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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Joined: Jul 28 2007
The Scene Changed

I started seeing shows in the latter 70's and my last was St. Louis prior to the final Chicago shows. Not your typical deadhead in some ways, but I found a bliss at the shows I can't find anywhere else. But toward the end it was a harsh environment, period.

I recall being the second car in line, waiting for the gates to open, at a 90's Palace (Detroit) show. The car in front of us, first in line and our immediate neighbor in the lot, contained two pretty serious hoodlums there only to sell bogus acid in the parking lot. I watched them recruit up some lot rats (scruffy, young druggie kids) to run around the parking lot selling for them. The hoods left, sold out, before the show even started. Spooky guys, we didn't talk to them and they ignored us.

Another time we were walking back to a hotel from a Soldier Field show and young thugs had set up a nitros station in a small parking lot. The folks really appreciated the balloons but it was very clear that the guys selling the stuff were not Dead fans in any way. Very organized operation, long hose from the tank hidden in one place to a milling crowd in another place, watchouts with radios sitting here and there on car roofs scanning traffic.

Anyway, lots of folks were crashing our scene toward the end.

There's good stuff, too! We once stayed in a private campground near Deer Creek that was an amazing place. No cops allowed, all fenced in, a muddy pond in the middle and a highway about 30 yards over there. What a fantastic place to stay for those shows, all the best of the lot scene was there and none of the BS. Tanks hissing in the distance, a naked guy sitting on and playing a drum near the main path, artwork and incredible shirts, the works. Really happy people in every direction and no problems at all anywhere. Well, one problem....finding designated drivers to get to and from the show.


lsdst's picture
Joined: Nov 2 2010
Orange County Fairgrounds 1960-something or other

I was only 12 years old and I guess Quicksilver and the Airplane and Blue Cheer were there, but I was dosed at the time so the only thing I actually remember was seeing Bobby on the stage and wondering what that kid was doing up there, and thinking that he better get down from there before he got in trouble.

Rev. Tom
Church of the LSD Saints

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
Time for a new

Blair Blog?

Joined: Jul 30 2007
Young and On the Bus

I had older cousins that were really into the Dead in the early '80s. In 1982, when the band came to Long Island that April for a few nights at the Nassau Colisseum, my aunt & uncle wouldn't take my cousins to a show. Somehow my cousins convinced my parents to take them. With no babysitter available on Easter Sunday, my brother and I had to go also. I was 7 and a half years old and the arc of my life was forever changed.

After this, our family vacations three times a year were following the band around the North East. Later we even added a fourth vacation to the Bay Area for New Years or February runs in Oakland. Eventually, I moved to SF and still live here.

I admit to some Deader-Than-Thou behavior. This was mostly because many of the kids that got into the Dead in '87 had been making fun of me during elementary school and middle school for wearing tie-dyes and for being a boy with long hair. They would see the skulls and skeletons and ask me if I was a satan worshipper. Suddenly my freshman year of high school they all wanted to hang out with me and even asked me to "hook them up." Resentment? Yeah. But I got over it. It's a Big Bus after all, right?

lamagonzo (not verified)
Highgate & The Last Tour

I stopped touring in 93 so can't say from actual experience about Deer Creek or Highgate, which is in my neck of the woods, however, I have heard a lot and even seen some of the footage on You Tube.

First, any venue that was insane enough to host the Dead in the last years better have had it's shit together. We're talking 1995 -- meth, AIDS, heroin, nitrous mafia. If they didn't have a million cops around (for show & order only!!!) then they were just plain stupid.

Maybe those venues and their towns wanted the Dead there for the $$$ it brought in, but they couldn't be unaware of what a scene it had become. Just not possible. There were other forces pushing The Grateful Dead at this time. To think of the condition Jerry was in and that a Fall 95 tour had ben set up with tickets sold is sickening.

The Deader Than Thou part? If you didn't know you were watching something self-destructing by 93 and you were still "enjoying" yourself on tour.

