Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Fri 12 Jun 09 07:33
Peter one of the themes in this conversation and alluded to in your excellent little tome, is the trans-generational/intergenerational nature of the GD phenom and scene, the band's music (from the deep past of the rain-forests and ancient savannas, 16th century folk, 50's rock, musique concrete, and on and on and over and under while pointing toward a changing future at any given moment) and of course, the decades of collective and shared experiences of the assembled and disassembled masses and the folks on-stage so I guess that I wondering is did you find yourself melding the experiences of others, both younger and older, into your own as you have traversed your years on that weird highway?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 12 Jun 09 09:10
I would say yes in the sense that learning is a melding. We take new information and experience and meld it with what came before and integrate it in some way. Getting into the Dead culture opened me up to all the music you mention (I'm currently in the grips of a Django Reinhardt & jazz guitarist listening binge courtesy of Pandora). That's something that a lot of non-Dead fans miss. Listening to the Dead exposes you to so many different styles of music that listening and being open to just about anything else becomes much easier. I think many outside the community assume that Deadheads only listen to the Dead. In fact, Deadheads are some of the most open-minded music fans in the world. And they are very close listeners. A writer wants close and sympathetic readers and a musician wants the same in their listeners. In addition to the styles, the Dead help tune your ears into musical interplay within the band (Phil does this, then Mickey does that, then Bob responds with this, etc), which makes listening to good music infinitely more interesting. Instead of just hearing sounds, you're listening in on a conversation - it might be African drums, or dueling blues guitars, or a vocalist interpreting lyrics... Once you tune into the conversation, you are part of an interaction that transcends the passive listening experience. And that opens up many new worlds to meld with.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 12 Jun 09 10:49
Peter, thanks for taking the time to participate in Inkwell. In many ways I am more fascinated by the Deadhead phenomenon than the GD itself. There was no taper culture in the '70s when I got into the band via vinyl exclusively, and no caravanning Deadhead scene when I saw most of my shows in the late '70s, after the Hiatus. A countercultural scene was still evident throughout the '70s, even though it was waning, and a Dead show certainly nurtured an "alternative" feeling of community and togetherness, but I remember, by the early '80s questioning whether there was much of an alternative scene to plug into. This had much to do with why my wife and I abandoned a hand-to-mouth artisan existence and plugged into the 8 to 5 around 1981. My question to you has to do with how much your participation in the Deadhead scene involved a youthful sense of wanting to run away and join the psychedelic circus (to follow this awesome eclectic rock band), and how much of it was a more deep seated yearning for a sense of community and that feel of togetherness that the scene, at its best, helped engender. Joan Didion, in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem"her very negative 1967 breakout piece on the hippie scene in Haight-Ashburymakes the valid point that these were mostly kids, age 14-21, runaways, and malcontents who were running away to a psychedelic scene they had read about in Life Magazine, etc. She then observes that, out of the social vacuum they found in San Francisco, in a neighborhood ill-equipped to support these large numbers of wayward youth, the youth showed every sign of creating community from the void. Clearly, with the runs of GD shows as the focal point, the youthful Deadheads of the '80s and '90s did precisely the same thing. Certainly, the GD in the '80s offered a way to evoke some of that same ecstatic spirit of psychedelia, but the band and its music don't explain the camaraderie, economic system, spiritual commonalities, and social conventions that took shape in the Deadhead scene. What are your thoughts on the connection between your Deadhead scene and the hippie scene of the late '60s, and what your caravanning community offered that was so attractive compared to what mainstream American culture offered?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 12 Jun 09 11:16
(What are you doing in Rochester?)
