What’s A Deadhead To Do?

The News Is Out

Deadheads received some great news today – authors Blair Jackson, Peter Richardson and Dennis McNally assured us that a multitude of books and scholarly papers about the Grateful Dead are still on the horizon, reminding us that not only are The Dead still relevant (Fare Thee Well anyone), but due to the depth and magnitude of their work, there’s still plenty to research and more to be written. This produced a big sigh of relief from me, as I have been wondering about the future of it all and where the road will lead.

This news came to me in Berkeley, which is celebrating their first Bay Area Book Festival this weekend, as I attended a session called So Many Roads: 50 Years of the Grateful Dead. The panel of authors included Blair Jackson (This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead), Dennis McNally (On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom), and Peter Richardson (No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead), and was moderated by Nicholas Meriwether (Reading the Grateful Dead: A Critical Survey) and resident UC Santa Cruz archivist.

Nicholas Meriwether, Peter Richardson , Blair Jackson, Dennis McNally
Nicholas Meriwether, Peter Richardson , Blair Jackson, Dennis McNally

The panel did a fantastic job discussing the intricacies of the Dead legacy and its impact on music, culture, and even politics. Even though the band is notorious for avoiding political issues (unless it concerned the environment) and allowing their fans to freely choose their poison, Jerry once commented about Reagan “don’t like his movies and don’t like his politics” or something to that effect. But I digress….

Blair Jackson
Blair Jackson

Hell In A Bucket

One topic arose, as it usually does in these forums, when someone asked “What the hell happened?” in reference to the degradation of Dead shows in the mid-to-late 80’s that carried through to the end. The whole place groaned with a collective head-shaking. Almost in unison, the panelists said “that record, that damn record…”. My mind flashed back to my own experience and a rock settled in the pit of my stomach. Dennis McNally said that when he came into the dressing room and informed the band that they were in the Top 10, Jerry said “I am appalled”. Yes, they certainly made the Top 10 and that opened the floodgates. The authors seemed to all agree that In The Dark and the song Touch of Grey certainly impacted the scene, one where shows travelled down a very negative trail. Whether you agree or disagree with that last statement, you certainly know that things changed a ton.

Nick Meriwether’s comments on this topic resonated with me and articulated my own internal struggle. Nick came on to the scene in the 80’s and was of the age which provided an interesting perspective. He saw some of the best, and then some of the worst. He spoke of coming into the scene and sensing a tribal community, one where the “elders” were respected and stood out as role models, one that seemed to eventually disintegrate amongst the mass increase in crowds. For the first time, “tribal elders” fell into the background, swamped by the masses per se. This brought up an internal struggle, one that Nick spoke of and I feel to this day – what does one do when they witness an act of disregard to the culture, an act against what Dead shows and Deadheads stand for, well, an act of assholeness? What used to be handled by a disapproving look or a simple “that’s not cool” now seems to inspire mimicry and repetition. What’s a Deadhead to do? For me, one of the attractions to our community was that it did not require policing, and in fact was anti-authoritative, that’s why it resonated with me so much. Now what, I need to admonish others for their acts? Ugh, crap, bad vibe, and overall fuck, not my job, not what I came for – the mind spins as the internal debate ensues and damn, I’m missing this show. Nick spoke of this feeling, this change. The struggle continues.

Fare Thee Well

Which brings me to Fare Thee Well, the mix of excitement and angst I feel, the familiar struggle inside. I know I am not alone, having spoken about this with many of you. Oh, I know it’ll be fine come show time and things will work out, they always do. Yet, I cannot help but wonder where it will lead for me? How many STFU stickers will I print and bring along? I’m joking, but maybe not, who knows.

Thinking about this dilemma has led me to a revelation, more great newsWE have the power to change the whole dynamic! That’s right kids, you and I and our kindred souls can rock this jamboree like no other. Represent, wave that flag, smile and let your lovelight shine! Be the “tribal elders”. Let’s give them something to talk about, something to be proud of, something that will seal our legacy as the grooviest, most peaceful and far out love-drenched community of all time! We have this in our hands, let’s do it! I’ll see you at the jubilee!

Deadheads Unite
Shout out to all who provided inspiration & light @mitchwa, @tomcorsie, @deadheadland, @cray10angie, @lyferdeadhead, @mbleib 
Comments always welcome and appreciated, kindness counts. Peace and Love, see you at the show!

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