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?
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.
Well my first show should have been Niagara Falls 84 ,but while walking out the door I made the error of telling my parents where I was going. Big mistake!! they thought a 12 year old had no business attending such an event. So it wasnt until 7/4/86 at Rich Stadium that my life changed forever. Fortunatly I had older brothers who were seeing the boys since the late 70's and had amassed a large colection of tapes,so I was well versed with the music but it wasnt until that first show that I really got it...the overwhemling sence of love and community just blew this snot nose 14 yr old away, plus i was also initiated that evening to the world of psychedelics...it was a double whammy. I was on the bus. As for dealing with my parents at that time...I would sneak out in the middle of the night and leave a note stating "off to see the dead in Hartford or NYC or whatever be back soon". After awhile they seemed to be ok with there baby roaming around the country....becouse for the most part I came home in one piece, maybe just alittle rusty as my mother so elonquently put it. The only one who ever really gave me heat was my principal at the time, he said I missed more classes then the kid with Lupas. Oh well....I would do it all over again in a heartbeat....best years of my life.
Hunta should actually be spelled Junta. oops
At the risk of alienating myself, I can say that I think Panic and Phish are ok. I gave Phish a chance and went to a handful of shows between '94 and '98, but as time goes on, I become less than enthusiastic. I liked their albums between the period of Hunta and Story Of The Ghost, but lost interest. On occasion, I'll listen to Rift and Hoist, but thats about it. As far as Panic goes, since Jimmy Herring came into the band, I gave them the benefit of the doubt but found myself thinking that, here is this song with a so-so structure, doesn't really grab me, then suddenly a kick ass ripping guitar solo, then back into the mediocre song again. I love Jimmy Herring but can't find much to groove to with Panic. Aquarium Rescue Unit on the other hand is a completely different story. Now thats a band that more than warrant having a massive following. I don't get it.
With the Dead, they covered so much musical ground with some depth to their songs, that they made it all their own. Panic & Phish? What am I missing?
I had another thought on ones persepective and the relativity of it all while reading more posts on this thought provoking topic. I got into the Dead (heavily) in 89 and felt duly jealous and in awe of those "old school heads" who saw the band back in the 60s/70s at cozy venues. It was at this same time, however, that I saw Phish with about 50 other people in the room and WSP at a local dive bar with about 200 people in attendance (yeah Panic was actually bigger around here back in 1990). Now both of those bands have blossomed into mega scenes, but I certainly can't claim being Phishier or Panicier than thou because I never really have been a big fan of either even though I was in at the ground floor so to speak. Still, I have been asked about my first shows for those bands and have gotten some of the reactions from Phish and Panic heads that I gave back in 89 to those "old school dead heads" - awe with a touch of jealousy. That really puts it in perspective for me. Fact of the matter is the duration of your tenure has little to do with the depth of your interest and devotion. You are either on or off; it doesn't matter when, the band/time continuum is entirely relative.
Again - these ARE the good old days if you make them so; get out and see some music!
I've got to laugh at this blog title, I think I met a few in the last couple of years at shows. When you started listening to the band(s) and then attending concerts and get it. That's what I'd call that "kick in the fukkin'head" by the music, atmosphere, the folks. "Getting on the bus" shouldn't matter what year it was, 65 to 95 and beyond. It's your first positive experience with the GD> JGB> TOO> PLF> Ratdog> Rythmn Devils> The Dead> Furthur...... and nobody can take it away from you. And nobody elses is better than yours. We, all of us, need the younger fans to help keep the groove alive and kickin'.
On the bus since hearing Anthem of The Sun LP in 69 at a friends house, her older brother's record. Then promptly went to the record dept. at the local applance store, Tommy Fishers and bought the new LP with a real werdo name - Aoxomoxoa. Holy crow, St.Stephen, Cosmic Charlie, Duprees and China Cat just blew me away. By November LIVE-DEAD, was even wilder ! Sixteen in '69, our daily routine after school was smoke a doob and blast The Dead in the car on 8TK, at somebodys house (who's mom is not home) on LP. Boy oh boy, we've GOT to see this band LIVE ! Fast forward to the fall of '70, a friend of my older brother is coming down from college upstate with paper products. And the band is playing Halloween, WOW ! Eight of us in full costume, doin' some heavy smilage. What a show, we were all hooked. Must see these guys again. And so it began.
...very well, where do I begin? My first show was Syracuse, April 82. I was as wet behind the ears as a newborn babe, and had no idea what was going on at any given point in the show. It all seemed so chaotic, with no structure at all... the whole freeform jam concept was very new to me. (Up to that point my concert experiences had all been with groups that pretty much only played their albums verbatim.) The night seemed a blur, with only a couple of the GD songs seemed familiar to me- however, many of the songs in the set list would become huge favorites of mine in due time. I do vividly remember the drumz portion, when Billy beat on that huge tom and made the walls of the War Memorial shake. Man, I could feel the reverberations from my seat in the very back of the auditorium. Wow.
Up to that point most of folks I hung out with would snicker whenever the subject of the Grateful Dead came up, as they kinda looked down their noses at Dead Heads and regarded them as fanatical nut jobs. However, I never fit in with the beautiful people, I was like Zimmy says, "Always on the outside of whatever side there was". Day late and a dollar short. But the band and fans were OK with freaks. That appealed to me as well. Who or what you were wasn't nearly important as where your head was at.
A year later I saw the band again in Binghamton (4/12/83). This time I was better prepared, having done some 'homework'. The music was hot, and I witnessed firsthand the love that the fans had for the band, and vice versa. I could see this was indeed something special and that resonated with me. Just listen to that show sometime, you'll see what I mean. They closed it out with NFA, left the stage, but the audience kept singing "Love is real and not fade away" and pounded out the shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits handclap until the band came back out for the encore, where they resumed NFA for a bit before going into Baby Blue. It was kinda like the band was saying, "We love you too!" To me that was powerful stuff, this band/fan interaction.
But it was a week later when we were partying it up, with a fungus among us, that it really hit home. I just had to hear some more GD so we threw Dead Set on the turntable (remember those?) It was then, midway through the first side, in this strangest of places, that I was indeed shown the light, and finally stepped on the bus... I came to the realization that "there is NOTHING wrong with the Grateful Dead". and proclaimed this to my friends. They just laughed, perhaps they already knew, and we went on to have a great time. But this brief moment of enlightenment would change my life forever. I can still remember that pivotal point like it was yesterday... and here it is almost 28 years later.
Since then, the Grateful Dead has provided the soundtrack to my life, and I have had many profound insights and epiphanies while listening to their music. I cannot say that about too many other musicians. Beethoven is the closest I can think of right now.
I am thankful that I was born in this time and place, on this rock, to witness something as rare and unique as the Grateful Dead. In the long run I don't believe that it really matters WHEN you first got on the bus, but rather IF you get on the bus at all. And I think that if more people got on the bus, this world would be a much better place.