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?
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.
At 16 years old in Albuquerque, my friends were more turned on to the Grateful Dead than I was, since, as a teenager, I liked punk rock. I spat a haughty "pshaw" at the mention of a trip to Santa Fe to catch the "immortal Dead" in 1982 so I missed what was in store....until I turned on to the GD in college and, lo and behold, the Downs at Santa Fe was my first ever bootleg tape. I've internalized all of it since, except, of course, those juicy d/s bits that the tape, bless its heart, was too small to contain. Would that my mind had been ready so that I could have been there!
winds and windy
I'm planning to get into this issue about the "fellow traveler" jam bands in a few weeks, so save those thoughts!
I echo the comments above re Phish and WSP. I've actually made myself listen to some of the newer jam bands as I didn't want to become an "old fart". I've learned to respect many of these bands. Phish is very creative but don't grab me like the Dead (although I've never seen them live). Same for WSP. I enjoyed moe. somewhat more (I have seen them live twice). The band that comes closest to the feel of the Dead for me is Railroad Earth whom I've seen live 10 times, most recently a couple weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA!
I mean "you're"
"Hunta" - your such a poser maaaaaannnnn!!! ;)
Seriously though - I respect those bands and kind of enjoy bits and pieces, but like you spacebro, they have simply never grabbed me like the Dead.