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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TheNightEagle's picture
Joined: May 11 2008
3rd Show did it for me!

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!!!

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Do you ever get off the bus?

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"

Joined: Jun 9 2009
getting on the bus

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 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 matter when u got on the bus!!! Peace, Donna

tanassity's picture
Joined: Feb 23 2011
Becoming a 'Dead Head'

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?)

Joined: Jan 3 2009
do ya ever 'get off the bus'?

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?'''

with metta,

babymagnolia's picture
Joined: Feb 23 2011
The 'Touch of Grey' era

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.

Joined: Feb 23 2011
Dead-er Then thou

I first heard the Dead In 75.A new friend of mine had all albums to that point in time.The first show,s I went to where in Boston Music Hall in 76 I think ( it,s all a little blurry now)The Dead played for along time and when the show ended the People wanted more.Jerry had just played his heart out,I thought,But then the Dead came back out and played another song.I was blown away.I,ve seen the many times after that day (from sea to shinin sea) and I believe my life was better for this.

Coconut Phil's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
Always loyal !

I got on the bus in the 80's too, I was born in 1966, so I missed the early Dead scene, grew up in the 70's listening to the radio, my dad had an awesome record collection, yes, HAD. I listened to a lot of different stuff. The Grateful Dead to me are the best band in American History, they just are. I love Phish, WP, ABB too, but the GD are # 1.

I have all the CD's released, big collection. I have a small vault in my home, it's sort of like my music wine cellar. I can go in and pull some great music all the time.

I'm really amazed at all the negative vibes sometimes that I read on this site. Phish fans are the worst, they will slit your throat, they are hyper-openionated about their shows. I have read so much negative stuff over a Road Trips release, I'm grateful for them all.

I love the Grateful Dead, always will. Never saw Jerry play to my regret. I never met Stephen King either, but love his books. Maybe I'm just to laid back as my wife tells me. I won't get in your face or devalue anyone as a lesser fan. How many Deadheads have long passed away? We must teach the younger generations about the music, not tell them to take a hike.

Long live the Grateful Dead. Peace and happiness to all.

Coconut Phil, living Free.

turtlemusicfan's picture
Joined: Feb 9 2010
Dear Blair (as if no one else will read this):

I was a young lad when I bought "What a Long Strange trip..." on lp, and listened to it endlessly until I fried the needle and ruined the vinyl. I later bought "Shakedown Street" never really feeling the need nor drive to go to a show, but I really, really dug the music. My first concert was Joe Jackson and he is still one of my favorite musicians. After seeing that rocker in Boston's Orpheum, I saw the Allman Brothers several times before I finally got the chance to see the Dead live.

My first Dead show was in The Carrier Dome with The Band, fall '83. After that, I was hooked, lined and sinkered as a 'Head, eventhough it is not considered a great show. I quickly started racking up show after show on tour after tour, mostly east coast. But I was lucky enough to be at Ventura '84 when the giant walrus/sea lion, or whatever, beached itself and the Dead played an eulogy for it during Space. That really got me!!!

I followed the 20th Anniversary '85 tour east after seeing The Greeks. And, I saw history at the Rubber Bowl as the Dead and Dylan sang "Don't Think Twice" as their first song together. I will admit after Jerry's coma I was a bit unsure of the boys during '87 and '88. I went to the occassional show until Jerry died, including just about all 16 Boston Garden shows in the '90s.

I felt, and still feel the connection as if I am part of a family. I was adopted, and it gave me something I needed at an impressionable age, though I had a good family and home life - this is not one of those sad-sack, need a family to hang with stories. I made great friends because of the Dead, and I still do as I am a big part of an annual event in northern New Hampshire called Jerry Jam ( We get several jam bands and a Dead cover band to play as late as possible so people can revel in the music and share the peace of kinship, as well as celebrate the life and music of Jerry Garcia.

The only real point to all this is that I got on the Bus quite early, even BEFORE seeing the band perform live. I am still on the Bus now, even though financial, family and life commitments keep me from seeing Bob and Phil as often as I would like. I get my yayas off by listening when I can, downloading the 30 Days of Dead, going to Jerry Jam and remembering some of my fondest moments in life. One of my fondest moments was being with a great group of friends, taking jells and revelling at the Best Damn Dead Shows I ever saw - Frost '85.

Whatever life brings me, and us, we will always have the music to soothe our souls.

The next time.. The Bus comes by and we get on...
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds!

Sandman Out!!! :-)))

SCDeadhead's picture
Joined: Jan 4 2009
Missed the Bus completely

The spirit of the music will always live on, both in the archived live shows and albums with Jerry and through Furthur, Rat-Dog, etc.You have only missed the bus if you don't get on! My son was born in 1989 and in 2004 I took him to see The Dead. Not his kind of music then, but in the last 7 years we have shared 25+ Dead- related shows and festivals like Bonnaroo and Wanee. While he never saw Jerry, he gets it. The experience of the crowd, the excitement as a set builds until everyone is on their feet singing every word to every song. Honestly the most spiritual experience you can have outside of church!!
Can't help when you were born. My generation always wanted to be 10 years older because they thought they could have experience Haight Asbury at its height and Woodstock, etc. Truth is very few people knew those things were going on and those that did were really getting hassled by people. We had it much better in the 70's! Now you have digitally perfect copies of shows versus the stores of TDK SA90's and the internet to share with people who are like minded. Come on- its time to get on the bus!!!


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