inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #126 of 144: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Jun 07 18:38
    
Thanks for the thoughtful post, <SteveBj>.  I appreciate the way
you're addressing the full context of what I'm trying to explore. My
thinking emanated from what Nick said much earlier:

>> the big thing that's missing from AGI is something exclusively
focused on the spiritual/religious side.

I agree with you, Steve, that there was a countercultural explosion of
unprecedented proportions that erupted in about 1967-68. And I think
that we are going about saying much the same thing, in different
vocabulary, when I suggest that the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic of
this phenomenon resulted, not in a victory of the Eisenhower mainstream
over the counterculture, or in the ascendance of the alternative
society envisioned by most hippies.  What synthesized, instead, was
this postmodern amalgam of a mainstream culture that is at the same
time more hip and more authoritarian than what preceeded it.  

Deadhead culture is worth exploring irrespective of whether it can be
considered mainstream or alternative.  This is a difficult question
trying to differentiate whether the phenomenon is a fringe part of the
mainstream culture, a new iteration, or evidence of the continuation of
this late '60s alternative cultural formulation in the making. Maybe
it is possible to deduce, as I think you suggest, that the Deadheads
post-1980 were a delayed part of that mainstream absorption.   

However, I can't equate the Deadhead quintessence with that of the
RedSox Nation. Did most Deadheads, even in the '90s think of themselves
as part of the mainstream?  I think not. The aspect of their
phenomenon that is farthest from being straitlaced centers on
psychedelic drug use and the sensation of intersubjective oneness that
this helped elicit and which was amplified when listening to the Dead. 
Can this be ignored as part of their socio-spiritual makeup?  

Yes, the tie-dye, dreadlock, hacky-sack, organic foods commonalities
have a distinctly conformist tendency, but isn't this conformity part
of their new cultural iteration?  I don't see the Deadheads as part of
a mainstream America that conducts drug tests at the workplace, will
not allow federal financial aid to college if the applicant has ever
had a drug bust, or supporting a government that still manages to get
us into unjustifiable wars.  But, as for absorption, I have no doubt
that somewhere, soft Dead music is being piped into an elevator and
some Army brat is kicking a day-glo hacky-sack.

When I ask the question of Deadhead uniqueness in its microcultural
formation, I imagine a sociological cohesion of values, beliefs and
behaviors stemming from the counterculture of yore. The Deadheads &
Grateful Dead are not a product of the mainstream anymore than the
Mormon diaspora to Utah was. Yet the LDS, in the 20th century, became
adept at conforming to mainstream American culture while fashioning a
way to retain a distinct religious identity.  I would agree that the
Dead, (in addition to how the band borrowed so eclectically from
American roots music and wrote tongue-in-cheek songs such as "U.S.
Blues"), were quintessentially American, every bit as much as the
Mormon Church.   

Along with the Rainbow Tribe, The Deadheads are, in my estimation, the
best example of a microculture that evolved from the alternative
culture of the hippie epoch. They can't be fully appreciated outside of
that context.   
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #127 of 144: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 04:44
    
>>>What synthesized, instead, was this postmodern amalgam of a
mainstream culture that is at the same time more hip and more
authoritarian than what preceded it.<<<

Hmmm. I'm inclined to agree, but let me think about it some.

>>>Did most Deadheads, even in the '90s think of themselves
as part of the mainstream?  I think not.<<<

No, they did not. You're right about that. Yet thinking of oneself as
outside the mainstream doesn't put one outside the mainstream. 

>>>I don't see the Deadheads as part of a mainstream America that
conducts drug tests at the workplace, will not allow federal financial
aid to college if the applicant has ever had a drug bust, or supporting
a government that still manages to get us into unjustifiable wars.<<<

The current approval ratings for both the war in Iraq and the Bush
Administration suggest that, actually, supporting both is what's
outside the American mainstream nowadays. And I'll speculate that a
majority of mainstream Americans -- perhaps just a slim majority, but
still -- consider present drug laws and drug policies to be
ineffective, outlandish or draconian. At least the medicinal use of
marijuana has been approved by voters in various cities and regions and
states on several occasions, after all (only to be overruled by
federal law).  

>>>The Deadheads & Grateful Dead are not a product of the mainstream
anymore than the Mormon diaspora to Utah was.<<<

Polygamy was perhaps a little unusual, yet Joseph Smith and his LDS
church grew out of and succeeded with themes that were very much
mainstream American in the 19th century, and that's the point I'm
trying to make about the Deadhead phenomenon too. Scrape down to the
bones of its belief structure, and you find themes that have run
through American social and religious history since the 17th century.
The New England colonies were established, after all, by congregations
who thought of themselves as outsiders, as "alternative" to the
religious and political mainstream in Europe.  