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 12 Jun 09 13:41
I think one key difference between those two eras was that in the 80s there was no evident sense of idealism on a mass scale. The whole just say no culture I referenced earlier was much stronger than any sense that by coming together, we could make a difference. In reading and researching the 60s, the political and social upheaval and turmoil of the era becomes immediately evident. However, there is also a sense that kids believed they could change things; create new systems to replace the old ones. For some kids, that meant leaving Kansas and heading for San Francisco and, later, for communes out in the country. It meant joining youth-driven political or social groups. Before the in-fighting that split many of those groups apart, there was the overlying notion of the movement. The movement was driven by disaffected and/or idealistic youths and there was a sincere belief that their energy and ideas could impact the direction of the country. By the 80s, the notion of a mass youth movement had been so fragmented and burned-down that the very idea was laughable. Perhaps more importantly though, media and advertisers had learned how to channel youthful disaffection into consumer purchases. The closest we had to a central congregation point was MTV. In the early days, MTV was the place for kids to learn about music, fashion, attitudes, even politics. The problem was that it was a corporation. Our movement was designed to sell us junk in the guise of rebellion. Lets not forget that the very idea of teenagers is a very young concept. The entertainment industry created teenagers sometime in the 50s (correlating to the emergence of the suburbs) and marketing professionals immediately understood the value in the category. Teenagers wear blue jeans and need pimple cream. Now the teen market is so saturated that they've had to invent a new category: Tweens. Tweens? What the hell is a tween? Well, a tween is the same as a teenager: a marketing demographic. As for the similarities between, say, a youth exodus to San Francisco and kids going on the road with the Dead: I agree that there are many. There was certainly the feeling that we were "dropping out" of mainstream society to pursue alternative directions. The means of achieving those directions were similar too: music, dance, drugs, community, spirituality, even politics. Of course, the level at which Deadheads engaged in any of those pursuits is completely individual... there were plenty of straight Deadheads (or recovering addict Deadheads known as Wharf Rats), and plenty of Deadheads who didn't lose themselves in dance. Some truly thought of Garcia as a god and some simply saw a mean guitar slinger. There are as many kinds of Deadheads as there are people. So, as with any discussion of movements, eras, motivations, etc. any generalizations are subject to debate. But I do think that the Dead offered an "alternative" outlet to kids in the 80s that was sorely needed.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 12 Jun 09 14:28
Nicely put, Peter. "media and advertisers had learned how to channel youthful disaffection into consumer purchases." My only quibble with this is that, throughout the '60s as well, advertisers were channeling merchandise. One had the choice between a $2.99 mono LP or a $3.99 stereo LP. There were paisley prints and bellbottoms, etc. The difference was that rock, in the '60s was a communications medium of and by youth. A key shift occured, I think, about 1973 when the Army used hard rock to promote its volunteer Army. Not that this was the reason why, but the era of rock as part of relaying conscientious messages of social activism would never recover the vitality it had from 1967 to 1972. (Interestingly, though, The GD were never particularly message prone.) I think you are right about the "Movement's" idealism that we-can-change-the-world going by the wayside, though. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Punk movement. As such, how would you differentiate the Deadheads of the '80s and '90s from the darker Goth/punk scene? Isn't the hippie ethos that was still so evident in the latter day fans of the Dead, the key differentiation between them and the more jaded fans of punk? For example, a Deadhead friend of mine who was part of your scene in the '90s, commented after the 5/15/09 show of The Dead in The Gorge that his favorite part of the day was "feeling the community back together again."
beanoze (delphinus) Fri 12 Jun 09 20:15
Hi Peter and company, I really enjoyed the read as I suppose all who posted did. Like a fan's sports bio, Growing Up Dead taps into a substantial reservoir of shared experience. This probably accounts for the fact that though I usually find narrative shifts from the first or third person to the second jarring, I was able to cope with it here.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sat 13 Jun 09 07:16
One thing that shouldn't be ignored in the music-spurring-activism discussion is the creation of benefit concerts. The first ones that came on my radar were Steven Van Zandt's Sun City anti-apartheid song and album, and, of course, We Are the World. Both in 1985. Since the 80s, hundreds of musicians have raised millions of dollars and a ton of awareness about important social, environmental, and political issues. Perhaps this can be seen as another off-shoot of 60s activism, but either way, I give credit to all the musicians who recognized the power that they hold to bring dollars and awareness to social and political issues. And, although the Dead are largely considered anti-political (well, at least until the whole Obama campaign thing), they've donated tons of money and raised awareness on crucial environmental issues and also through SEVA and the Rex Foundation. I certainly got tuned in to environmental issues through the Dead and ended up canvassing for Greenpeace in both New York and Colorado. Activist organizations are full of Deadheads. re: the Punk/Goth parallels, I never got into either scene, so I can't comment on the deep motivations of the fans. That's just not the way I was oriented. However, since lots of people here have read Growing Up Dead, they might be interested to know that Shasta is very into Goth music and in tune with that scene. I also know that in the 80s, many Deadheads were aligned with metalheads in a way that made sense at the time. When it comes down to it, participants in subcultures have more similarities than the differences between the music, fashion, and values would lead one to believe. By definition, a subculture is outside the mainstream, so I'd argue that people who are drawn toward them share an immediate bond. I'd certainly include hip-hop culture in this discussion as well.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 13 Jun 09 11:35
