(dana) Mon 8 Jun 09 16:05
Our next guest in the Inkwell is Peter Conners. Peter Conners is author of the memoir "Growing Up Dead" which was just published by Da Capo Press. He is also a published poet ("Of Whiskey & Winter") and fiction writer ("Emily Ate the Wind") and his writing appears regularly in literary journals and anthologies. He lives with his wife and three children in Rochester, NY. Lots more information on Peter and his writing can be found at www.peterconners.com. Leading the discussion is David Gans. David Gans has been a "Grateful Dead expert," for better or for worse, for more than thirty years. He has engaged the Dead culture as a fan, a musician, a journalist, a radio producer, and a music producer. He has published three books on the subject, produced boxed sets and compilations of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia music, and has hosted the nationally syndicated Grateful Dead Hour for more than twenty years. He also works as a programming consultant to the Sirius XM Grateful Dead Channel, where he co-hosts a talk show called "Tales from the Golden Road" every Sunday afternoon. Welcome, Peter and David!
David Gans (tnf) Mon 8 Jun 09 16:56
Welcome, Peter! I'll begin by posting the paragraph that Dana left out of my self-intro above: > David was delighted to discover that "Growing Up Dead" is an articulate, > soulful and authentic account of Deadhead life in the late '80s and early > '90s, and he is pleased to be talking about it with Peter Conners here in > the Inkwell. I was delighted because I was afraid this was going to turn out to be the storty of a boy who went astray on Dead tour, hit bottom, entered rehab, repudiated everything that had happened out there on tour, and now goes to meetings every week. Instead, we have here a thoughtful, articulate account of a great American adventure: touring with the Dead. I never did much of that, because (I suppose) I didn't have the resources or the inclination when I was young enough to get away with it. I came for the music and discovered that I was part of a culture, and then I put myself to work documenting it. Tell us how you got on the bus.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 9 Jun 09 07:47
First of all, thanks for the kind words, David, and for having me here on/in The Well. The answer to your first question is addressed very thoroughly in the book, so I'll give the thumbnail version here. Basically, I found the Dead through friends who were listening to bootlegs and starting to pass them around. I got ahold of one (Hershey Park 6/28/85) and then another, then another... It was really the American Beauty version of "Ripple" that convinced me that something different was going on here though. I was getting more interested in poetry and language and the combination of those Hunter lyrics combined with music that seemed out-of-time - in that it didn't correspond to anything I had listened to up till that point - really pulled me in. I remember calling the friend who had given me the Hershey Park tape and saying, "Why didn't you tell me about Ripple?!" Of course, he was just finding the band too, so he didn't know about it yet either. After that, it was a fairly short leap to attending my first show (Kingswood Music Theater 6/30/87) where, it seemed, the musical-poetic elements that had drawn me to the music had taken life and were now walking around in front of me. It was a potent brew & I wanted more...
David Gans (tnf) Tue 9 Jun 09 10:06
Please tell us why it is important that your first show was 6/30/87 as opposed to later that summer.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 9 Jun 09 12:36
Not sure about that one, David. I don't really consider the date of that show to be important to me in any way. That's just when I went to my first show. I went to Silver Stadium right after that too. I think that whenever I went to my first show, it would've made the same impact. Although, something about going to a place called "Canada's Wonderland" did add some nice Lewis Caroll echoes.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 9 Jun 09 14:20
Forgive me for not making myself clear. What I meant was that you got into the Grateful Dead thing ahead of the big wave of fans who responded to the hit single "Touch of Grey."
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 9 Jun 09 17:58
Oh right, right. Yeah, I make a sort of tongue-in-cheek comment about that in the book. "So, of course, Deadheads who had been around for a while resented any new fans who came on the scene after "Touch of Gray" reached the charts. They even had a name for them: touches. This prejudice is as natural as it is ridiculous. Nevertheless, let the record show that I attended my first Dead show 58 days before "Touch of Grey" hit the top ten." Honestly, though, I never took the timing thing too seriously. Those attitudes were certainly floating around out there, but I never really felt that vibe directed at me. People are always going to look for the angles that put them on top - human nature as psychic dodgeball. But I always hated dodgeball. I mean, what sort of jackass actually wants to throw balls at someone and/or dodge balls thrown by someone else? That's neither fun nor educational. Better to just avoid the gym altogether and see what's cooking down in the cafeteria.
(dana) Wed 10 Jun 09 10:07
(Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to this conversation by emailing them to email@example.com -- please include "Growing Up Dead" in the subject line.)
Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 10 Jun 09 11:07
> People are always going to look for the angles that put them on top - human nature as psychic dodgeball. Welcome to the Well, the home of the International Psychic Dodgeball Tournament, Online Division. I'm an outsider to the Dead scene, and am still getting my head around the ouevre. I'm 47, and I always felt that the Dead scene (as I imagined it) was filled with people a bit older than me, who had been listening to the band in the "first wave," as it were. Then, I was surprised at this "next wave" of people who found their way in somehwta later in their career, but my prejudices still kept me from enjoying them as others did. I'm guessing from the dates you're younger than me, and I'm wondering what else you were listening to when you discovered them, and what else the Dead's music has drawn you to discover after?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 10 Jun 09 11:57
I was born 9/11/70 which puts me at 38 years old. Funny though because my oldest brothers are around your age which, in my house, meant I grew up listening to 70s rock. In the movie Wayne's World, Mike Meyers' character has a quote that always struck me as dead-on: "Frampton Comes Alive? Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide." So there were those early listening experiences and songs ingrained into my head before I even recognized that I was listening to music - it was just there, no thought necessary. Once I started to choose music, I pretty much made a dash for the 60s stuff: Pink Floyd, Doors, Zeppelin, etc. Keep in mind that between these two periods though was the early 80s, the advent of MTV and heavy rotation, heavily synthesized pop music. So in my mind, there are clear delineations between the 70s music of my brothers, the 80s pop music that was everywhere in my early teens - including on TV 24 hours a day - and, strangely enough, the music by bands formed in the 60s which I started claiming as my own once I hit my mid-to-late teens. I know this still happens with kids in the suburbs today too, because I see the Dark Side of the Moon t-shirts zipping past on bikes to places adults don't go. In my mid-teens, before I started listening to the Dead, I was most into Pink Floyd, but I always felt a distancing factor in the music, something keeping me at bay, particularly from the early freakier stuff. I suppose I was a Roger Waters Floyd fan and that was largely about the lyrics & music combining to form a narrative. That said, I often liked the freakier stuff too. In any event, my ears were well-primed by the time I heard the Dead. I'd grown up with a lot of rock (including Southern Rock), 70s singer-songwriter acoustic stuff, acid music, etc. These guys were sounding lots of echoes in my head, but they were doing it in a way I had never heard before. Between their own lyrics and all the Dylan songs, I was also turned on to a more impressionistic-poetic approach to language. So to answer the second part of your question - the Dead helped turn me on to poetry and literature through their lyrics and the songs they covered. Not only that, but once I got into the scene and started dancing, it gave me the opportunity to interact with the music, the songs, the stories, etc. in a kinetic way. So the Dead turned me on to dance too. Not in any formal way, but in a way that put me more in touch with the possibilities of my own two feet & hands.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 10 Jun 09 15:27
My theory is that for kids in small towns and sterile suburbs, the destinations for running away included punk, which required body piercing, black clothes, and a bad attitude, or this other more colorful and forgiving scene that had its own shibboleths and non-uniform uniforms but seemed more welcoming. Does that make sense to you?
Still wandering (barryp) Wed 10 Jun 09 16:03
That theory makes sense to me. But being a punk, as I was in the late seventies, didn't require any sort of bodywork... and the scene was quite welcoming if you wore the uniform, just like many other scenes before it. And the GFD tribal outfit was far from a 'non-uniform uniform'... as Frank Zappa said, we all wear em, don't kid yourselves. I've only just started the book and really love the descriptions of your escape-place with the trestles and railroad tracks. That does seem to be a common thread in tales of suburban teen angst... a place that parents are only vaguely aware of and can't easily access, yet is still able to float under their radar.