The Dead's resident visual artists often used the design of the flag
of the United States of America, or pieces from it, in Dead
iconography. There's good reason they did. "Wave that flag" indeed --
the whole trip was as American as Thoreau's stay at Walden.   
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #128 of 144: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 05:12
    
Perhaps, Scott, our disagreement (it's not really) grows from
different definitions of the American mainstream. If by mainstream you
mean the kind of middle-class, WASP-populated suburbs that emerged, as
first a goal and then a lifestyle, in the 1950s and '60s, overlaid with
an authority determined and governed by wealthy Ivy League-educated
white men, then your points are clear. 

I think the phrase "American mainstream" must be much broader than
that. It must include the national myths most Americans accept as our
doctrine -- e.g. that anyone with gumption and hard work can succeed in
this country (Bob Weir in a recent Rolling Stone: "When I started to
bring home gold records, my parents thought it was all pretty good"),
and that peaceful protest is the proper way to address grievances, and
that the American wilderness is a place to encounter one's fears and
soul, just for starters. It must include as well the versions of
American history most Americans agree on, e.g. that we were the "good
guys" in WWII, or that the American Revolution was fought to create a
new democracy that didn't wilt beneath the authority of a ruling
monarch. (This isn't to say this is what actually happened; it's to say
these are the accepted versions of the stories, the ones Americans
generally accept to be true.) It must also include the ideas and themes
contained in our founding national documents, such as the right to the
pursuit of happiness. Finally, our definition of mainstream must
include the American faith in tolerance of the different and unusual.
It is true that our history is stained with hundreds, thousands,
millions of examples of intolerance, and uncountable lives have been
ruined or even drowned in those stains. Yet compared to the rest of the
world, even to present-day western Europe, America has across its
history been amazingly tolerant. This is not to say, of course, we have
been or are as tolerant of human difference as we ought to be, but by
world standards we are a very open-minded culture. That's why Garcia
was right. The Dead could happen only here. 
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #129 of 144: Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Tue 26 Jun 07 06:21
    
Spirited and stimulating exchange, y'all; most impressive.

It's worth pointing out that the degree to which Shakedown Street was
and was not in keeping with mainstream American capitalistic values is
already a distinct theme in the literature: an MA thesis on vending, a
chapter in Rebecca Adams' and Rob Sardiello's book, and it crops up
again in Steve Gimbel's essay in his Philosophy and the Dead. I ain't
no economist, nor am I a philosopher, so I defer to those better
qualified to comment; what I would say is that these critics convinced
me that there were distinctly un-mainstream, non-capitalistic elements
to Shakedown Street, as well as mainstream capitalistism.

Two works come to mind that may cast useful light on y'all's
discussion of Deadheads and the degree to which they are/were and are
not/were not mainstream: first is Roszak's The Making of A Counter
Culture, which came out in 1969; it's a thoughtful critique of the era
that birthed the Dead, and I think in conjunction with Garcia's long
interview with Charles Reich and Jann Wenner, does a pretty good job of
establishing what a counterculture is and how the band fits into that
phenomenon, or at least how Garcia thought they did, circa 1970/71.

As for whether Deadheads are non-mainstream by their own reckoning and
whether this is substantive, I would point folks toward two articles:
Adam Kanzer's piece in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems,
c. 1992 (I think), "Misfit Power, The First Amendment, and the Public
Forum: Is there Room in America for the Grateful Dead?”, and David
Fraser and Vaughan Black, "Legally Dead: The Grateful Dead and American
Legal Culture," in Weiner's Perspectives. Both articles review case
law and note that Deadheads have been identified very much as
counterculture and anti-mainstream America by the judicial system. I
think the most interesting counter example is Alan Lehman's discovery
that Deadhead identity could be a healthy mainstream orientation in his
chapter in Adams and Sardiello.

Lots of good stuff to bounce off of here ... thanks very much for a
thought-provoking series of posts.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #130 of 144: Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Tue 26 Jun 07 06:38
    
[snipped:] "because the Deadhead phenomenon is as
American mainstream as Red Sox Nation."