I can't say what I really feel here because certain topics can't be spoken of on this site.

Joined: Aug 18 2007
My introduction involved horses

I was first exposed to the Grateful Dead's music in the early 1980's. I was just a teenager and every Saturday my parents would take me to ride horses outside Madison Wisconsin. The stables were managed by two graduate students from the UW in Madison WI. It turns out they were Heads from Chicago, and I was quickly turned onto the music of Dylan, and the Dead. This couple had a profound influence on me and I value the memory of their friendship to this day. My first Dead album was Workingman's Dead on cassette, which I still have. My first show was at Alpine Valley in 1986, I think and I remember they people standing around me were so nice and welcoming. I listen to tons of Dead music to this day, but their music really turned my onto different kinds of music. Now in on a big Miles Davis kick, but riding horses and listening to Workingman's Dead was a great experience, I wish I would run into my friends from the riding stable again and thank them for turning me onto great friendship and music.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Rushing the gates...

How about Woodstock? There were a lot of problems outside Dead shows in '70 and '71--too many folks!--and that's what led to them broadcasting so many shows in the fall of '71....But what happened at Highgate and Deer Creek in '95 was definitely a low point...

bruno14's picture
Joined: Sep 18 2007
Nice thoughts – Thanks.

In 1973, I was nineteen-years old and stationed in southern California in the military. I got an apartment off-base with some other rock and rollers. One day, my roommate suggested we go to a concert. I gave him money and trusted him to get tickets for something good. He got tickets to a Dead show at Universal Amphitheatre. I had no clue…

Our seats were front row or nearly so but behind Keith’s back so we could hardly see the band. We danced around a lot and, during the second set, I recall sitting on stage leaning back against the piano (for a moment or an hour I have no idea?).

I have been Deadicated ever since. I did not go to all that many shows but caught whatever I could when they were nearby; my last Dead show was 1984 – just circumstances mostly. I saw some Jerry shows too, and later Ratdog, Phil and Friends, and the Dead tour in 2009 with my eldest son.

I recall walking out of many shows talking about favorite songs, jams, etc., and hearing someone pontificating about how bad the show was compared to others they had seen. I always wondered why someone would go to that much trouble to have a miserable time.

A favorite odd audience memory is from 1977: some people near me just did not appreciate a nice long Spacey Jam, and one said, loudly, “Enough is enough. You’d think they would at least play their hits!”

lamagonzo (not verified)
blairj - harsh, really?

Don't know, maybe I'm missing the point here. I probably did on that post as it was a little off-topic - maybe seeming Deader-Than-Thou.

The topic is a keen incite and way overdo. I really didn't like those "Heads" who were deader Than Thou and there were thousands of them who always knew way too much more than you did and made you feel you missed the good old days -- till Wavy's pronouncement after the show at Kingswood in 84 ("These are the Good Ole days) put an end to that buzz-killing for me.

I really have to beg to differ on the karma part. Whatever happens to you is your karma, your fault. Nothing can happen to you that you didn't create the causes for. Even the year you were born and when you tuned in. But don't worry, it'all happen again, and maybe sooner than you think.

I'm really surprised that you would think that harsh. For me it's just truth. I've tried to turn so many people on to the Dead and watched them slump. For what it's worth, I like Furthur, but the Grateful Dead scene and it's energy was coming from ol' Jer, right up to Phil's Box of Rain at the end.

Joined: Nov 2 2010

Started getting tapes in '88. First show JGB Cap Centre 11/91. First dead show RFK '92, seen about 30 more after that. Even though I never seen earlier shows, I could tell alot of folks was there for the party! and it was not just young people. I'm very thankful to the "old heads" who welcomed me with open arms!! By the way, when was the first " rush the gate" incident at a dead show? I bet it was before the '90s. Deer Creek just had that many drunk, reckless people around to start something major! and very sad. Thank you again to the "old heads" Peace!!


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