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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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!!

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.


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