Gary Burnett (jera) Wed 10 Jun 09 16:28
Those descriptions also resonated with me, though the trestles in my case were only a couple of blocks away from where I grew up, in the far-from-suburban setting of small-town Montana. And though my experiences of the tracks took place long before I was a deadhead or had even discovered rock and roll. The stories we were told about what would happen to us if we ever ventured near the tracks mesh closely with some of what you write about.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 10 Jun 09 20:16
Were your friends into poetry and language, too, or was this just a party scene?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 06:37
Good Thursday morning from Rochester, NY. I love to hear when sections from the book (e.g. the trestle) resonate with people from their own growing up scenes, even though the years & geography are far separated. It seems like everyone - particularly those with a rebellious streak - had their trestles, spots in the woods, water towers, cool friend's basement, etc. where they congregated with likeminded kids away from the eyes of adults. I think that people read to gain insights into their own lives. GUD is memoir (i.e. the story of my life), but I believe that regardless of genre (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, whatever) people look for the connecting tissue to their own stories. We read to gain insights into our own lives. Even literature that might be deemed escapist (bodice rippers, fantasy) needs humanity to engage a reader. To me, the more honest and proficient the writer, the clearer the transmission of humanity. So when people tell me that they find familiarities in their own lives in these stories from my life, I take it as the highest compliment. Any accomplished bar fly can tell you about themselves. It takes an artist to communicate something to you about yourself. To answer your other question, David: no. When I was growing up, I didn't have any friends who connected to language on that same level. I still remember sharing my first poems with friends. To their credit, they were openly enthusiastic. No one in our group, myself included, knew anything about poetry or literature outside of what we were fed in school. We all bonded over lyrics, singing them, writing them on our notebooks, etc., but that was more about our love of the bands and reinforcing our bonds with each other. So to have one of the group stand up and read a poem they'd just written themselves - it was pretty unusual.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 11 Jun 09 08:14
Peter, just wanted to pop in briefly to say that I read and really enjoyed your book and that I have to admit I was prepared to dislike it. Tne chip on my shoulder vanished instantly as I became immersed in your teen milieu and transported back to the mid-late '80s Dead scene where I also got my start. I have little doubt we crossed in the parking lot once or twice back in the day. When I'm not rushing off to work I'll try to contribute more substantively to this discussion. I'm particularly interested in your transition from full-time tourhead to student, poet, writer, adult. It belies I think the stereotype of suburban parents that kids go "out there" and get lost.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 09:05
Good deal, Christian. I'll keep an eye out for your next posting. Don't work too hard...
David Gans (tnf) Thu 11 Jun 09 09:40
Where did you get the idea to go on the road with this thing? When I got into this music, there wasn't a "shakedown street" outside the show. The song that lent its name hadn't even been written yet. It didn't really occur to me that anyone would pull up stakes and spend a season or more following the band around. Was touring immediately evident as an option?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 11:05
Not only was it immediately evident as an option, but it was pretty easy to do. We could mail order tickets in advance; the shows were spaced out by time & physical distance so that it was easy to jump from one venue to another; there was open vending (in late 80s & early 90s) of all sorts of things, so you could make money along the way. Honestly, once I got going, I couldn't see many reasons *not* to tour. And since that scene was already in full-swing by the time I got onboard, there were plenty of models & guides for how to do it.
Scott Underwood (esau) Thu 11 Jun 09 11:07
I assume there were plenty of counterexamples, too?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 11:31
Plenty of everything all the time...
David Gans (tnf) Thu 11 Jun 09 13:03
You got yourself a hell of a real-world education out there. But did you know that was in the offing when you set out, or were you just looking for some fun?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 17:08
I definitely had a healthy appetite for the adventure and travel as well as the fun and the fact that it was all embodied in the music made the package irresistible. If the Dead weren't making it happen on-stage, then none of it would have held much appeal. But the band was positively smoking in the late 80s and early 90s. Those shows hold up incredibly well stacked against the long career of the band and the energy in the arenas was intense. That should always be the first part of the discussion: we were there for the music, and the music was good. Damn good. All the travel and fun and meeting people (the good, the bad, and the ugly) were the whipped cream and cherry. To extend the metaphor though, the combination is what made the tour sundae. When I listen to many of those shows now, I still shake my head at the intricacy, interplay, and pure energy of the music - that is on a pure sonic level. When I started to write Growing Up Dead and got engaged in these long meditations about the scene surrounding the music - the whole sundae - the larger picture came into clearer view. Take a hungry-eyed teenage kid and a few likeminded friends, give them a VW bus and set them loose on the open road to chase after their favorite band - which also involves dance, drugs, chance meetings, hassles, art, girls, freaks, straights... I mean, shit, we were turned loose to discover America literally inside the soundtrack of the Grateful Dead. I look upon that as a true blessing in my life. I wrote this book because I realized that A) that situation was unique, and, B) it should be remembered and passed along so that the spirit isn't lost, and, C) it was incredibly personally enlightening to go back and revisit those times through my now-adult eyes and gain a better perspective on who we were, what we were doing, and why we were doing it. I didn't feel compelled to write this book because I was the biggest Deadhead to ever walk the earth and the world needed to hear the story of my devotion - if anything, a major theme of the book is going beyond devotion and taking the spirit of shows into the larger world. Tons of people (no doubt, many on this very website) went to lots more shows than me. My Deadhead-ism certainly isn't excessive within the scene... in fact, the perspective in the book is really that of the common, garden variety Deadhead who went to shows, had lots of experiences, and integrated those into his larger life. I just happened to be a writer too and felt that I could capture the experience in way that did it justice. So I wrote Growing Up Dead to honor those experiences and the family I shared them with (and the band who made it possible) and in the hopes that this tradition of music and travel will stay alive.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 11 Jun 09 18:25
Hi Peter. I don't have the book, so you may have covered this, but I'm wondering what your parents had to say about your following the band, and what they may have said after reading the book about it, if they have done so.
