Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Thu 14 Jun 07 11:53
'Nother quick response ... thanks for yours, Robin (a longtime supporter of Dead Letters, too, and the most far-flung of those supporters). It's funny, my library has decreed that all library workers need to have more than just general gradual degrees, but library degrees, so I'm now busily grinding myself library science lenses through which I can scrutinize our juncture of Dead studies ... yours is fascinating and complex on several levels. First, those fora are very important, but they're not really what a conservative oral historian would call oral history. Caveat: oral history is neither fish nor fowl; kind of a frankensteinian academic orphan whose parentage, attributes and utility are hotly debated among historians, sociologists, and many other fields. One basic question is whether oral history is a field, discipline, or methodology. So, everything I say here can be cheerfully and viciously attacked and defended from a variety of utterly non-overlapping academic specialties ... One of which needs to be us: thoughtful Deadheads like Robin who have noticed that there's a goldmine of very good information out there that may slip through the cracks unless librarians and archivists recognize its ephemerality and utility. In general, those conversations are happening in the library science field; but not about the Dead or Deadheads. And frankly, to the extent that Deadheads occupy an especially important slot in the early history of online discussion groups, that's a shame. And for us, it's potentially disastrous: we risk losing a crucial part of the picture if we lose those sources. Of course, we lose even bigger if we fail to figure out how to get libraries and archives to recognize and invest in the resources necessary to gather our printed and recorded data as well - - but those are the framing terms that I would use to answer your question. The Internet is not oral history, at least by the terms I'm most comfortable with; but I do very much believe that oral historians have experience than can help guide curation of those materials. (Gary Burnett, whose kind post above is next in the queue, can speak to these issues with far greater authority, as a more senior academic who has done far more work in these areas ... ) Tangential response: Robin, a much more pressing concern of mine is getting those scholars who conducted interviews for their books to curate those interviews and get them into archives. Even bad books on the Dead can have created priceless and irreplaceable interviews ... remember when the source tapes for Hank Harrison's books finally started circulating among tapers in the late nineties? That's the kind of stuff that makes historians and oral historians drool ... (or at least, made me). That's true even for more recent efforts like Carol Brightman's Sweet Chaos: the interviews look more interesting, and perhaps of far greater long term use and value, than her own use of them.
an aside (xian) Thu 14 Jun 07 12:15
(reminds me, i have a DAT of an unpublished interview i conducted with carol brightman from the time of the release of sweet chaos - which she wanted to call 'fat trip' btw - that i need to transcribe... apologies for interrupting the flow)
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Thu 14 Jun 07 16:57
Back to Pauli's question, or order of the chapters ... kinda weird, actually; I knew what I wanted to begin with - - a musicology essay, and Malvinni's is the most ambitious done yet (much as I love Boone's on Dark Star, or Shaugn's in AGI and Perspectives, and Walter Everett's ... basically, I like all of the musicology work in Dead studies because of their near-universal capability of articulating how the music creates responses in listeners); I knew where I wanted to end, with Barry's and Ken's uber-theory of their business acumen; I see the chapters as kind of grouped together and tracing the same arc I describe in the introduction, that every step in the chain from origin to broader reception in society has been traced by Dead studies, and that's unique.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Thu 14 Jun 07 17:15
Back to an earlier Q by Xian ... Rebecca Adams wasn't pilloried for "going native," which is usually a charge leveled at anthropologists not sociologists, she was attacked for the exact same reasons that all things Dead are attacked: people who have never heard the music and think the name is somehow descriptive of the style of music (and yes, highly descriptive of many aspects of the band, as long as you understand the genesis of the term and of their selection of it). She was trashed, in other words, for thinking that the study of this contemporary American sociological phenomenon could be a laboratory for teaching students how to engage in field work, and even more broadly, for the kind of collaborative teacher-student mentoring that should be cutting-edge and yet highly traditional scholarly inquiry. That's why her book should have a very large academic audience, and it's a shame that it doesn't. Now, to riff on my comment above about the name: my all-time favorite piece of work and research in the book - - my research, that is (I like lots of the other pieces lots more) - - was finding the dictionary and the page of Jerry's discovery. Paul Grushkin, in Book of the Deadheads, came so close ... but he wouldn't give the page number, volume, and complete bibliographic citation. When I found that dictionary, found the page, it was kind of eerie ... like I was tapping into that first seminal moment ... that's why I decided to go out on a limb and have that final section of the intro, where I basically make the case that scholarly exegesis can be a form of the Grateful Dead experience itself (can't be compressed in this brief form; apologies ...) ... but what I was thinking was that hell, the whole book is a risk and will do nothing but get me in trouble on my campus, may as well make it exactly what I want and damn the torpedos. Despite my earlier comment that I wanted it to be bullet-proof and designed for a hostile audience, I also very much wanted it to be for us ... so it has both elements, like a good Dead show balanced opposites and extremes. Or such was my shaping thought. There were a number of levels where I was playing with the idea of the book as a literary, scholarly evocation of a Dead show, in structure, impact, etc.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Thu 14 Jun 07 17:23
Scott's question on Brightman's Sweet Chaos in response to Jewel's earlier remark about Dionysianism in the Dead ... that ends up being a touchstone for several of the chapters in AGI, as well as a theme in the intro; I see that as one of the most profound aspects of the experience: it was both an unconscious and a conscious attempt to hearken back to that primordial cultural reservoir of human expression, bonding, and spirituality. Unconscious because I think the initial contact was accidental - - too many interviews with band members where they said, "wow." Conscious, because immediately and from then on, the idea was, "that's what we can do, need to do, and is worth doing, forever." I think you can find an initially high degree of awareness on their part that this had ample cultural precedents and that understanding grew in sophistication over the years.
