John Ross (johnross) Sun 24 Jun 07 12:24
Gary, do you mean "connections between communities," or "similarities"?
Gary Burnett (jera) Sun 24 Jun 07 12:35
Good point. "Similarities" would be the operative word. Though, there are certainly also some solid connections as well. I spent a couple of years recently taking lessons playing three-finger Scruggs's style banjo, & one of the things I learned is just how respected Jerry Garcia is in the bluegrass universe -- they don't care at all about The Grateful Dead, but my teacher & everybody else I met in that context had the highest regard both for Garcia's banjo playing and for the rebirth in bluegrass brought about by Old & In The Way. And there are a couple of festivals down in my part of the world (northern Florida) where those two communities completely overlap -- Suwannee Springfest (which is more "bluegrass") and Magnolia Fest (which is more "hippie/deadhead") both take place at the Suwannee Music Park, which was long a primary stop on the southern bluegrass circuit, & the audiences at both are full of both hardcore bluegrass fans and hardcore deadheads.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sun 24 Jun 07 12:55
Excellent posts ... Quick response to John's comment: I'm not at all convinced that the Dead phenomenon differs substantively from the contexts you mention, just as I'm not sure they don't fall into a long cultural lineage we're only beginning to explore. Part of the problem is that the academy hasn't done a real good job with any of those antecedents ... or maybe I just haven't done enough work. The interdisciplinary nature of the work is also a challenge. BTW, I think that article is a fine one, and I wanted to use it in the intro to AGI but the theme it illustrates was one of the things that had to cut from what was already an ungainly and overly lengthy overview. To Xian's comment that, "We see it in Albuquerque, to be sure, from both seasoned and new, young scholars, this occasional tipping into hagiography and frankly an unscholarly acceptance of hearsay and lore ..." Two quick thoughts: we study the art of artists at their best, not their worst; it's a given that a chunk of Haydn's 100+ symphonies ain't Papa at his best, and as long we remind ourselves that the x-factor *didn't* descend every night, every minute, and some of the studio work is *not* them at their best, we're on safe and well-trodden ground, scholarly speaking. I do think we need a heck of a lot more good work on the sheer historicity of the phnemonon, but then again, that true of much of the milieu from which they sprang: lots of sixties historians bemoan the fact that there's so much work that still needs to be done. I think that goes to one of your earlier comments, Scott, about McNally's book: it's that dense because he has a lot of ground to cover, simply in order to set up the grounds for his analysis.
Gary Burnett (jera) Sun 24 Jun 07 13:24
One last thought on the connections/similarities between Deadhead & bluegrass/folk communities: James Revell Carr's chapter in AGI does a great job of outlining the connections between the Dead's music & their folk antecedents. But I don't know of anything comparable that looks at the fan communities.
I had one of those flashes (xian) Sun 24 Jun 07 13:29
...slipped by Gary... High Sierra has some of that same nature, partaking of the facets of the Deadhead diaspora most inclined to like bluegrass and string-band inspired music. (Most notably the style of improvisation, which is often virtuosic and at times quite speedy without always hitting that electronic dixieland style the Dead were known for). Speaking of the diaspora and obliquely the Phish-and-everyone-after aspect of things, I find it interesting that the Dead commanded the audience they did through a fairly odd conglomeration of influences and styles and that with no Grateful Dead anymore, you find that Deadheads clump together around other musicians and bands who often exhibit one or more (some of) those influences and styles, but really never all of them (except perhaps the tribute bands, up to and included Dark Star Orchestra - but that seems to be an exceptional case that proves the rule: you can be "like" the Dead in numerous ways but if you are like them in every way then you are fundamentally unlik them in that you are not charting your own course). Numerous forms of music and other art no doubt tap into the same or similar "magic" (of serendipity, improv, openness, wideness, willingness to make mistakes and sound bad to the John Rosses of the owrld - no offense, John! - etc.) but we (and our successors) may stumble upon them in "the strangest of places" because superficially I suspect they will tend to not resemble what the Dead were. Also, remembering the occasion Nick mentioned, "we had a Native American audience member who came to a session and stayed for several more ... he commented, 'I think the Grateful Dead phenomenon looks like the beginnings of a religious movement.'," I recall that he also noted without condescension that Deadhead use of psychedelics as a sacrament, as it were, seemed very "beginner-ish" to him.
