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.
zepthompson's picture
Joined: Nov 1 2010
Waiting for the bus...

I'm not sure I'm a TouchHead - tho IN THE DARK is one my alltime favorite albums -- no doubt had an album or two prior to 1987 - the What a Long Strange Trip double, maybe even Blues for Allah.
Went to 3 shows - the one with John Fogerty is the only one I remember, I know one was on my friend's birthday (also an Oakland show) and at least one Shoreline show that could have been before or after any of the others.
In early 2008 started acquiring live shows (deadpods mainly) and everything else I could find at the local record store...
but still figuring out what Phil sings....

Joined: Aug 21 2007

Someone had to finaly blow the lid off the "Deader than thou" phenom. Thanks for doing it, Blair. We all seem to have some narcissistic need to preserve the specialness of what we were part of, as opposed to those "others". I am not immune, but really try to stay away from it and stay closer to the spirit of people's enjoyment.
I started listening to the Grateful Dead in about 1980 when my family borrowed Workingman's Dead from the Lincoln Center Library in NYC. It became a family favorite since the Dead have roots in all the music my father listened to and played himself (blues, folk, bluegrass, country, early rock and roll...) Because of the familiarity of the music, I kept listening and finally saw my first show in 1984 when I was old enough to go do stuff like that by myself (I was 15...different place, different times, and definitely different parents).

Joined: Sep 10 2008
Bus Came BY........

I got on the Bus in '77, I was into Hard Rock at the time. I listened to a variety of music at that point, my mom had tons of 45's and most of them were 50's rock, with some Beatles mixed in. My sister had a growing record collection and it was pretty diverse. I was into history at that time and was learning about the 20's and 30's. I came across Europe 72 and songs like Brown Eyed, Ten Jed, Ramble On, Jack Straw reminded me of that time period. I liked storytelling songs and wow these guys sounded fun. I even got into the long jams right away, thanks to many stoned nights of listening to early Chicago and Yes. I missed Donna and Kieth because I did not see 1st show until 81. I did blame the out of control scene on the "Touch Heads" (shame on me) I guess because I came from a scene where the shows were never crowded in early to mid 80's. I am trying to say we all had to start somewhere and I never should have passed judgment on the new fans at the time.

Joined: Jan 11 2008
Phish-er than thou

I've experienced both ends of this equation. I was on the "ground floor" for Phish, having seen them for free playing at Hobart College in 1989, and seeing them at Union College for five bucks in 1991, and I remember when they weren't selling out small theatres. And I'm also a Johnny Come Lately to the Dead, having seen my first show in 1988.

But I saw the first three Further shows with John K. Does that make me an "OG" as far as that band in concerned?

The whole Dead-er than thou thing is silly. If you are giving people crap for not "being there when", maybe you've got too much of your self identity to wrapped up in a rock band? What inadequacy within yourself makes you treat a newcomer to the Grateful Dead so poorly? That's the real issue here, friend. The music is there for anyone and everyone who can enjoy it.

Joined: Feb 28 2011
When I was ready the Bus showed up

After a spell in SoCal around Newport moved to Bay Area and got a place in Belmont.
A working stiff in early Mag tape biz.
Heard that Commander Cody was in town playing and managed to find my way out to the Family Dog 2/27/69. Second song by this scuffy bunch of guys was Mama Tried and my Ft Worth Texas heart was pierced. Turned out there were a few Tejanos in the bar and the owner was from Ft Worth too.
Those guys kept popping up everywhere around when I got connected to the Menlo Park, Palo Alto, La Honda and Portola Valley, Boulder Creek geography. Lots of coastal shows diuring those days and the bar bands were the best. Late 70's and 80's in midwest. When the Bus came into range I was there.
Was there last Jerry show at SF Chicago.
Still follow the Further/Rat dog shows in the area.
Last show I went to met guys like me with their grandkids in tow.
Don't tell me they're TOO LATE.
They get it.
Wonderful stuff.

Every time that wheel turn round
Bound to cover just a little more ground

It MUST have been the Roses
Bear xiv

Joined: Sep 16 2007
Not deader than thou, but...

my first show was the Human Be-In, January 67 GG Park. As a 14-year-old teenybopper I went to worship the Airplane, but the bus came by and I got on as soon as GD swung into the double-time part of "Viola Lee." Missed a few bus stops in the 70s but got back on in the 80s.

Joined: Jun 6 2007

... lamagonzo! I think the testimony of many who have written here and thousands elsewhere show that it certainly is possible to "get it" without having been there. Is it the same? No. But it's not inauthentic...

I would also humbly suggest that karma has nothing to do with it...


lamagonzo (not verified)
Agree with GProf

You had to be there to "get it". Even the superb audience/board mixes that really make those who were there salivate for the good old days will do for others almost less than nothing.

So, the experience of the energy was vital for any particular show. Hanging out on Shakedown for some, Participating in an orgy is some hotel room with everything available under the sun to get your freak on -- or, whatever you did built the energy up to that point where you made sure you had your ticket and went in. Then a whole new context opened up and you got comfortable with friends in a place and all the time the energy was building. Then the lights went down -- the show -- the aftermath. Going to heaven or hell & back as the music played and you tripped.

What went down can't be found with the best tapes, sorry. You had to be there.
Bliss to all. If you came late or missed altogether it was your karma. Don't bum about it, Instead rejoice it happened...

(Did it really???)

...some afternoon and evening not so long ago.

I'm sure there are battle-worthy veterans of the "Rave" scene also. But alas, a different scene.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Grateful Prof...

I agree completely with you about those points...

Joined: Jun 6 2007
I have friends...

....who won't listen to anything post-Keith & Donna now, even though they went to dozens and dozens of shows in the Brent era and beyond, and had a great time at most of them. Personally, I'll listen to any era, though I go in and out of "period" phases, and I won't hesitate to skip over a track I don't want to hear for whatever reason. During this period I was working on the liner notes for the E72 box, I've listened to almost nothing else... it was a pretty good place to hang out for a few weeks...


Comment viewing options

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