Adam Perry (adamice9) Fri 15 Jun 07 00:58
Nick, to what extent do you think that full-on Deadheadism (minus seeing the band live) is continuing with brand new fans today and will continue with future generations? Also, do you think there will ever be another band (besides Phish) that develops into a similar phenomenon?
Adam Perry (adamice9) Fri 15 Jun 07 01:19
Also, I keep hearing about "Rebecca Adams" and "her book" but I don't know where to find it so I can actually read it. I did meet her in 2001 at the annual convention in New Mexico, but I haven't been able to find her book. Is it not published yet?
Gary Burnett (jera) Fri 15 Jun 07 05:35
Rebecca Adams, Deadhead Social Science: You Ain't Gonna Learn What You Don't Want to Know: You Ain't Gonna Learn What You Don't Want to Know http://www.amazon.com/Deadhead-Social-Science-Gonna-Learn/dp/0742502511/ref=sr _1_15/102-4715634-1412126?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1181910872&sr=1-15
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 15 Jun 07 06:39
Adam, email me at robindotrussellatajcabledotbm and I will send you a copy.
i am on my bandy knees (xian) Fri 15 Jun 07 06:52
Nick, I know there are a few questions upstream still unaddressed (even, perhaps, from my first barrage), but let me add to the pile: What would say is "missing" from your book. That is, what contexts do you not have a representative essay for? (And can work addressing these contexts be found elsehwere or are they - let's use positive language - opportunities for scholars?
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Fri 15 Jun 07 13:21
Xian's most recent question first ... the big thing that's missing from AGI is something exclusively focused on the spiritual/religious side. I think the best treatment of that so far can be found in Robin Sylvan's Traces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimensions of Popular Music (NYUP 2002). That element plays a role in several of the chapters, but less directly than I would have liked.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Fri 15 Jun 07 13:36
Now, to Adam's earlier question: "to what extent do you think that full-on Deadheadism (minus seeing the band live) is continuing with brand new fans today and will continue with future generations? Also, do you think there will ever be another band (besides Phish) that develops into a similar phenomenon?" Woof; great question. I will always wonder at what new Deadheads who never saw the band in concert are missing, but I am forced to admit that several of the ones I've spent time with fully "get it" and seem to have been able to do so without the concert cauldron that made so many of us converts instantaneously. I think the variety of ways that Deadheads became enamored of the scene and music is a caution against overgeneralization ... clearly, some folks "got it" just by listening - - and I would say that that's one of the most compelling aspects of the entire scene and phenomenon for me: the way it all somehow sockets together, in so many different ways; lyrics working with music working with recordings working with studio work working with business practices working with etc. etc. There are so many metaphors to describe how all of these issues and themes intertwine ... One interesting aside: I finished AGI before the tenth meeting of the Dead Caucus in Albuquerque at the SWPCA conference ... one twentysomething there, who had never seen a show but was dating an older Deadhead, likened her experience at the conference to the closest thing she would get to a show ... something about the way that groupmind descended, even when it was just discussing the Dead, and not dancing to them, gave her the magic insight that she needed to "get it." It's something that confirms to me what I suggest in the last part of my intro, where I wonder whether there's something iinherent in the nature of scholarship and the Dead that makes studying them a possible road to Deadheaddom. And one of the contributors to AGI never saw a show, but still wrote his MA thesis on them and told me that he listened to them every day. As to the second part, I just don't know. I loved Phish but found them and their scene to be substantively different, if touching on some similar turf, sociologically ... I found Zero to be a wonderful Dead surrogate [bad word] musically and concert-wise, if lyrically less fulfilling ... These days I'm worthless on new music, choosing instead to delve ever deeper into the whorls and eddies of sixties rock and psychedelia ... Xian and Gary on this conference are FAR better versed in recent musics, and have been outstripping me for years ... perhaps they can weigh in here?