Another point to inject in all of this is the degree to which the band
were both leader and follower, in a sense: the lyrics, method of music
making, and presentation of the show were all imbued with a certain
sense of integrity or authenticity: Deadheads (some of them at least)
got a sense that there was an underlying unity or symmetry that made it
all of a piece ... that's what's fundamentally different about the
Dead phenomenon for me, as distinct from NASCAR or Southerners
following football teams, or even Jimmy Buffett fans (although one
comparative treatment, a BA thesis, between Buffett fans, Deadheads and
Phish phans has made me reconsider this somewhat): I see the
fan-generated responses to those phenomena as audiences creating a
spectator culture with elements drawn from that experience, but
necessarily ones that are tied closely into its genesis; I remember one
friend taking me to a Buffett concert two years ago (where they played
a wonderful Uncle John's Band, BTW) and commenting to me that no one
in the audience - - an overwhelmingly Republican, middle-aged crowd - -
had any idea about Buffett's left-wing politics and how deeply those
are imbedded in some of his songs. With the Dead and the Deadheads, one
gets a sense that they are much more closely intertwined, cocreating a
culture.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #131 of 144: David Gans (tnf) Tue 26 Jun 07 07:34
    

>  Let's look at that social phenomenon for a moment. The parking lot scene?
>  Entrepreneurial capitalism --nothing counter-American about that!

Steve Gimbel addressed this question wonderfully in a paper he gave at the
SWPCA meeting last February, and I'm pretty sure it is also in his book, "The
Grateful Dead and Philosophy."


> 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.

I agree entirely with the first half of this; I might quibble with the
contention that the conterculture was dead by 1967 (although the cozy
neighborhood scene that was the Haight was indeed defunct when the hordes
hit); and upon reflection, I have to agree that the most open-ended of the
improvisational frameworks were created pretty early.

But that's not to say the GD didn't continue to blaze trails.  I think one of
the most impressive things about the Dead is how many different bands they
were over time.  And their business model, however inadvertently it came into
being, provided a model for other bands in their wake.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #132 of 144: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 26 Jun 07 08:27
    
> one of the most impressive things about the Dead 
> is how many different bands they were over time

Absolutely true!  And I think the same thing can be said about the
Deadheads -- they were and continue to be multifarious, with the
Rainbow contingent (to whom Scott has pointed), the bluegrass
contingent (who whom I have pointed), the trustifarians, the investment
bankers, the Princeton graduates, the guys who look like cops, the
miracle seekers, the wookies, etc. etc.  Some of us are deeply embedded
in the mainstream, some reject it altogether, and some straddle that
boundary (such as it is).
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #133 of 144: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 26 Jun 07 09:25
    
Nice, eloquent follow up post, Steve. You succinctly describe several
specific ways in which the American mainstream––in the way you
accurately depict my sense of the term––changed as a result of
countercultural opposition.  And I wholeheartedly agree that the
Grateful Dead/Deadhead phenomenon could only happen in the United
States. In fact, I look at the hippies, who were essentially peaceful,
tolerant and respectful of others, as individuals who explored the
boundaries of personal freedom and expressiveness to an extent
unparalleled in American history.  Some of this activity was ultimately
rejected, and some of it was embraced by the mainstream culture that
followed. In this, the great countercultural dissipation began in
1967-68, but I think it's not accurate to consider the counterculture
over at this point in time.  The process of mainstream synthesis
continues to this day.  (I went to a symposium in Boise last week
called "The Greening of the Disciplines).  Drug use, non-monogamous
relationships, communal living arrangements were largely rejected
following the '60s while rock music, personal dress, environmental
sensitivity, or acceptance of spiritual openess were embraced to a
greater degree.

So how do we best approach this question related to the Deadhead
phenomenon as a distinct or non-distinct microcultural phenomenon?   

How anomolous was the Deadhead experience? Were they uniquely
codependent on the Grateful Dead live concert?  In this line of
thinking, the phenomenon dies out with the Dead, or at least dissipates
as Deadheads try to find splinter groups of the Dead (or other bands)
to replicate the center point of their experience. 

Is the phenomenon replicable as a socio-religious cultural
manifestation? Also, to what extent do we view the Deadheads as an
evolving microcultural distillation of the counterculture in a way that
goes beyond the symbiotics with The Grateful Dead?

Was there something about the Deadheads' spirituality, shared sense of
the mystical, ability to "commune" around this bands' music in a
ritualistic, almost religious manner that is indicative of a religious
group in the making? This is where we should be able to differentiate
the Deadhead experience from the Phishheads or Parrotheads.  In The
Hippie Narrative I talk about how Tom Wolfe describes the Prankster
experience.  Doesn't the same phenomenon apply to the Deadheads on a
larger scale and lasting with an amazing degree of intensity for twenty
or more years?  Doesn't this also imply that the Deadhead experience
is replicable, even though tied to an (arguably) sacramental use of
potent hallucinogens?

