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: Feb 23 2011
on the bus....

April 12, 1978.....hook, line, and sinker!

Joined: Nov 2 2010
dead-er-than thou

On the bus - 1969-70 Live/Dead & Workingman's
First show - 1972 Cleveland, OH
I'm so old I listened to "bootleg" shows on reel-to-reel.

Joined: Jun 11 2009


Joined: Jun 17 2007
dead-er-than thou

Blair, interesting piece. Definitely a long debated argument in the 90's with the ever-so-much used slur...."Touchhead". Well, I can freely admit, damn it, I am one. First show 1989, 15 years old my mother took me and dropped me off in lot....WOW what did I get myself into and why can't I stop. Second show 1990, 16 years old and drove myself. Traded so many Maxell XLII's that it could fund a small country for several years, and still have them. Got on the Bus and have never left. Have read every Dead book written, own almost all GDP releases, and wouldn't change anything...............unless I could experience San Fran in '69 or Europe in '72.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Burning Man snobs...

That's funny, avatar. I hadn't thought about that sort of thing, but I imagine it's true with almost everything, from Phish, to whether you watched "Mad Men" from Season One or hopped on board at Season 4, to whether you went to Hawaii before it was "spoiled" or not.

Joined: Nov 4 2010
I'm in the same boat (or bus perhaps) as Big Blues Driver

except I'm 17 not 35. About two years ago my dad had told me to listen to Workingman's Dead. I didn't really like it and fell asleep listening to it. It was on repeat and when I woke up in the morning I had and still do have an insatiable desire to hear more Dead.

Joined: Jun 23 2008

I've never seen Jerry. But I listen to the Dead almost everyday. I missed it, I know, but as more time passes, more and more fans will be fans who never saw him. I hope that the fellas from back in the day see this as a carrying of the torch, rather than a distortion of what it means to be a deadhead. I'm 35. I work in an office. And the Dead mean more to me everyday.

Hal R's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
On The Bus

Also on this site there is a topic about "What got you on the bus?" that has lots of great stories. Have you looked at it Blair? Take a peak. I think that is what you are asking here.

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
William Blake

inthemoment1's picture
Joined: Jul 7 2008
When the Rose is Gone - Rumi

When the rose is gone and the garden faded
you will no longer hear the nightingale's song.
The Beloved is all; the lover just a veil.
The Beloved is living; the lover a dead thing.
If love withholds its strengthening care,
the lover is left like a bird without care,
the lover is left like a bird without wings.
How will I be awake and aware
if the light of the Beloved is absent?
Love wills that this Word be brought forth


Joined: Jun 11 2007

After the In the Dark madness of 1987, I always took pride inthe fact that I came in pre-coma. I don't think I ever came off as an elitist to anyone who came later, but I think everyone can admit to feeling a little extra pride in knowing the got onthe bus before others. I always thought it was a trip when I met folks that never saw Brent, and I guess some folks thought it was a trip that I never saw Keith and Donna.
Whatever. I just never wanted to be lumped in with the Touch of Greyers!


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