John Ross (johnross) Sun 24 Jun 07 14:06
(xian), I don't claim that the music of the Grateful Dead "sounds bad." I simply don't understand it, just as I don't have the musical vocabulary to understand the subtleties of hip-hop or heavy metal or Swabian accordian music. My original question was about the charater of the deadhead community and how it resembles the communities I have observed at folk festivals and fiddle contests where people who may have little else in common come together a few times a year, and who have a common interest in the music and personalities (both on and off the stage) who are regulars at those events. The questionn of the Dead's musical influences and how their fans have expanded their interests to those influences is a whole other discussion, and one that I'm not qualified to address.
Gary Burnett (jera) Sun 24 Jun 07 14:29
Again, I don't know of any research that attempts to compare those two communities. But it might be a fun experiment to watch a couple of documentaries back-to-back: Bluegrass Journey (which is mostly set at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival) Music Farmers: Sowing the Seeds of Americana (set at the Suwannee festivals I mentioned earlier -- a few folks from the WELL, including me, appear in it) It strikes me that the kinds of interactions within the audience -- jam sessions, an extremely strong sense of community & family between people who don't see each other outside of the festivals, an overwhelming devotion to the music (including a sense not only of its American roots but also of its spirituality), a sense of weathering the storm together (both documentaries feature torrential downpours), etc.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 24 Jun 07 15:20
slippage >>the Grateful Dead phenomenon looks like the beginnings of a religious movement. This, again was Wolfe's observation about the Pranksters. In earlier posts Adam made the important point that, of rock audiences, only the followers of Phish had the sort of culture formation that the Deadheads exhibited. There are so many valid ways of viewing the Dead phenomenon, but for this specific analysis, it's key to differentiate the Deadheads from the audiences of other well-liked bands. Musically, the Dead were, of course, highly accomplished in their eclecticism, but even though the actual concert/festival of a given band or a bluegrass festival or Lollipalooza(sp) will elicit similar cut-loose Dionysian responses, the attendees rarely begin to loosely caravan to other concerts put on by the same touring group. The Dead and Phish, in this, were two exceptions. It is this tribal/cultural formation question that deserves specialized study beyond the typical live music experience. With the Deadheads, there is an underlying precedence from that old hippie urge which welcomed communal synergies. This is a far more potent impulse than is typically appreciated, and the aspect of Wolfe's analysis of the Pranksters that resonated best. The issue of an underground economy to sustain such a caravan is also key to this. Probably as much as the drug trade, the vendor/barter/artisan network was integral to this culture formation. Analysis of the veggie burritos and mobile inventories of tie-dye need to be looked at along with the black marketeering of drugs to appreciate the means of sustenance of this road culture. Also what was the shared ethos of the Deadheads (or Phishheads)? This is where Deadhead "stories" or narratives that Gary talks about play a significant, basically "ethnographic" role. Whether the cat disappeared or not, is not as significant as the belief system in a mysticism where the closer to the edge one gets, the more magic that happens. Such Deadhead/Phish-head narratives would also lend insight into what it was about the live experience of the band that caused it, concert after concert, to be treated in a manner akin to a spiritual/religious ritual. >>Deadhead use of psychedelics as a sacrament, as it were, seemed very "beginner-ish" And this, in part, is why the Deadheads hold such potential scholarly importance in the realm of socio-religious cultural formation. The 14 to 24 year olds creating a mass Bacchanalia in 1967 to 1972 are not bearers of cultural tradition in the same way that tribal elders serve to pass down spiritual tradition formulated generations earlier (such as with peyote). This, in part, explains the use of the word "beginner." Finally, because such "tribal" formation flies in the face of a mass societyindustrialized and consumer-drivenwhere most individuals live a "privatized" existence, how much of this formative "tribalism" is leader/follower dependent? And in the "pied piper" archetype, how much of the Deadhead/ Phishhead experience is not so much cultural formation as it is a chosen rite-of-passage of young people, mostly 18 to 30, who gravitated to the "caravan" as a way to search for individual identity and a utopian sense of ecstacy and belonging before "succumbing" to the system and it's 9 to 5 exigencies? So many layers here!