"Wolfe ascribed to the Pranksters the feeling of harmonics,
synchronicity, and go with the flow brought on by the shared experience
of LSD.  He goes on to talk about the experience of the Other World, a
higher level of reality that was being shared.  The group had moved
beyond a sense of cause and effect and into the supreme moment.  And it
wasn’t about words, it was about an indescribable experience where the
objective and subjective, the ego and non-ego, the I and the not-I
disappear.  The more the Pranksters lived with one another and took
acid together, the more intuitive they became with one another, the
more their interactions transcended words into the intersubjective, the
vibrations of the higher realm.  Even though it’s never possible to be
certain in Wolfe’s writing, due to his frequent “cool” affectations
when attempting to capture the “mental atmosphere” and “subjective
reality” of the Prankster scene, there is no reason to believe that the
author was being facetious in his assessment of the communal oneness
induced by LSD."
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #134 of 144: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 09:48
    
Thank you, Scott. 
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #135 of 144: has DSO ever done an acid test set? (sd) Tue 26 Jun 07 12:22
    
I'm interested in the rise of the fraternity and sorority kids as
Deadheads. Its easy to suppose that they are pre-sorted into the joiner
slot. They had the time on their hands and the money to get to shows
without too much effort. The band and deadheadism was already widely
known so there wasn't any real strain on their imaginations to decide
to join. and, who doesn't like a little kind bud and a night out
instead of studying for a polysci final?

It looked like to me that they fed the Phish and DMB groups early on,
too and maybe lead the way into the application of the travelling party
and easy acceptance of any vaguely jammish band as worth following
ideas.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #136 of 144: went taxis cowboy (xian) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:20
    
The Dead deliberately played East Coast colleges from very early on,
so that led in way to the collegiate and even preppy Deadhead type.

DMB got its start playing frats, I believe.

Re "Did the band ever write anything new that was close to the
open-endedness of "Dark Star" again? That song structure dates from
1967," I'd point to Bird Song as close. Not quite as spare, and yes
written in 1971 or thereabouts, but in the '80s it was the closest
thing we got to Dark Star and at times it was very out there.

I'd say Slipknot! (1975) was pretty open, if structured at either end.

But the trend was clear, yes.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #137 of 144: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:41
    
It strikes me that a reasonable argument could be made that the Dead's
devotion to its audience, and vice versa, worked to hinder the band's
musical explorations and development rather than encourage them. This
is anecdotal, sure, but consider the example of Miles Davis: famously
disdainful of the audience, yet arguably the most continuously
progressive successful musician in American history. 
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #138 of 144: Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:56
    
First time I ever saw moe. was in the back yard of a frat house in New
Brunswick, New Jersey as well.

Not to mention dancing to a Dead cover band in the front yard of an
eating club in Princeton (not knowing either Nick or Christian at the
time!)

Steve's point about the symbiosis between the band & the audience
being a hinderance in some ways is interesting.  Certainly it resulted
in some horrifically lazy performances over they years.  On the other
hand, some of the band's most adventurous songs in the later period
(e.g. "Victim Or The Crime") were not always well accepted by large
portions of the audience, despite the degree to which they undeniably
pushed at the margins of "Grateful Dead music."

(I highly recommend Shaugn O'Donnell's essay on Victim & its
relationship to Bartok in AGI, by the way!)
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #139 of 144: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 27 Jun 07 09:21
    

What a great conversation this is! I can hardly believe two weeks have gone
by already. Thanks so much for joining us, Nicholas, and for so ably leading
this interview, Christian.

Though our spotlight has turned to a new author, please know that if you're
able to do so, you're very welcome to stick around longer. This topic will
remain open for additional questions and comments indefinitely, so we hope
you'll keep going. If you have other obligations that are demanding your
attention, then we appreciate you having shared your time with us and hope 
to see you back here again in the future.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #140 of 144: Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Wed 27 Jun 07 14:05
    
Thanks Cynthia, and thanks especially Xian for being the lead
interviewer on this ... but thanks to all who asked such
thought-provoking questions, posted even more thought-provoking anwers,
and generally made this the best interview I could have imagined or
hoped for. I'll continue to catch up on some older posts and questions,
but wanted everyone to know how much I appreciated your participation,
commentary, and insights. Thank you, all!
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #141 of 144: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 28 Jun 07 06:28
    
Thank you!! 

Next stop, Respectability?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #142 of 144: Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Fri 29 Jun 07 05:42
    
Naw ... it'll take a while longer before Dead studies can claim, as
Garcia did, that if we hang out long enough we'll get some credibility
... besides, respectability is overrated.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #143 of 144: No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Fri 29 Jun 07 13:23
    
dug this nicholas.
thanks
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #144 of 144: Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sat 30 Jun 07 13:20
    
Thanks for hanging out and reading! That goes for all who simply read
and didn't post questions or thoughts ... thanks for merely checking
the convo out and seeing what the state of "Dead studies" is.
  



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