I interviewed Peter on the radio on June 3. You can hear it (47 minutes) here: <http://cloudsurfing.gdhour.com/peter-conners-interviews>
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Sat 13 Jun 09 21:24
Thank you Peter for your reply. re: Deadheads being highly musically open-minded--I agree wholoeheartedly. Before I got into the Grateful Dead, I listened to '60s psychedelia (e.g. Hendrix, the Airplane, early Pink Floyd, the 13th Floor Elevators, lots of more obscure bands), '70s progressive (such as Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Van Der Graaf Generator, the various Canterbury bands), and a bit of avant-garde weirdness (ranging from Steve Reich to some industrial noise groups) and still do. Thanks to my experiences with the Dead's music, I also came to appreciate and love jazz, especially everything from Charlie Parker to just before Wynton Marsalis declared the genre's exploratory door closed forever (shades of Ken Kesey's rap about the government/research authorities barring the door to the metaphorical room after those first experiments at Stanford, no?)(and there has been a tremendous amount of wonderfully affecting jazz since the early '80s, some of it on the wonderful ECM label), European classical, Indian classical, various African Middle Eastern, and eastern Asian musics, European and American folk, bluegrass, gospel, '60s soul, '70s funk, sea shanties, and all kinds of other mostly non-mainstream stuff. For this I am forever grateful (no pun intended. Really. I think.). <30>: I think that when you talk about 1960s idealism, that idealism is mostly a holdover from the first half of the decade, mainly from the Civil Rights Movement. At that time, there was still the idea that change could be affected by appealing to those people and institutions within the system that forward progressive change was the right and American (in the sense of the ideals expressed within the Constitution and Bill Of Rights) and within the best interests of the common populace. That feeling certainly faded during the decade's second half, as some changes for oppressed groups in the country seemed to not be happening fast enough, the Vietnam War was escalated and plateaued for a long time despite anti-war protests--at least until such protests became increasingly mainstream during the early 1970s and not just the province of scruffy, long-haired student would-be anarchists--, and the subsequent revelations of the Pentagon Papers, COINTELPRO, and especially Watergate revealed that not only were there a lot of less-than-moral people running our institutions, but perhaps the institutions themselves were too rotten at their core to ever be changed through the actions of large (or large enough) numbers of idealists. And even if it could, by the post-Watergate/Vietnam era, not many idealists existed anymore, at least politically. And as for commodified rebellion/a simulcra of rebellion, I certainly thought in 1985 (my freshman year in college) that Rolling Stone and Spin magazines were radical tracts, and that one's use and choice of hair mousse or styling gel was a legitimate indicator of one's political and social engagement. Viewed through that lens, Joan Baez was right: Live Aid WAS our generation's Woodstock.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 13 Jun 09 22:41
"that idealism is mostly a holdover from the first half of the decade, mainly from the Civil Rights Movement. At that time, there was still the idea that change could be affected by appealing to those people and institutions within the system" The Civil Right's Movement was absolutely a core thread in the '60s, and rooted in a desire of the disaffected to gain enfranchisement within the system. However, it doesn't go far enough to explain all those enfranchised kids of the establishment questioning, through a somewhat different we-can-change-the-world idealism, the very essence of that "enfranchisement." The paradigm shift of that time was far more inclusive than what the civil rights movement embraced. It challenged core lifestyle precepts of the time, including vacuous consumerism, immoral war, environmental/ecological degradation, and a mainstream spiritual numbness. "Wake up to find out the YOU are the eyes of the world," is but one expression of how we are finding the old '60s shift in consciousness as relevant as ever today. I also sense that most younger Deadheads, in lifestyle choice, embraced this paradigm shift, although with less optimism than those idealistic hippies that the rest of the world would follow suit anytime soon. What do you think, Peter? Was there more to the '80s/'90s Deadhead ethos than simply chasing an ecstatic Dionysian release through immersion in the music of the band?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sun 14 Jun 09 10:27
These are wonderful insights & much to mull over. "Was there more to the '80s/'90s Deadhead ethos than simply chasing an ecstatic Dionysian release through immersion in the music of the band?" I'd answer that pursuing and living out an ecstatic Dionysian release in modern America is a political act in line with much of what we've been discussing. As a kid raised with Catholicism (including doing time as an altar boy) and a very buttoned-up notion of religion - and, really, no notion of spirituality - losing myself in song and dance was incredibly liberating: physically, spiritually, and, by extension, politically. I use the term "politically" here in much the same way I view the notions of "dis/enfranchisement" that have come up. As a middle class white male growing up in America, there is no stretch that can quantify that experience as economically or politically alienating. It was the same way for many of the original hippies. Yet, as Steve points out, there was severe disillusionment with, "lifestyle precepts of the time, including vacuous consumerism, immoral war, environmental/ecological degradation, and a mainstream spiritual numbness." There are many ways to go about combating these unfortunate realities - some take place on the larger stage of protests, voting, canvassing, etc. For me, those public activities started with the very personal, private transformation of tuning into G.D. music and getting lost in dance. This was also done in public (in the hallways, mostly), but it was done in a supportive space with likeminded people (Deadheads). That body liberation helped kick my mind into places beyond anger, angst, confusion, etc. and into a place of greater control. In a sense, it was losing control to gain control. If I could free myself enough to dance like I was possessed by animal spirits, what else was I free enough to do?
