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?
What a great piece! I, like some of the others almost feel like there is something missing becasue I failed to see the boys live. I'd always been into music growing up, and admit my first experience was loving "Touch of Grey" when I saw the video as a Freshman in high school. Although going on and buying "In the Dark" was the extent of my Grateful Dead experience at that time. Years passed and suttle Grateful Dead influences seemed to make their way in and out of my life. I remember sitting in the basement of a HS girlfriend's house and hearing somewhat meandering music coming from the stereo, and asking her what it was. Her response was "Oh that's my brother's Grateful Dead". As I went off to college in the early to mid 1990s I found myself falling in with a large group of Dead Head Soccer players at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. Although the Dead influence was heavy amoungst that group, I still never actually jumped completely on the bus. There was something about what I perceived as "blind faith" in some of the kids who were getting into the Dead that I was skeptical about. The day I actually feel like I "got it" was when I had experienced a sort of physical confrontation with a guy at a party. He basically punched me in the face for being kind. As I sat there and the room cleared out, I turned on a stereo in the room and the sweet, comforting sounds of the Phil's "Box of Rain" came pouring out of the speakers. I never actually got to a show, but after many opportunities, I finally got on the bus! Better late than never.
I can't find confirmation that the Paul Hawken in Wolfe's book is the same as the Smith & Hawken founder, but I'd be willing to bet it is. He has at times traveled in the same circles as Stewart Brand (of Trips Fest and Whole Earth Catalog fame) and that trippy futurist Marin bunch... Makes sense it would be him...
I enjoyed this Blair! My freshman year of college was in Georgia in 1995 and that was the first time I had ever heard the Grateful Dead. Right away...Jerry died. I have never been to a Grateful Dead concert...Not One! (I did see The Dead in VA in 2009!) But I am a dead head and I collect tapes and CD's and listen to everything I can find on the internet. This site is my favorite site! Grateful Dead fans will spring from existence for the next 500 years. And those will never see the Dead live or even meet anyone who had seen the Dead live.
My wife were fortunate enough to see Phil & Friends in the line-up that included Jackie Greene and Larry Campbell at the House of Blues at North Myrtle Beach a couple summers back. We were about 8 feet from the stage and it was a great show. We met some folks from Charlotte and Rock Hill and had a terrific time. Phil was driving the jams as he usually does and Jackie was doing some shredding on the lead solos. Small hall-big fun. That night it was raining and thundering and lightning like hell when we got out at the end of the show and Highway 17 was flooded.
But definitely bus-related. I just started reading "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" for the first time since probably 1974. While reading it, part of my 55 yr old self has been transported back to my 18 yr old self, re-experiencing what I was thinking and feeling the first time that I read the book...I'm loving that. And part of my 55 yr old self is thinking, "How quaint and...naive? all this seems today." But that's me.
What I really have is a question. In reading the acknowledgments, I noticed that one of the names that Wolfe drops is Paul Hawken. Does anyone know if this is the same environmenatlist, "Smith and Hawken" founder, "The Ecology of Commerce" and "Natural Capitalism" author named Paul Hawken? He's certainly the right age, and from the right place.
My personal favorite post Jerry Dead related venture was the line-up of Phil Lesh and Friends that featured the talents of Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes, Rob Barraco and John Molo. The songs on There And Back have some of my favorite Robert Hunter collaborations since the late '70s Hunter/Garcia works. I would fully support a reunion of that particular line-up.
Phil Lesh has more energy than any other musician I can think of. He is an absolute marvel and should be an inspiration to all of us! I truly love ALL the former members and have supported all of their various ventures (which is not say I have liked each venture equally) , but I think it's fair to say that Phil has really led the way in showing how vital the Grateful Dead repertoire can be in the 21st century. He set the bar very, very high, and he continues the kick the asses of the musicians he works with and the crowd that comes to see him, every single night.
Hey Blair very cool blog!
I was indeed introduced to the dead in '89 I was 18 just out of high school. I was one of the kids trying to sell you a veggie burrito! Anyway my first show was at Cal Expo '89, it was a very magical event, so much that it hooked me for life. You know, I miss Jerry (like all of us) a ton. I thought the magic died with him but I realize that the magic that happens at these shows is bigger then one person, way bigger!! I have been so lucky to see Furthur a bunch on the west and east coast runs and I got to say, I have been running into a lot of heads in there 20's. It has been so fun to experience Furthur with these younger people. Furthur is not the Grateful Dead, Bobby and Phil are much older now, but still have a ton of great shows in them. I keep hearing people mention that they "missed the bus" but they haven't, the bus is loaded with gas and rolling. I encourage anybody that thinks they have missed it to jump on! Phil is almost 71 and we are soooo lucky to still see shows with him. Jump on the bus you will be glad you did!!!
And 100,000 tons of steel, made to roll.
The brakes don't work and this grade's too steep, her engine's sure to blow.
And 100,000 tons of steel, out of control,
She's more a rollercoaster than the train I used to know.
Born 89 and missed the bus....
but have seen DSO numerous times as well as catching Furthur and Phish
for the first time in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
I had a buddy named Charlie growing up, and all of his brothers loved the music....
What really turned me on was when I saw DSO perform in Chicago at Park West in 2008....
Played a show from 92, and gotta say the Playin' in the second set spun me so hard......
and THAT was when I got it!!! I realized.... and have been digging for it ever since...
Definitely had many run-ins with heads that had to step on what I had to say, (due to the fact
of me being a neophyte) but there were many other older heads that really helped me out in
generous and amazing ways....
Sometimes the songs that we hear,
are just songs of our own
Well, maybe not. Glad you didn't end up in the slammer...