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 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.
My first show was on my 16th Birthday at Red Rocks in 1978. I loved the show and was glad I got to see the band lineup of the Shakedown era! I loved that show! 1st Dead show, first Colorado concert, wow!
I did not go to another show until my friend Dottie showed up one sunny day in June of 1980 with an extra ticket to Folsom Field in Boulder for the 15th Anniversary Show! Wow, different lineup & Brent was awesome. What a party it was!
I have to say I had been on & off the bus checkin it out those first 2 shows. It didn't hit me hard until my 3rd show at Cole Field House in MD in 1981. That show bought me a permanent spot on the Grateful Dead's fan list. It was one of those Ah Ha moments for sure! I will never forget that moment!
It is hard to believe it has been that long. I can close my eyes and see what a beautiful road it has been! The music & the love will always light my path. Let it Shine my friends!!!
Some do, for sure. And I know more than a few who basically have not gone to see any of the bands since Jerry died. Or they went to one, missed Jerry too much, and never went back... I feel sorry for them; they've missed some amazing music. Even so, I can relate to the bumper stickers that say: "I Miss Jerry Every Day"
DML...I got on the bus during my 1st show in 1970. I have never thought of differences between people according to when they "got it". I am just thrilled every time someone discovers the Dead.
My Grandson loves listening to the Dead...he is only 4, and a deadhead is a deadhead...no matter what year. I just feel so fortunate to have lived in an area where they played very often.
I have never counted how many shows I have seen. So I was a bit surprised that there is even a "more of a deadhead than you" situation.
It's all about the music people!! You get it...you listen..you dance...no matter when u got on the bus!!! Peace, Donna
Okay - so I am a total accidental dead head newbie. I went to a 'show' in Maui that I heard would be good. I had NO IDEA what I was going to. I still don't really know. But, I loved the music, I ended up talking to a man named 'Peter Rowan' in the back stage couch area before I got kicked out of there (there was a woman who didn't like that I was sharing my Pringles), chatted with many people out in the parking lot that seemed to know who the band was and what was going on, bought a patch with an invisible man on it, saw some guys show off their belt buckles...
Anyhoo - it was a total blast! I'm from Canadia - does that help you understand my ignorance? I had heard about 'dead heads' and pajamas before. That's it. So... I would like to say that because I had so much fun at this one show at Stella's on Maui in January - I am now a fan of the 'Dead' because of the people I met there (super cool), the conversations I had (thanks Peter! I especially liked the Navajo song), the music was HOT... and I would definitely go again! Do you ever come to Canadia? Want to? I can make it happen! (Does a tiny off the grid circus island interest you?)
on the bus in the early 70s banal blandness of midwest US of A when some kid came flashing his keys down the aisle of whatever lecture hall I was waiting in. "hey that reminds me 'truckin'' I said to which he responded ' yah, man, I know'. DIdn't take long for me to pull my older brother's 33 1/3s out of the attic.
seems like I got off the bus for awhile in the 80s until a friend asked me to go to show in chicago.
that bus trip took me west and many shows in the Bay., Oakland shows still stand on their own legs some 20+ years later even though I couldn't stand on mine after most of them.
then back off.
on again and back in chicago again for a birthday celebration show - my birthday - that was so grand I scalped some tix for the next day's show in the parking lot while waiting in a balloon. that next show, and that balloon, were lasts in my life... sadly the show was the last for Jerry.
but the culmination of events, the confluence of years and wonder took me again west to Marin where i happen to the occasional intersection with the music of our lives. Phil and Friends playing a charity gig at Jerry's old home in Ross... Rat Dog....
Then yesterday I am cooling down from a run near my now New Zealand home, tip tap the ipod wheel, and Scarlet Begonia pops in like I planned it when really I did not know the turn was on the device.
And ''bam'' I am back on the bus, so on that I check this site for the first time in a year or so and am mixing new play lists with abandon .... Blues for Allah anyone?!!
So, I am wondering, forget about when ya got on and answer me this, '' do ya ever really get off the bus once you are on?'''
The 'Touch of Grey' era seems young to you? I was welcomed aboard in 2009, baby! And as strange as that might seem to you older folks, I hope you are pleased that the Dead has not lost its relevance or its magic amongst the younger folk. The music and the love resonates with me as strongly as it did in '73 or '77. We embrace that love no matter our age or our experience. The strength of the community lives on.