I knew right away (xian) Sun 24 Jun 07 15:55
I wonder if the Phish phenomneon could be viewed as a protestant or reform version of the Dead one, much like Buddhism as compared with Hinduism or the various schisms in Christendom? John, I apologize for teasing you. I did understand what you meant, and I did literally mean that the Dead's music can sound band when one doesn't hear it with a grounding in the practice of doing so. I've myself had occasions where something I liked suddenly sounded bad to me when I was confronted with another person's presence and hearing of it. My empathy for their unfamiliarity made me suddenly notice the problems with the recording, the clams, the ragged vocals, etc., when moments before I had been tuned into the greater gestalt, with its forgiveness of smearing and variability that is usually unacceptable in most formal music performance. (xian), I don't claim that the music of the Grateful Dead "sounds bad." I simply don't understand it, just as I don't have the musical vocabulary to understand the subtleties of hip-hop or heavy metal or Swabian accordian music. Re, "My original question was about the character of the deadhead community and how it resembles the communities I have observed at folk festivals and fiddle contests where people who may have little else in common come together a few times a year, and who have a common interest in the music and personalities (both on and off the stage) who are regulars at those events," I think you've identified a key similarity indeed. And I imagine the jam sessions in camping and parking areas would be even more similar.
Gary Burnett (jera) Sun 24 Jun 07 16:21
> but even though the actual concert/festival of a given band or a > bluegrass festival or Lollipalooza(sp) will elicit similar cut-loose > Dionysian responses, the attendees rarely begin to loosely caravan to > other concerts put on by the same touring group. What about the people who "loosely caravan" to multiple festivals? There are certainly plenty of them (many of them who travel from festival to festival to follow particular bands -- Donna The Buffalo being a case in point). Or does it require that people travel around to follow only a particular band only before they can be considered to be an interesting "tribal/cultural formation"? There are certainly ways in which the Dead phenomenon is sui generis, but there are also many ways in which it is inextricably embedded in a whole range of experiences that are closely related, and the more recent "festival circuit" scene is one of those sets of experiences -- it's not just an isolated concert or festival. I think it'd be a mistake to separate the Dead and Deadheads out from such closely related scenes. As Garcia once said "The Grateful Dead is as American as a lynch mob."
David Gans (tnf) Sun 24 Jun 07 18:56
> I've myself had occasions where something I liked suddenly sounded bad to > me when I was confronted with another person's presence and hearing of it. > My empathy for their unfamiliarity made me suddenly notice the problems > with the recording, the clams, the ragged vocals, etc., when moments before > I had been tuned into the greater gestalt, with its forgiveness of smearing > and variability that is usually unacceptable in most formal music perfor- > mance. That can be embarrassing at times!
