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Clip: How Deadheads ruined the Grateful Dead.

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  • Steve Gardner
    A Long, Staid Trip How Deadheads ruined the Grateful Dead. By Marc Weingarten http://slate.msn.com/?id=2070251 The Deadhead ripple effect There is nothing
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 31, 2002
      A Long, Staid Trip
      How Deadheads ruined the Grateful Dead.
      By Marc Weingarten


      The Deadhead ripple effect

      "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead Concert," the old bumper stickers
      read. After attending my first 10 Dead shows, I soon realized this wasn't
      true: Every Dead concert is pretty much is like every other Dead concert.
      Not in terms of the set lists, which famously varied, or the particular
      architecture of band leader Jerry Garcia's frequently transcendent guitar
      work. No, it was that ineffable Dead "vibe" that always struck me as rote—it
      felt more habitual than blissful. What bugged me was the a priori assumption
      among Deadheads that Dead shows were always magic and that the magic could
      be routinely summoned on a nightly basis. It couldn't, not by a long shot.
      And that's coming from a fan.

      A Long Strange Trip—the exhaustive authorized Dead bio written by Dennis
      McNally, a Ph.D. in American history and the band's publicist for the past
      18 years—debunks the few remaining preconceived notions about the band's
      hippie benevolence that Deadheads have carried around. Even if one assumes
      that McNally has airbrushed some of the uglier episodes out of this official
      story (and other Dead bios might lead us to believe he has), he couldn't
      leave it all out. Despite the book's "Great Men" breathlessness, this is a
      sad, sorry tragedy—the chronicle of a personality cult so toxic it destroyed
      the very thing it venerated. Blame it on the Deadheads.

      The band's idea in the beginning was to bridge the gap between performer and
      audience. According to McNally, the Dead's career was forged in a mid-'60s
      San Francisco culture where showbiz notions of hero worship were unwelcome.
      "The Grateful Dead certainly sought to entertain and move its audience,"
      McNally writes, "but the root basis of their relationship was that of a
      partnership of equals, of companions in an odyssey."

      From 1965 to roughly 1975, the Dead fed off of this symbiosis brilliantly,
      moving through Live/Dead's lysergic-stoked free rock to the space-cowboy
      country of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty on to the baroque prog-jams
      of Wake of the Flood. Their venturesome efforts were rewarded with a fan
      base of Deadheads that had swelled to a mega-movement by the end of the
      '70s. Intensely loyal to the band, Deadhead-dom became its own sideshow, a
      traveling community of freaks and later, frat-boy geeks.

      The Deadheads gave the Grateful Dead a steady revenue stream and a safe
      harbor. At first, it felt like a rear guard action—fighting for community in
      a socially fragmented era. But it curdled into the last refuge for musical
      conservatism and complacency, and it seemed to destroy the band's work
      ethic. McNally glancingly makes reference to this dark side of the Deadhead
      phenomenon: "Like all fans … they could become tediously obsessed with the
      object of their joy," he writes.

      It wasn't just the fanatics; every fan (myself included) bought into the
      "satori through space jam" myths, wore the same tie-dye, danced the same
      wiggle dance. What had begun as an inclusive rallying point for outcasts
      became a provincial closed society. Deadheads were supposed to represent
      enlightened musical inquiry, but instead, as McNally points out, they
      ignored adventurous opening acts and lifted lyrics out of context. In the
      early '90s, according to McNally, Jerry Garcia became annoyed with the fact
      that the line "when it seems like the night will last forever" from his
      bleak ballad "Black Muddy River" invariably was greeted with lusty cheering.

      Thematic content hardly mattered to the loyalists any more; the band's canon
      instead became a series of dramatic gestures, well-timed downshifts, and
      dance cues. Safe within the fuzzy bubble of Deadhead-land, the band coasted
      for years on end, but no matter how negligent or desultory the performance,
      they always had the Deadheads to fall back on. Of course the Dead loved the
      support—they never had to work hard to earn it.

      With nothing to strive for and no musical goals to attain, the band lapsed
      into a creative torpor for the last 15 or so years of its career, even
      resurrecting itself this summer for another go-round without Garcia. If
      McNally's book teaches us anything, it's that, for a band with a prodigious
      drug and alcohol habit, the Deadheads' unquestioning faith was perhaps its
      most dangerous narcotic.

      Steve Gardner - Topsoil/Haywire - Sun. 12-3pm
      WXDU 88.7FM Durham NC and on the Net at www.wxdu.org
      Fresh Dirt Webzine: www.topsoil.net/freshdirt
      * steve@... **** www.topsoil.net *
    • Lance Davis
      Great piece, Steve. Thanks for posting that. It confirms one of my long-standing positions ... that Deadheads were one of the 20th century s most inherently
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 31, 2002
        Great piece, Steve. Thanks for posting that. It confirms one of
        my long-standing positions ... that Deadheads were one of the
        20th century's most inherently conservative groups. Politically,
        socially, whatever, the Deadhead cult had stock answers (and
        actions) for virtually everything and there was little to no
        debate about it. Very interesting.


        "May the good Lord shine a light on you
        May every song you sing be your favorite tune."
        --The Rolling Stones, 1972

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