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Sun 14 Jun 09 21:44
<36>: Thank you for the correction. I had forgotten to cite that young people from the more prosperous and privileged classes had their own deep-seated reasons for rebelling against the system. Still, from what I've read, at least at first there was a sense of the possibility of using the system to achieve the changes that needed to be made, at least up until 1967-68. In other words, to me there seemed to be kind of a consciousness of using the system to change the system into something more equitable, humane, and generous for all.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 15 Jun 09 01:29
<scribbled by tnf Mon 15 Jun 09 01:31>
David Gans (tnf) Mon 15 Jun 09 01:31
> In a sense, it was losing control to gain control. I like that. In this regard, the social system reflects and reifies the musical philosophy of trusting the chaos and givng yourself over to the groupmind.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 15 Jun 09 01:39
I am in the throes of writing about the Grateful Dead - an essay to accompany the lyrics of "Who Killed Uncle John?" in a book. <http://dgans.com/lyrics.html#WKUJ> "Growing Up Dead" and Bob Greenfield's "Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia" are very much on my mind as I work on this. What you learned from your experiences, Peter, helped you to become the man you are today: a published poet, a worker in the field of literature, a well-adjusted family man. But you made a lot of choices to get where you are, and a great number of the options you faced in those days could have led you in drastically different directions. Along with all the sweetness, brotherhood, serendipity, and generosity you encountered and embodied, there was plenty of nasty shit as well. "Shakedown Street" got that name (courtesy of Robert Hunter) for a reason. There were all sorts of lost souls in that world, both internally and outside the laminated curtain. I knew some who were lost when they arrived and found that they were able to operate in relative safety there; some who got lost along the way; and some who were lost when they came here and were made whole by what they encountered. First, do you agree with my premise here? And second, how did you make it through?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Mon 15 Jun 09 06:56
David, it's really interesting to glimpse your insider view on the scene, especially in this "Why an' what's the reason for?" lyrical take. I'll look forward to the essay. Personally, the recent biographies have given those of us outside the laminated curtain a big peek into what the inside scene was like. And I'm pretty happy that I was largely ignorant of the day-to-day band operations at the time. That mystery was preserved for me, and I didn't worry too much about what was going on back there in-between shows. Only what happened onstage. Of course, there was always speculation about the guy's lives, but it was really just chattering to pass the time until the show started. Everyone had their own trips to worry about. Yes, there was a lot of damage out there in the parking lot too. Of course, our biggest boogie-men at the time were DEA and scalpers, followed closely by nitrous vendors and the commercial salesmen (meat-on-a-stick vendors, etc) who were only there to make money. There were lots of Deadheads who you wouldn't want to deal with either, but if they were a part of the scene, it didn't seem as hazardous. The main concern was preserving the tour. Once the Dead started making it known that vending outside shows was verboten and so was showing up without a ticket - a big chunk of the spontaneity of touring got stripped out. And I don't hold that against the band at all. They needed to do that. They were singing "This could be the last time..." while sending out missives about how to preserve the scene. The worm turned when it became evident that fans weren't respecting the band's wishes. It was expected that outsiders would prey on the scene, but if fans were no longer focused on sustaining it... The dream goes pop. I think I was able to navigate the scene because I had good friends to travel with and we were basically on the same page when it came to the music, travel, and the intellectual end of things. We didn't take any of it for granted and were willing to work toward preserving the scene rather than taking advantage of it. That makes it much easier to get along and to form healthy relationships with other Deadheads of a likemind. In other words, you reap what you sow. I also never felt like I was mindlessly following or chasing the band either. I was consciously looking for something... I may not have known what that was, but I was engaging with the music, dance, and the scene on levels that challenged me and kept me interested in the quest. Again, when you're getting that much out of something, you tend to work to preserve it.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 15 Jun 09 11:41
The "Laminate Curtain": heh.
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Tue 16 Jun 09 10:25
Peter I again resonate with a point you made the "intellectual" aspect of The Grateful Dead show. How many times after the band left the stage for the night, and I ventured out to Shakedown Street, did I enjoy a remarkable conversation with a remarkable lucid Human on the far edge of an acid fever dream that had crested? So many! I'd be dazzled by the arcana and history or future dreams foretold, often across supposed generational borders and wide geographic as well as philosophical spaces. The cultural transmission was as often profound as just plain goofy. As Gans said, I believe, "I got my best ideas at Grateful Dead shows."
