Nicholas Meriwether on the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus
More than fifty scholars, writers and special guests attended the Grateful Dead sessions of the recent Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference. Held in Albuquerque, NM, the conference drew more than 1,000 academics, with the Dead Area — nicknamed the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus — as the single largest group. In addition to forty papers and presentations on everything from the nature of Deadhead identity to how “Dark Star” works on a musicological level, the Caucus also welcomed special guests Rosie McGee and Rhoney Stanley, both longtime band family members and recent authors who discussed their time with the band, beginning in the sixties. Evening events included a hootenanny and a fine house concert by David Gans.
Last month was the 17th annual Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus. What exactly happens at this event? What role do you play?
The Caucus is an area of the SWPCA, a big international conference devoted to studying popular culture in all of its myriad aspects. Our area is somewhat unique in that it has developed a strong personality over its seventeen years, and has a core of fine scholars who attend every year. Like most conferences, we spend our days giving papers and making presentations on every conceivable aspect of the Grateful Dead, from their music and business practices to how they fit into larger contexts, from philosophy to cultural studies.
What does day-to-day attendance include?
We start pretty early in the morning and often go until late in the evening — although the conversational setting shifts from formal to informal as the evening wears on. A few years back, one participant came up with our informal slogan, “Think all day and rock all night,” which is pretty accurate.
This year was the largest gathering to date with over forty-one papers and presentations and four round table discussions. Any stand-outs?
Everyone seemed to feel like this year was one of our best, if not our best ever, so singling out individual papers is difficult. We had wonderful presentations from first-time attendees Rhoney Stanley and Rosie McGee, though, and those were definitely highlights.
You compile a book for attendees which is divided into sections entitled Reading, Writing, and Critiquing the Dead. Are these the main themes of the caucus or how do these approaches work within the framework of the caucus?
Those were good divisions for the book and they definitely convey the flavor of what we do — after all, that’s what all scholars tend to do: read, write, critique, and perhaps most of all, talk …
Can anyone submit their work of the caucus? How can one participate not only as fan but as a presenter?
We make it a point to include as wide a range of perspectives as possible. To date, we’ve welcomed almost 150 scholars from more than 26 fields and disciplines, and there is room for all levels and ranges of ability, from undergraduate to senior professor to interested outsider. This year we had a couple of folks who flew out for the conference and stayed the entire time, just because they were curious — and best of all, we had one presentation this year from someone who had been a spectator for four years and decided to make a presentation this year, which was wonderful. So we definitely have that Deadhead sense of inclusiveness, although we also foster a sense of excellence and rigor as well. People work hard on their presentations, just as we did in the shows and in the parking lots.
But you might want to start here, per Nick:
Copies of the conference book, which does have some essays, are available (email nicholas (at) ucsc.edu); and they can consult Studying the Dead (Scarecrow Press: ) for past meetings.
It would be fun and educational to be able to read the documents that scholars and other participants contributed.
Were any of them submitted as Word or PDF files, and are they in the public domain so they could be shared?
probably the thing to do would be to send mail to Nick at the GD Archive in Santa Cruz and tell him what you'd like to present or discuss.
I'd love to contribute to what I see as an amazing opportunity to discuss and share our individual experiences and perspectives on such an amazing phenomenon as Grateful Dead with like-minded people. I'm a person with very strong opinions about this, but at the same time, am eager to hear how others have been affected, and view the (what I consider) still-evolving, completely unique entity that is Grateful Dead. Thank you for your time, and wow, am I glad I heard about this!
Hey now, from Point Loma! That is one sweet graphic, and WE ALL WANT T- SHIRTS. I would like a muscle T Is that possible? We have a GREAT. Cover band down here called Electric Waste Band, and a TALENTED guitarist named Mark Fisher who has his birthday the same day as Jerry. OBPicasso@Yahoo.com
Maybe it was streamed. This is first I'm learning about it.
If it wasn't webcast, please consider setting up a Livestream or some other method to share this live when something like this occurs again.