakfast as I didn't want to appear a mooch. During the break between sets on Sunday, a couple sat down behind me, produced and commenced to eat two of the biggest, tastiest sanwiches I have ever seen! The image was so strongly fixed that I ate nothing but sandwiches for a week after that. Don't go to shows much anymore mostly for financial reasons, but I still have the friends and memories and especially the music to carry me through.
I think I heard Touch of Grey a few times and liked it, but I am not a rock and roller so I never really explored the band until the summer of 1989 when I happen to camp in northern Wisconsin next to a couple guys who had a boom box and nothing but "Grateful Dead" tapes. It I was asking if good buy any of the tapes :). I was poor, and 3 hours away from the closest place the Dead played, and I had only been two one rock show in my life, so I didn't really think of seeing them live. But I move to Chicago in 1991, when to the World, and in 1992 I was planning my vacations around seeing the Grateful Dead, Now days I plan around Railroad Earth, but the bus stereo has lot of Dead coming out of it on the way to next Railroad Earth show.
So yea, I was part of the mass they came into being in the late 80's and early 90's but I got there not due the pop hit, but the old fashion ways: Tapes.