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 24 Jun 07 19:38
>> does it require that people travel around to follow only a particular band only before they can be considered to be an interesting "tribal/cultural formation"? No. I think the Rainbow Gatherings are a non-band focused phenomenon that has met every Fourth of July week for several decades. These gatherings have more in common (and overlap) with Deadhead culture than, say, a network of bluegrass musicians touring to various festivals, or Jimmy Buffet fanatics with the means to follow him around on tour. I don't know about Donna and the Buffalo. Maybe over time this group's following will manifest itself in ways similar to the Deadheads. This is an important question, though, to delineate what it is that makes the Deadhead phenomenon, not anomalous (which I don't think it is), but of long enough duration and cohesion to start manifesting itself as a distinctive socio-spiritual culture. To make this point, imagine if you took the audience of the Rolling Stones, a band of similar duration, and the audience of The Grateful Dead from, say, two separate sold out Cincinnati concerts in 1988. Then imagine them separately as the only people left on the planet. The Deadheads, I think, had so many commonalities of distinct cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors that the surviving culture would be significantly different and decidedly more in line with the alternative imaginings of the counterculture than what the Rolling Stones fans would manifest. These Stones fans would be a much more representative cross-section of the mainstream culture. They would likely try to recreate a community and society similar to what dominated before. This hypothetical speculation is only to get at how to best understand and appreciate Deadhead culture as a socio-religious phenomenon, and to exlore how they transcended being simply fanatic followers of a rock band.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 24 Jun 07 19:40
>> the various schisms in Christendom Isn't that Xendom? It took me a while, but I had a good laugh when I finally "got" Xian!
say, aren't you xian at netcom dot com? (xian) Sun 24 Jun 07 23:11
ah, yes. a discussion for another time perhaps, with its "I thought you were Chinese" branch, and the whole "how do you pronounce xian" line. Generally I refer people to Xmas as the precedent. Nick has decided to pronounce it "Chun" and has taken to calling me Dr. Chris Chun....
Adam Perry (adamice9) Mon 25 Jun 07 00:11
<<<In earlier posts Adam made the important point that, of rock audiences, only the followers of Phish had the sort of culture formation that the Deadheads exhibited.>>> In size and fervor, the Phish following was definitely a mini-Deadhead thing...but the culture formation just wasn't there, from my experience. It was just a bunch of people who really loved the music and the band and wanted to be there for whatever was gonna happen next, and a whole bunch of other people who just wanted to party. That's more of a following than a phenomenon, in my opinion, whereas the Grateful Dead spawned a culture. I'm pretty adamant about generally preferring Phish's music to the Dead's because of the Zappa influence I love so much, and because over the years they were more willing to be experimental and unpredictable than the Grateful Dead, but while the cult following Phish had was sizeable and could drag 70,000 people to the tip of Maine or an Indian reservation in Florida for a two-day concert by one band, Phish was ultimately lacking in the kind transcendent lyrics that perhaps were the keystone to the Grateful Dead phenomenon. Not all of Phish's lyrics were nonsensical and humorous, as I hear from lots of friends who have never really heard Phish, but I think they had more of a focus on musical prowess via group improvisation (and impressive, sprawling and extremely difficult-to-perform compositions) than the Grateful Dead that helped (along with the Gamehenge saga) to spawn a huge following, but never wound itself into an actual living, breathing *culture* like the Grateful Dead did, between the jamming, the beautiful pieces of music, *and* Hunter's lyrics and the fact that the whole thing came out of the 60's and kept that Kesey/Cassady/Haight torch for so long, rather than coming out of a couple of music school dorks from New England. I don't think you'll ever see a formidable book about the culture of Phishheads like "Skeleton Key," although there are some wonderful books focusing on Phish's *music* like <rgehr>'s "The Phish Book." I hope to see more literature about the musical history of Phish in the future, rather than laughable claims to a culture behind Phish like "Run Like An Antelope."
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 25 Jun 07 05:18
>>>What about the people who "loosely caravan" to multiple festivals?<<< It strikes me that a surprisingly great deal of what has been written here so far applies directly as well to the legions of people, particularly in the American South, who devote large portions of their time and lives to supporting one college football team or another. There is community; there is regalia; there is identity and sense of purpose. In the autumn you find caravans of these fans stretched all over the southern and midwestern interstate highways, journeying to the next game of the Razorbacks or the Gators or the Crimson Tide or the Gophers or the Wolverines or the Longhorns or what have you.