David Gans (tnf) Tue 16 Jun 09 11:01
> I used to sit stock still, listening with my musician's head, but not any > more. Now I try to keep moving through the fiery bubble of it, solving > riddles and posing thoughts as I wander among the various elements: the > music, the lyrics, the onstage interactions, the audience, my companions, > and my internal dialogs on a variety of subjects. I've gotten some of my > best ideas at Dead shows, cried some of my best tears, solved some of my > knottiest problems, received some of my most productive inspirations. <http://www.well.com/conf/gdhour/KPFAfolio.html>
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 16 Jun 09 11:21
Having spent the past few months talking to a bunch of mainstream media people about Deadheads & shows, it's amazing how far our experiences are from their perceptions of the scene too. I'm sure David has been dealing with this for years, but it was an eye-opener (or a reminder, actually) for me to hear all those old stereotypes come flooding back in the form of inane questions. "Did you wear tie-dye everyday? Did you ever take a bath? Were there lots of orgies?" And, of course, people only ask about stereotypes when they're hoping to have them reinforced. "See, I knew it!" Otherwise they have to deal with assimilating all sorts of new information, reshuffling their previous thinking, and other time-consuming endeavors. Meanwhile, a lot of us know the truth: the scene is populated with some of the most interesting, forward-thinking people in the country. The disconnect between that reality and the popular image of Deadheads is jarring.
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Tue 16 Jun 09 14:48
Indeed, Peter! David, thanks for the full quote in <45>. Yeah, too spent a few years stock-still, tho very engaged in solving riddles (real or self-invented) and observing then I suddenly started dancing opening a new aspect to the experience of The Show for me while all the mental/emotional gymnastics continues to flower and bear fruit.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 16 Jun 09 17:45
I think the GD scene was somewhat idealized by many of its participants, too - in the opposite direction from the mainstream media's stereotyping, of course. That's what I was driving at earlier. The tour was a temporary autonomous zone where people were free to explore their inner frontiers, for sure, but also to make obscene profits on nitrous balloons, etc.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 16 Jun 09 18:08
"fiery bubble" Nicely put, David. The "mythic" '60s became a fiery bubble that popped in unexpected ways. The Deadhead scene of the '80s and '90s became a fiery bubble in its own right. This is what I meant by the Dionysianism, the collective Nekyia, that was so powerfully manifest in both Psychedelia, and the Deadhead phenomenon. This is also the element that those mainstream media types, that Peter references, often don't get, but, as David suggests, along with the freedom came true danger and risk, and a full spectrum of human vulgarity, sanity, and expression. It was as primitive as it was enlightening. From the essay, Dionysus and the Beat Generation by William Everson (also known as Brother Antoninus, a respected Beat poet): [ ] The insistence of the Beat Generation to combine jazz and poetry is quite symptomatic of the Dionysian tendency. Even the Beat novel is an open effort to sustain lyric intensity over the whole course of the work. (181)." Opposing Dionysus in this metaphor for the Beat/Hippie experience is the god Apollo: "Dionysus in his own realm of field and forest is nothing dangerous; he represents simply the flow of unconscious life in the whole psyche. But over against him stands Apollo, god of light and consciousness, the guardian of civilization and culture, education, commerce and civic virtue. To the civilizing Apollonian attitude, with its premium on rational consciousness and ego-integrity, nothing is more abhorrent, and hence more dangerously seductive, than the dark irrational urge. Ego fears to lose everything before the ecstatic force, and it organizes all its powers of persuasion and coercion to check the spontaneous effect [ ] Dionysus is unkillable. Unless his voice be heard [ ] sooner or later the god will break out. And the humiliated outrage [ ] bodes ill for consciousness and Apollo [ ]." (181-2). I used this great quote in The Hippie Narrative.
beanoze (delphinus) Tue 16 Jun 09 19:48
Peter, one of the things that provoked me in reading your book was also a provocation in the decade after '83 when I regularly went to shows. There was a huge tension between the unambiguously positive emotional and aesthetic content of the music -- though experiencing it could be pretty harrowing -- and the small but visible minority in audience who appeared to be shattered 'lost sailors' of the scene. The profiteers that <tnf> refers to <48> could be brushed off. But the lost souls <41> like your dubiously homeschooled kid, and some of the blown out folks in the lots stick with you. How did the community/scene deal effectively with folks shattered in the T.A.Z.? Seems like part-time anarchy does not allow for much in the way of intervention/self-correction.
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