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?
My first intro to the Dead was in 1970 courtesy of KZAP in Sacramento. Mr. Smith, our hippy art teacher, had his stereo tuned to to 98.5 on the FM dial and that's all it took. My friends "forgot" to invite me to the Kezar show in 1973. My first taste of Jerry was New Years Eve that year when he joined the Allman Brothers and Boz Scaggs to jam into the the morning at the Cow Palace. A second attempt at a Dead show in 1974 fell short-it rained and Bill Graham let the crowd into Winterland early-no tickets. Little did I know those were the last shows before the Hiatus. There were some epic JGB and Kingfish shows enjoyed during the break-one memorable night at Winterland when Nicky Hopkins was with the JGB stands out. Finally, the first show was one for the Ages...Golden Gate Park. That began a run of some amazing shows-Winterland NYE runs up to and including the Close of Winterland. From Egypt with Love 10-22-78, a Reno show (watching people tripping hard in casinos afterward was a highlight), Keith and Donna's last show at Oakland Coliseum, the Warfield shows, early Oakland Auditorium shows at NYE, the Greek Theater runs, and the Who and Dead Day on the Green. Somewhere in the early 80s there was a definite shift to the vibe in the crowd. I remember a lot of pushing and shoving up front, people arguing about being "in their space". Finally it was easier to listen at home instead of dealing with attitude while trying to trip on the music. It felt pretty weird to miss shows, but easier to watch from a distance. Listening to friends talk about all the "wannabe" deadheads convinced me I made the right choice. I really enjoyed the attitude of those who acted like in was an inside joke-if you didn't get it, you weren't part of it. Sad to see.
I just got back from catching an evening with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon-the 40th anniversary of the recording of Live at Fillmore East. There was a kid kneeling at the balcony railing in front of me holding a brand new vinyl copy of the album. He was probably sixteen or so, and had been into the Brothers for a year. He was there to get his copy signed. Right behind me there was a dad with his 9 year old son-his first show. New blood keeps it alive and the Dead are no different.
Reading the blog about the release of E72 and the resulting panic was amusing. It appears in the end that most got the full bells and whistles version, but the hysteria whipped up in between was a hoot. Everyone got pilloried...new fans, old fans, people trying to make money off the Dead (like that NEVER happened before), Blair Jackson, Rhino, Phil, Bobby, you name it, they were responsible. Somewhere a lot of Holier than Thou folks forgot...it is all about music. WWJD and I ain't talkin' 'bout Jesus...
the very first time I listened to GD had to be around 81. I was in 7th grade and my best friend's family was having a garage sale. His mom was selling his older brother's records, which included Lynard Skynard, Black Sabbath, and GD's Working Man's and Skull and Roses.
We picked out the records and listened to them, having never heard any GD before. We were warned 'its acid rock, it will melt your mind' I don't remember anything distinct about hearing Bertha for the first time except that our impression was 'This is NOT scary!!'
I bought In the Dark and Skeletons in 88. I loved the 'hits' but I did not get any closer than that. I dont get high and I dont like the contact buzz, so I never attended a show.
In 2006, I joined a GD tribute band in Detroit, playing bass. We never played out, and again, another tribute band in 2010 in Houston. This band played out a few times, but folded after some memebers insisted I leave or get high.
I love GD, I love how I can listen to a 76 recording of Me and My Uncle, and then a version from 91. I love how the band grew and the songs evolved. I am very impressed with all the musicians but most impressed with Jerry. He was so brave to keep challenging himself with new styles and playing with artists in different styles.
And I like all the GD jrs - Phish, String Cheese, etc.
As embaresing as it is to admit, I turned down pit tickets to SPAC 1983 from a senior in my German class when I was in 10th grade. He wanted to turn me on to the GD but all I cared about at the time was seeing Men At Work. Yes I do admit it. Anyways I didn't see either that summer. Somehow the Music gods invaded my mind during the next year and I found myself going to SPAC 1984 with my brother and friends. My friend Dave (God rest his soul) and I heard that you could sell tie dye t-shirts at the show so we bought some containers of cheap RIT dye and made about 10 shirts. We had no idea what we were heading into! Needless to say we learned real quick about how serious people were into the whole scene. We still managed to sell our shirts for $5 a piece and I also remember (to my embaressment) refusing a t-shirt for Jerry poster trade as I wasn't sure if I was really into it. Dancin' in the Streets opener produced, well quite a "lawn dance" which amazed me, although my friend Dave and I spent most of the show trying to stay out of the rain. I remember being disapointed that I only knew a couple of the tunes that night. It wasn't till Halloween 1985 in Columbia SC, my third show that I really "got it". I haven't looked back since!
It's April 67 and my older brother Alan's on a swing spring break from Cal.
"Michael come in here" he says. He plops down a record he's hiding behind his back on our
brown boxey Motorola. The needle drops on the LP.... Organ swirl, blast-off "See that girl barefootin' along"...When the roof of my mouth dropped..and I returned to earth..he showed me the cover...things never quite looked the same again..and never have since.
First show 9/15/67 Hollywood Bowl.. the Janis got busted.. Dead'll do an extra set show.
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.
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.
Church of the LSD Saints
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?
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.
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.