*%* (jewel) Mon 25 Jun 07 09:19
Nascar does that, too.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 25 Jun 07 09:31
Great post, Adam!
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Jun 07 10:58
>> applies directly as well to the legions of people, particularly in the American South, who devote large portions of their time and lives to supporting one college football team or another. >> the Phish following was definitely a mini-Deadhead thing...but the culture formation just wasn't there Adam, I think your knowledgable assessment differentiating Phish from the Dead helps get at this idea of culture formation. First, a hobby such as being a football fan, a bluegrass musician, rock concert attendee, Lutheran, or a Trekky are, by themselves, singular elements of living in the mainstream culture, whereas the Deadheads immersed themselves to a much greater extent in an alternative lifestyle with many cultural permutations of behavior, belief, shared values, lingo, etc. The Deadheads, unlike the followers of Phish, were drawing from the hippie counterculture, were a continuance of those fully immersed in serious attempts to create an alternative society in the late '60s and early '70s. The counterculture of this period, in this respect, had a critical mass of participation that afforded full lifestyle immersion for the most hardcore. This is different than the narrower construct of sub-culture, the participants of which may or may not be disaffected from the dominant mainstream culture. The Deadhead phenomenon, the Rainbow Gatherings, and barter fairs are examples of people trying to keep the vestiges of that old hippie counterculture alive. Despite the dessication of the alternative society, the Deadheads and a remnant hippie culture did change over time. The Deadheads were/are a fascinating distillation of the old hippie culture, full-fledged and intense, but obviously reliant on needing the Grateful Dead--or successor bands--to follow to sustain this caravan of intensity. So, to understand the Deadheads as a cultural formation, we need to go back to the hippies and the multiple cultural pressures that influenced its countercultural manifestation.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 25 Jun 07 11:27
>>>First, a hobby such as being a football fan, a bluegrass musician, rock concert attendee, Lutheran, or a Trekky are, by themselves, singular elements of living in the mainstream culture, whereas the Deadheads immersed themselves to a much greater extent in an alternative lifestyle with many cultural permutations of behavior, belief, shared values, lingo, etc.<<< Scott, I think there are more similarities than differences in what you identify as "elements of living in the mainstream culture" and the Deadhead "alternative lifestyle." After all, how truly alternative was the Deadhead "lifestyle"? It showed a lot of conformity in personal style and clothing (the comedian Michael Pritchard once made a good joke at a stadium Dead show about trying to find a guy in the crowd described only has having "long brown hair -- anyone seen him?"), it drew inspiration from retold history and stories (just like college football fans do), it lived for moments of perceived transcendent greatness, it kept the flame alive between events by gathering and sharing. The Deadheads, for all their claim to counterculturalism, seemed, beneath the tie-dye surface, to be emphatically mainstream, at least to me they did, since 1980 or so. You want a lifestyle that's truly alternative to the American mainstream? Try the plural marriage communes in desert Utah.
Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 25 Jun 07 11:44
> First, a hobby such as being a football fan, a bluegrass musician, > rock concert attendee, Lutheran, or a Trekky So, being a Lutheran is a "hobby"? I also disagree with the notion that being a bluegrass (or any other kind of) musician is nothing more than a hobby. Peter Rowan writing such a brilliant song as "Walls of Time" with Bill Monroe argues, all by itself, against such a demotion of his art to "hobby" it seems to me. Ralph Stanley's lifelong devotion to his craft likewise. But no matter how mainstream a religion may be (or how much it may not reflect our own beliefs and practices), it's probably not a good idea to dismiss it so nonchalantly, it seems to me.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 25 Jun 07 11:54
Indeed, says this lifelong Lutheran.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Jun 07 12:33
>>no matter how mainstream a religion may be (or how much it may not reflect our own beliefs and practices), it's probably not a good idea to dismiss it so nonchalantly, it seems to me. shheeet. I'm not dismissing anything. I like pro football, I grew up Lutheran. What I'm trying to get at is an anthropological observation, nothing judgmental. Most practicing Lutherans, Jews, Catholics, etc. in America, though not hobbiests (wrong term for making my point), also participate in the mainstream where they go to work on Monday, watch [Nascar/MLB/NFL/NBC/etc]. When I went to a Rainbow Gathering, it had the makings of a full-fledged culture; one could imagine such a phenomenon on its own Pacific Island functioning as a culture different than the mainstream American culture. The polygamous communities in Utah/Arizona are an example, like the hippie counterculture at its most hardcore, of a different non-mainstream cultural formation. Also, I agree that by 1980 most of the hippie counterculture had dessicated. The Deadhead phenomenon, as a cultural formation, had a focal point--The Grateful Dead--that allowed it to persist.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 25 Jun 07 13:40
I still disagree, Scott, that post-1980 the Deadhead phenomenon was an alternative, or "counter" culture, to mainstream America. How so? As I mentioned in the topic devoted to your book, Garcia himself once said the Grateful Dead scene could happen only in America. He was absolutely right about that. The Grateful Dead were, as a band, and remain, as a focal point of a social phenomenon, quintessentially American. And anything quintessentially American is by definition part of the American mainstream. Let's look at that social phenomenon for a moment. The parking lot scene? Entrepreneurial capitalism --nothing counter-American about that! The conformity of the clothing and the insignia and the hair styles? About as nonconformist, or "counter," as a gymnasium full of college grads and faculty in ranking gowns on graduation day. Following the band around in caravans? We've already pointed out that millions of college football fans do exactly that for the teams they support. Running away to follow the band? Running away to join the circus is an American trope dating from the 19th century. Were Deadheads outlaws? Only in the sense that many of them openly broke laws against controlled substances that many people in the mainstream, including some mainstream politicians, question anyway. When was the last time a Deadhead was busted for being a Deadhead? When was the last time a man in America was busted just for wearing long hair? When was the last time the band was told it had to turn down the volume or face arrest? Not since 1980, I'm positive. So where's the "alternative" in any of the above? What is more, I think the idea of the Deadhead phenomenon being an "alternative" sets up a dichotomy that's antithetical to what the Dead were founded on and continued to express in the best of their inventiveness. The dichotomy creates an "us" and a "they" -- "they" being the mainstream. Yet in the Dead's space jams, a fully open-minded approach was the only way to make the jamming work. There could not be limits. If Lesh or someone wanted to quote from a Sousa march, it had to be not just allowed but embraced. There could not be a dichotomy or dividing lines or even "alternatives." If everything is accepted, nothing's an alternative. You want to see some truly weird, alternative, counter-American shit today? Go below the surface in just about any cul-de-sac community in this country. It's much, much easier to be truly weird behind a facade of normalcy, you know, than it is to be truly weird by looking weird. By 1980 or perhaps even a little earlier, as the Deadhead crowd grew and the shows got bigger, the music got more conservative and the shows got much more predictable. The truly experimental period was over when the band retired the first time, in 1974. The true "counterculture" was ephemeral and short-lived; in San Francisco it was over by the "Summer of Love," in 1967. Did the band ever write anything new that was close to the open-endedness of "Dark Star" again? That song structure dates from 1967. So I don't see what the Deadhead phenomenon was an alternative to in this country. What it is, I think, is a new iteration, with a few unique trappings, of social phenomena that have happened many times already in American history. As such, it's worth studying academically -- in mainstream academia. Up above, wasn't Nicholas saying Rebecca Adams was criticized by fellow academicians for taking the Dead scene seriously as a social phenomenon? What's the real complaint there? It's that mainstream academicians couldn't understand the Dead scene is worthy for inclusion in a mainstream academic area of study. That's a complaint worth making, too, because the Deadhead phenomenon is as American mainstream as Red Sox Nation.
Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 25 Jun 07 15:59
See also "U.S. Blues."
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