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
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!!!

Joined: Nov 1 2010
Well put. I wish that I had

Well put. I wish that I had an opportunity to see The Boys in the 60's(wasn't born yet) or 70's, but I was way too young, and my parents were not Deadheads. By the time "Touch of Grey" was released, I had already worn out copies of American Beauty, Aoxomoxoa, Skullfuck, and Terrapin Station. I was 16 years old when I went to my first show. I absolutely LOVED IT!! The music and the scene was absolutely AWESOME!! I am truley blessed to have seen The Grateful Dead as many times as I have, although I would liked to have seen them many, many more times. Let there be songs to fill the air.

Joined: Jun 18 2007
Aug. 6, 1995

I wasn't into the Grateful Dead up until this date. I knew the "radio" songs - Truckin', Casey Jones, Touch of Grey, and I liked them, but I had no knowledge of their music other than those songs. I was, however, intrigued about Dead tour. I always said if the come to Texas again, I would be there. On Aug. 6, 1995 (Sunday), I was at a friend's house and he had the double CD set, "What A Long Strange Trip." It had various live selections from Live Dead and Europe '72. I was blown away! Every song just rocked! So I went home and just happened to see in the TV guide that on Wednesday, Aug. 9 (yes, what a strange coincidence!), the local PBS station was airing the Dead Ahead film - Radio City '80. I immediately set the VCR to record the program that next Wednesday. In my mind, I was thinking, "man, I am willing to skip college for a week this next semester to catch the Dead on Fall tour!" So Aug. 9 came and I heard the new that Jerry died. i was shocked and so disappointed. I felt like I had missed out on something great and I wanted to kick myself for following Metallica around during the late 80s and early 90s and not the Dead. But, my interest in the band did not waiver. I started buying about everything I could get my hands on - Europe 72 and the Hundred Year Hall release that came out a few weeks later. I had a lot of music, but I knew I would never be able to have the live experience. A few years later I saw DSO in Dallas and loved them. I admired them for bring the GD experience to those, like myself, who never got to see the band. Then, The Sirius Grateful Dead Channel started and it was all i listened to! Still is for the most part. And finally, 7 Walkers rolled through town and I was there. Then, the wife surprised me last September and took me to Vegas to see Furthur! I was in heaven. What a great show! I've come to learn that the Grateful Dead is so much more than just a band. Yeah, there is no longer a band called "The Grateful Dead," but what they started AND the community continues on! So to sum it up, I got on the bus 3 days before Jerry died and I haven't left!

chefsteban's picture
Joined: Oct 21 2008
when did I go dead.....

I became a sorta Dead head back about the time of the bands first Warner Bros. LP. I convinced the local jock, Mike Larsen of KNOW in Escondido, to play cuts like New Minglewood Blues every night on a top 40 format.,
I became baptized by the Dead at an even called the Del Mar (Calif.) Pop Festival in 1968 in fact I still have handbills and a poster of that concert. When the Dead hit the stage at around Noon I was wired and ready and the band did not fail me. I most vividly recall the Alligator/Other One Jam and that has been my fave Dead track of all time. It still brings back memories and sends chills up and down my spine.
Over the year I got to attend about 20 or so Dead shows and I have fond memories of each show.

Joined: Nov 11 2010
Deadicted Darkie

I'm a "Darkie" who got shown the light" and damn proud of it!! Changed my life,now I'm looking at it right~

Deadicated's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
It's funny ..

because before I became a full-fledged Head in '77, I had kinda dabbled in them here and there. I played drums from small days, but when I began playing guitar in '72 my older brother had that ABB Fillmore East on ALL the time and Duane had me aspiring to play not only leads on all those easy blues chord progressions but slide, too. There were, of course, the a-minor jams, such as In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Whippin' Post and Hot 'Lanta and the E major Blue Sky and Mountain Jam. Who could possibly want for anything else to jam on - all the bases were covered! Plus, my big brother didn't listen to GD - to this day I don't know why (I'll never know because he passed 28 years ago).
But around this same time I'd be exposed to E'72 and the '71 live recordings - they did impress me and I can still vividly remember the friends who loved them, but I thought no one could ever play guitar better than Duane Allman. I remember a 9th-grade classmate at school wearing a Europe Tour T and he was so far into them, but he was also way into getting too high. I smoked a little weed is all so he scared me. I didn't spend time in earnest listening to the Dead until '74. I remember borrowing E'72 and immersing myself in Truckin'. Truckin' is a big E-major jam so I could relate it to the ABB Mountain jam - I thought it was cool, yes. It, however, didn't progess naturally into the Morning Dew side and, therefore, was probably too weird with the way the side starts. Maybe if The Other One had been there I would have gotten it - hindsight. I remember going to a close neighbor family's kid's party with Skull & Roses blasting - again, I liked, but was still rigid in my "who is the best" delusion.
Graduated from High School in '76 and proceeded to meet Dead playing musicians at college and that's what turned the tide. Oh, and a very special girl - heh! The bus. I started playing along with Skull and Roses, but was confused when I tried to play along with E'72 - I had to tune my guitar way weird (pitched fast, don't you know?). The band I was in played equal parts ABB and Dead and I was having a blast. I followed the Dead until '82 or '83 when I moved to new musical directions. Back on the bus in '95 with 100 Year Hall and that's all she wrote. To say I'm looking forward to the E'72 crate would be an understatement, indeed.

" Where does the time go? "

deadmike's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
About good or bad records by the band.

The first real Grateful Dead record that I listened to was "Steal Your Face" in late 1976. I don't remember a lot about it but I never thought it to as bad as a lot of fans think. Okey, so I it didn't got me on the bus but to be fair, I consider it to be a good three out of five stars. The most boring Dead record ever is probably "Shakedown Street". That one is a weak two stars.

Micke Östlund,
Växjö, Sweden

My record collection:


Comment viewing options

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