Adam Perry (adamice9) Fri 15 Jun 07 21:16
Great answers. And, as a 20-something Deadhead who never got to see them in person, the closest I've come to the experience was probably The Others Ones at The Kaiser in Oakland, December 2002. Although dancing next to Mountain Girl and John Barlow at the Frost at Stanford during the Phil and Friends show there that same year was pretty magical, too...it was probably the only time I've looked around at a Dead-related show and thought, "wow, this is almost what it must have been like." Then again, I was on some pretty good mushrooms. Being at the SWPCA in 2001 was fun and educational and created some longlasting friendships, but for me it's all about live music.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 15 Jun 07 23:07
Interesting question, Adam. Kind of like "did you really need to have been in the Haight in '66, to know?" You can definitely get pretty close to the live Dead experience without having experienced it, but there was a magic that only Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzman/Hart/(and the Other One) playing live could bring. When the Dead were broken up (retired) in the mid-70's I first saw the Jerry Garcia Band. I saw him solo a few other times. One time in '75 or '76 the Bob Weir Band and the Jerry Garcia Band came to Seattle and played the same ticket, but separately. Then in mid-'76 I saw the GD for the first time together. You could hear the influences and similarity of those solo performances, but the Dead synergy was much more elevated/magical/potent when they played as the Dead. Likewise, recordings don't quite capture the live experience even though no other band comes close to the compilation of taped recordings that the Dead have. Although the music is different, I think you're right that Phish comes the closest in the type of concert-to-concert pied piper following they attracted, even though the collective Deadhead personality wasn't the same as the Phishheads. I think that looking at the Dead collectively as distinctive, and the Deadheads collectively in the way they fashioned a unique group personality is important. From there, the question is whether the phenomenon is an anomaly that will never be repeated. I think the Dionysian impulse the Dead/Deadheads embodied is an archetypal one that is replicable and will surface again in a similar, but distinctive fashion. I like to think of a comet as metaphor for this. The head of this distinctive comet was the great bacchanalian outburst of the late '60s hippie counterculture; (like the Rainbow Gatherings), the Deadheads of the '80s, '90s (and now) found a way to shine as the brightest part of the trailing end of that comet.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 16 Jun 07 07:09
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 16 Jun 07 10:29
Nick, do any of the chapters in your book speak to how the Dead phenomenon evolved culturally, how it wasn't the same in 1970 as 1980 as 1990? Bright tailing metaphors are only helpful to a point :=) (Love-for-real-not-fade-away). One thing fascinating about the counterculture as it waned, is how it also changed over time. The rise of the Dreadhead phenomenon in the '80swhich didn't exist before Marley and Reggae hit the U.S.is one example of such change related to the Deadhead phenomenon. Tie-dye fashion is another. In this way, the Deadheads, even as a shadow culture to the mainstream, were a microcosm of any culture with shifting behaviors, shared and evolving attributes, etc.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sat 16 Jun 07 11:35
Great stuff here, Nick -- thanks for such an enjoyable discussion!
streaming irreverent commentary (pauli) Sat 16 Jun 07 12:28
Good question Scott. One thing that struck me in reading some of the essays is the tendency to want to generalize the experience of attending shows and the structure of the shows themselves based on the more structured and mature parking lot scene and shows of the last decade. I think there is a need for an historical analysis that pays attention to the subtleties of change over time. Being an historian I think that social scientists tend to generalize more than historians, who tend to focus more on change over time. Both approache have value and it speaks to the strength of what has been emerging in the scholarship--there is lots of room for different approaches.
streaming irreverent commentary (pauli) Sat 16 Jun 07 12:31
and speaking further as an historian of technology, though not one who has dealt with modern electronic audio, recordig, and instruments, this is another subject that could use more investigation. I just picked up Blair Jackson's Grateful Dead Gear and am looking forward to reading this ground breaking book.
Gary Burnett (jera) Sat 16 Jun 07 13:02
Great points -- for one thing, it'd be great to have some kind of historical examination of Deadhead culture.
Adam Perry (adamice9) Sat 16 Jun 07 13:03
One part of the question is whether for a *third* time such a huge amount of people will spend their lives following an improvising rock band, because to an extent that did happen with Phish, though their music was very different. Certainly the amount of Deadheads was and is a few time bigger than the number of Phish-heads, but I'd like to see the actual statistics detailing the largest amount of people who actually spent their lives following Phish compared to the largest amount of people who spent their lives following the Grateful Dead. I think I've heard that about 4,000 was the largest number of people who did nothing but follow the Grateful Dead. But I also think that a big part of the Dead's cult following had to do with nostalgia (or a longing) for the 60's, so for a similar phenomenon to happen again you'd need not only a group of transcendent musicians and songwriters but also an era as earth-shattering as the 60's to happen again, no?
