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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on the bus, then off, now on

I got on the bus around '68 and saw my first how in '71. Live/Dead was an early favorite and seminal influence. Saw the Dead many time throughout the '70's and then lost interest. Too many other distractions, too many other commitments. I thought the tapers were a bit too obsessive, though I lived with a great one in the seventies. When I saw the Dick's Picks in the stores I grinned but didn't buy. I felt embarrassed when the Dead had a hit. My old favorite band should not become popular, especially not now, after I had moved on! Long story short, I checked back in about 2000 and was dumbfounded by how much I had missed and how good the band could be. I have since caught up by buying a lot of the Dick's Picks, Vault releases and Road Trips. I have read up on the band (thank you Blair, I paid much more for my copies of Golden Road on eBay than I would have as a subscriber). It's amazing how the internet has changed how we we interact with the music we love. I eagerly wait for my E72 set. Europe '72 is a favorite to this day. The lesson here is that the Dead have been so good for so long that I was able to get on the bus, fall off and get back on. No other band in history has the legacy and the recorded legacy to permit that to happen.
The king is Dead, long live the king!

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My Story

Chef Free
When I was 14 I discovered going to rock concerts. I was so disapointed to find out that the Dead "quit" touring before I had the chance to see them, so when Jerry Garcia and Friends played a benefit for SF schools I jumped at the chance. I went with some "serious musician" friends. The Dead were the openers, they played Blues For Allah for about a half hour then about 15 min. of Johnny B. Goode! My friends said stuff like "Are they still playing the same song?" but I kinda liked it. Saw them again the next year with the Who and started to see the whole "family" thing. But.. when I saw them just back from Egypt (10-21-78) I was totally hooked! Always saw them when they played the Bay Area ever after.

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I will get by

Jerry told me, "I will get by, I will survive." 23 years since that first show still gettin' by, still survivin'. Thanks boys

Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours I am done with mine...

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Answers

Jerry bought his pedal steel in Boulder, CO. Bob's guitar is the Cowboy Fancy. Jerry has been partial to the Fender Twin Reverb amp. All this stuff is in Blair Jackson's books "Grateful Dead Gear" and "Jerry Garcia: An American Life." Good stuff!!! Sorry for the geek-out everybody!!!

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I think I know some

"Teach your Children", pedal steel guitar, I don' know, Janis Joplin. Any one out there who knows or think he or she knows the others?

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OK...I'll play

On what very famous Crosby, Stills and Nash song does Jerry play? What does he play? Where did he buy this instument? What is the nickname of Bob Weir's 70's Ibanez guitar? Jerry has played many guitars, but one amp has been his mainstay. What is it? Who is Bird Song about? (Points are on the honor system. Take as many as you need!!!)

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Blair -- Hawken

Thanks. Yeah, I found that connection to Stewart Brand as well...seems too coincidental for it NOT to be the same guy. Hawken was working a few years ago as a "green" consultant to the company I work for, so I met him a few times. Definitely seems the sort to have some kind of bus connection...wish I'd known then, because I definitely would have peppered him with some questions.

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you win

15 points to "giantnerd" Do you have the next question?

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Can't resist

Spud boy. Phil was tripping the light fantastic during a show and stopped playing for a short while. To he and Jerry it seemed like an eternity but it was like 30 seconds. Jerry thought Phil ruined the show and told Phil "You f#@#ing play!!!" and threw him down the stairs. He later apologized and admitted the tapes of that show were pretty good!!!

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A slow Friday afternoon Trivia Question

Let's separate the Deader than thou from the merely Dead: What was Garcia's nickname in "Old and in the Way" ? 5 points. No need to phrase in a question form. Second Question; Who in the Dead was thrown down the stairs, by whom and why? 10 points. Same rule.

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