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?
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...
First Blair thanks,
I am relatively a newbian, i got on the bus in 92 i believe, i was listening for about a year and a half before that but my first show was at McNichols (Big Mac) in Denver in 92. i remember i ate this awesome acid, i had tripped a ton (like 50 times) before so i was experienced but i was so into the scene, by the time i got into the show i saw this cop standing in a corner with his arms crossed and a very serious look on his face. I felt bad for the guy and new he was just a human that had a job to do so i went up to him to give him a hug to let him know everything was okay and he didn't have to be so serious about everything (realize im 6'2" and built like a foot ball player) so he picks me up and shakes me vigerously asking what and the hell am i doing, my facial expression must have answered everything like "sorry man i just thought you needed a hug" that he let me moon walk out and disappear into the crowd. my friends didnt know what to think. the show happened, and they I clearly remember terrapin, at this point i was out in the area outside (like the circle around indoor arenas that take you from one are to the other) and all of these spinners were gettin it, and i was weaving through them so elegantly i felt like i was a thought in this big brain....it was really awesome, i have not been off of the bus ever since, i was at soldiers 95 and miss Jerry, but the fact is it doesnt matter when you get shown the light, its just do you get shown the light and really get it.
I never got to see pig pen but that doesnt mean i cant love what he did, i especially like the janis/pig lovelight, but had a really big pig phase when i was younger.
My now fiance knew that i loved the boys and she knew the songs because apparently it is all i play, but i thought i was more diverse...whatever. Anyway she picked up the songs and we flew to Chicago for the Rosemont "the Dead" warren who tour. if you haven't been to that venue wow it is a great venue it is now the all state, anyway, we split some mushies and anyone who was at that show will understand the audience and the band were talking...so about 2 or 3 songs pass and she looks up at me with an ear to ear smile is like, I GET IT, these guys are freakin cool. She has been on the bus ever since.
She never got to see Jerry but is no lesser a fan, don't get me wrong i really really wish she could have experienced that but , she loves the boys and loves the music and the people, and as for previous dead she is able to live it vicariously through the recordings, she is in a big Brent phase right now which is super right on, anyway we are both late bloomers but are really proud and happy to be on this trip so thanks.
"Well, I aint always right but ive never been wrong".
"seldom turns out like it does in this song"
Blair, I look forward to that blog as I am interested in what others on the bus feel about those other buses we have seen around. I have riddin on a few with mixed results. I will hold the rest of my thoughts.........
Tripped my brains out. Nuthin but fun. There was no bus. Just the Dead out on the stage at Raceway Park and a hot 70's chick in cut-offs and a halter top dancing on a cooler right in front of us for must of the show. Doesn't get much better than that, I guess. 'Cept for the NEXT show... now THAT'S a story!
I always loathed people who said "Newbies" were harmful to the scene or the band. If we could change (Or enlighten) one persons mind and show them that things like recycling, or helping a stranger on the road, were good karmically speaking, it was worth it. If hundreds or perhaps thousands came and only one of them saw the good of Deadheads and the peaceful way that I know Jerry and the rest wanted for the world, that was OK with me.
I heard Touch of Grey on the radio in a Whole Foods the other day. I didn't recognize it right away since I rarely listen to that particular song. A smile came over my face, and I realized that once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.