inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #0 of 127: (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!
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #1 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #2 of 127: 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...         
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #3 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #4 of 127: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #5 of 127: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #6 of 127: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #7 of 127: (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 inkwell@well.com -- please
  include "Growing Up Dead" in the subject line.)
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #8 of 127: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #9 of 127: 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.          
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #10 of 127: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #11 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #12 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #13 of 127: David Gans (tnf) Wed 10 Jun 09 20:16
    

Were your friends into poetry and language, too, or was this just a party
scene?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #14 of 127: 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.        
   
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #15 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #16 of 127: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #17 of 127: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #18 of 127: 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.    
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #19 of 127: Scott Underwood (esau) Thu 11 Jun 09 11:07
    
I assume there were plenty of counterexamples, too?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #20 of 127: Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 11 Jun 09 11:31
    
Plenty of everything all the time...
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #21 of 127: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #22 of 127: 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.            
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #23 of 127: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #24 of 127: 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?  
  
inkwell.vue.355 : Peter Conners, Growing Up Dead
permalink #25 of 127: 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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