Adam Perry (adamice9) Sat 16 Jun 07 13:05
Gary, I think "Skeleton Key" is a pretty great artifact (if not an examination) of Deadhead culture. If humans were wiped off the planet and some future civilization came across that book I think they'd be pretty fascinated.
Gary Burnett (jera) Sat 16 Jun 07 13:47
Total agreement with the value of Skeleton Key (and I say that not only because I appear in it :-)! It's definitely one of our key documents. But an historical narrative would be a great addition. Or an oral history of the Deadhead scene prior to the 80s. On the other question, I don't know if we'll ever see another big-scale touring scene again, though there are some smaller-scale touring bands, with people who follow them around, often regionally (e.g., Donna The Buffalo in the South and some of the East). And there are also regional festivals (like SpringFest and MagFest in my neck of the woods) where a big part of the *feel* of seeing the Dead (the sense of being "home," of feeling like your with several thousand of your closest friends, even if you haven't actually met all of them). But for those, people hit the road to go to a specific place rather than hitting the road to move from location to location over a longer period of time.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sat 16 Jun 07 13:56
Very good points, all ... and I very much agree that the scene and phenomenon - - like the band - - went through substantial changes over time; Steve Gimbel, editor of the Grateful Dead and Philosophy, has been telling me to do exactly such a book (I gave him an unpublished conference paper on British philosopher Stuart Hampshire, using his book Innocence and Experience as a way of getting at the Deadhead experience of the eighties). I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about the countercultural resonances that the Dead embodied for so many, and I think the transition from sixties/Haight-Ashbury embodiment [sixties] to subcultural torch-bearer [seventies] to sub rosa counterculture [eighties] to large-scale semi-mainstream status in the nineties is a fascinating series of transitions to unravel. How did the audience change and not change? What did touring and tourheads do? It's hard to even pin down when touring really becomes a prominent part of the scene, although we know it was being done by the early seventies from anecdotal information; I wonder when it becomes possible to vend and follow an entire tour, though? Paul, speaking to your point, that's actually one of the central problems right now with the literature: except for Dennis McNally, historians really haven't played much of a role in the lit, and there's a raftload of work to be done. I'd say the same for literary studies, which really do have important light to shed on lyrics, poetry and prose and their interrelations in the work of Hunter, Petersen, Barlow, Kesey, Brautigan, McClure, Meltzer, Ginsberg, and Snyder, just off the top of my head (and there are others). There is a distinct thread that ties these voices together, and a number of themes, not just a shared historicity, though that too is important (especially to historians). Adam, that last certainly ties into your earlier point about the Dead somehow embodying a historical consciousness; but we need a lot more work before we can really begin to explain what that is in some kind of defensible way. I think Bruce Harrah-Conforth's PhD dissertation on the Haight as folklore is a good first effort, though his need to try to pigeonhole the music looks dated and inaccurate from today's vantage (in his defense, that's partly a function of the fact that so much more of the music is available now that when he was working in the mid-eighties).
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sat 16 Jun 07 14:10
Still thinking about Adam's comment: "for a similar phenomenon to happen again you'd need not only a group of transcendent musicians and songwriters but also an era as earth-shattering as the 60's to happen again, no?" Phish's success suggests otherwise, that the need for Dionysian group revels and collective improvisation is primordial; jazz fans in the fifties and sixties certainly echo (um, prefigure) this, too. But to support your point, Adam: what I would say, at least in this safe and welcoming forum, is that to me and a number of my friends who boarded the bus in the mid-eighties, the Dead's evocation of the Haight was meaningful on a number of levels, not least of which was a cultural sense of continuity and the wholesomeness and power of this seemingly alternative set of values. Remember, this was the heyday of Reagan, Michael Milken, junk bonds, cocaine and the S&L scandal; it seemed like there was no trace of countercultural values in the mainstream. And yet here was this remarkable music and scene, passing under the radar and continuing to create a concert experience that truly seemed to emulate if not recreate a feeling that had gestated in the acid tests. The music and lyrics seemed to encapsulate that worldview as well; it was as if you could tap into that sixties sense of when young people under the age of 25 were named Time's Man of the Year (1967, I think). Young people in 1985 didn't have that same sense of importance, of opportunity ... by becoming Deadheads, we tapped into some of that sense, I think.
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