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Thu 11 Jun 09 21:41
Greetings, Peter. I also got into the Dead circa 1990 (that Garcia-Weir intertwining section in the middle of the _Live Dead_ "Dark Star" was what did it for me, two years before I went to my only shows--all three 1992 Las Vegas shows) and I'll probably be in and out of this conference with a lot of questions and a few comments. Two questions that come to mind are: 1. What period(s) of Grateful Dead music do you prefer to listen to nowadays? 2. Growing up in the '80s, as we both did (I'm 41 myself), did you at the time and do you now see the Grateful Dead touring experience as an alternative to what was happening culturally and politically-by-way-of-sociology here in America at the time--Reagan/Bush 1 in office, social conservatism/yuppyism, a popular culture that seemed to express and exemplify less intelligence, sensitivity to others, awarenes of/celebration of the experience of being alive, and the likes of MTV/major corporate influences taking over everything? Or did that ever occur to you then?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 12 Jun 09 07:07
Good Friday morning from Rochester! Linda, to answer your question, my parents haven't read the book and I urged them in that direction. They lived through it twenty years ago and weren't thrilled at the time - other than having a signed copy and being proud of my success, none of us feel the need to delve back into the details together. As far as my favorite Dead eras to listen to nowadays... I have to say, I'm completely spoiled by Sirius, Archive.org, Sugarmegs, and official live releases. Back in the day, we had to listen to whatever bootlegs we could get our hands on. My collection was definitely heavily 80s-based. I never really took the time to create good taper connections, so I took what came along and those tended to be 80s shows. It's only been the last 10 years or so that I've been able to go back and delve deep into all the different eras, layers, sounds, styles, etc. So my answer to your question is - I pick whatever era (or year) fits my mood on a given day. Sometimes you just need a little Pigpen. Or a heavy Dark Star. Or a bouncy Bobby Good Lovin'. Or JGB or Legion of Mary or a Brent Mydland "I Will Take You Home" or or... And it's all literally a click away. I also have a Sirius subscription, so a lot of times I'll just get to work, dial in the GD channel, and let it ride all day. And, of course, I listen to Tales from the Golden Road (hi, David). To answer your second question - yes, I did see GD touring as an alternative to mass popular culture of that time. I say that on a larger cultural scale and also the smaller scale of my own suburb and educational system. The talents that I had weren't the ones that got you ahead in the standard school system, but I knew I had more inside me than a low C average illustrated. I could see myself being tracked into a low-expectation, low-engagement lifestyle and it didn't make sense at all with what was going on inside my head. So throwing that all off and going in search of more wasn't an act of defiance, but an act of spiritual and intellectual survival. In an earlier response on this list, I said that I hoped this tradition of travel and music and experience stayed alive in America - and I say that because there will always be kids who don't fit into the system and need an avenue toward a larger world. I found that through the Grateful Dead. Since the publication of Growing Up Dead, I've had numerous emails from teenage kids who are out there touring with other bands, and say that my story is their story too. So the music changes, but the need for kids to have music, dance, travel, friendship, etc. as a way to grow and learn will always be around. There was also a lot of No in the 80s, best exemplified by that lovely phrase: Just Say No. How strange. Just say no? I mean, most of the time, the end of that phrase "to drugs" wasn't even attached. It was simply "Just say no." To life? To experience? To sex (which, of course, led to AIDS)? To free thought? The phrase seemed to morph into a general sense of "just saying no" to almost everything. Well, there was a lot of "Yes" in Dead culture, and I loved the idea of embracing rather than negating. Certainly, the music encouraged "Yes" and the lyrics reflected the joys and challenges of saying "Yes" in modern American: "Back to back, chicken shack, son of a gun, better change your act!" In the book, I also equate Bob Weir's intense vocal fits of "Say No" during Estimated Prophet (ofen enhanced in the late 80s by Dan Healy's echo pranks) to the Sex Pistol's "No Future for You." I don't know whether this is something that Weir was consciously aware of at the time(I'd love to know, actually), but those sections were so goddam cathartic to my generation of Deadheads. He was taking the blanket negative phrase that was ingrained into us and turning it into this massive emotional release. Thanks, Bobby.
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