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: 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:

Joined: Aug 16 2007
I must've been dosed...

I have no idea when I actually got on the bus, only that I came to one day and realized I'd been riding for a while. I'm not even sure who got me the ticket... =o)

A couple early experiences were hearing "US Blues" at a friend's house when it came out. I was 9 or 10 at the time. I liked it, but I liked a lot of what I was hearing at the time.

The second was sneaking out to see them with some friends on 10/27/1979 at The Cape Cod Coliseum. I had a great time at the show, but I was just starting to see shows at the time and was having a great time at them all.

I realized I was on the bus the night I came home around 1am, flipped on the TV, just as USA Network's "Nightflight" began showing "Dead Ahead." My mom came into the room, chatted with me for a couple minutes. Instead of going back to bed, however, she sat down and said, "Oh, this group is good. Who are they?"

It was so much fun telling her it was The Grateful Dead, explaining who everyone was, what I liked about the music and the experience of seeing them live. It didn't take very long for her to realize they weren't the loud, angry band she'd assumed they were (because of the name). When it was over, she said she enjoyed it and thanked me for letting her watch it with me--I think she was expecting me to want to watch it alone.

Years later, after I'd moved out, I'd invite my folks over to my place for dinner from time to time. If "For the Faithful"/"Reckoning" wasn't playing when they arrived, she'd request I pop it in the CD player before we sat down for dinner.

She's been gone a few years now, but the night we sat in front of the TV, talking about the Dead will always be one of my favorite memories of her.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Great stories!

I think the moral of all these stories is... "Well, well, well... you can never tell!" Kinda like falling in love when you least expect it...

Joined: Jun 9 2007
Always hated the Deader-Than-Thou attitude

My first show was in 1976 (UC Santa Barbara, a Day on the Green), but I've always despised that Deader-than-thou attitude (which, by the way, is exactly how my wife and I have always referred to it).

One other manifestation of that attitude: You were Deader-than-thou if you could cite show dates and playlists from memory. I've been the recipient of those looks-down-noses because I didn't know the first show this song was played at or the last date that tune was played. What's like suggesting my love of baseball is less than yours because I can't rattle of a one-season player's batting average from 1957. Sheesh...

Shel Holtz
Concord, CA

Joined: Feb 23 2011
Missed the Bus completely. Summer of '07

Born in 88 so yeah, I missed the bus completely... Graduated High school in '07. During school I had a friend who I would call a deadhead and bust her chops, just jokingly. Probly the smartest girl in my graduating class. Never really listened to the dead before that. The summer after I graduated I started listening and what do you know, I cant get enough now! I guess its my curse for busting her chops :). But Im not complaining other than that I was born waaay late and never go to see the band at their peak years and to neveer get to see Jerry. Seen DSO before but that will never compare to seeing the actual thing. The closest I will be getting to seeing the real thing is seeing Furthur this summer.

Joined: Jun 17 2007
Dead-er Than Thou

Knew a college DJ at Penn State in the '70s. I was in my teens and wanted to get into the music business and hung out with him often. One day he told me he needed to go downtown "to get something" and asked me if I wanted to go. Downtown was about nine miles from where we lived. We took the public bus to downtown Pittsburgh and the Dead were playing at the Civic Arena. The "something" he had to get was a "lid" of weed from someone who was going to the show. After he made his purchase he looked at the bus schedule and I said since we were already there we should check out the concert. He wasn't into it. I stayed and purchased a ticket for like eight or nine bucks, can't remember the exact cost. I was always going to concerts in those days as long as it was rock and roll. Met a cool, young married couple from West Virginia who thought it was amusing that I came alone. They turned me on with a few goodies including my first taste of moonshine. I was familiar with CASEY JONES at the time and that was about it. The Dead played songs that I didn't know yet each one sounded extremely familiar like I had heard it or been there before. The only tune they played that night that I really knew was EL PASO because my mom used to listen to the Marty Robbins' version. It didn't matter, though. By the end of NEW MINGLEWOOD BLUES (the opener), I was on the bus. Met a bunch of great folks throughout the years, young and old, newbies and elders, but I'll always remember the young Appalachian couple who helped me climb aboard with all the right credentials ... nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile!


Comment viewing options

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