David Gans (tnf) Tue 16 Jun 09 23:16
Fish rots from the head, as a good friend reminded me in a related context not too long ago. Jerry Garcia was a most reluctant emperor. He was pretty much the only one who could have controlled any of it, from the thugs on his own crew on down. He refused to correct anyone's behavior. It was well known in all realms that you could pretty much do what you wanted to do. In the beginning, I think, the presumption was that everybody would behave responsibly and look out for the group; the tragedy of the commons put that notion into the ground in the Haight in '67, and then the whole story played out again over the next couple of decades all across the country. All the good stuff kept happening, too, of course, until the last few years maybe. As long as the music was compelling, the rest could be dealt with. There's been a discussion on a mailing list I read, saying something along the lines of this: the Reagan years helped make the GD scene possible - or should I say necessary - with its mindless rejection of introspection. "Just say no" my ass - I'm going on Dead tour!
David Gans (tnf) Tue 16 Jun 09 23:19
I'm wondering if there is anything like this trip available to kids now.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 17 Jun 09 07:06
Im going to follow out this Beat-scene casualty-Dionysian discussion a little bit. We remember and talk about the Beats because of the books that were produced. Many of those books self-mythologized the circle of people we call Beats. Within that circle were some very talented writers who were mixed in with thieves, addicts, intellectuals, anarchists, musicians, artists, students, creeps, and people with severe mental problems which, at that time, the medical community was severely limited in dealing with. The Dionysian spirit was present there, yes, but the King of the Beats (Kerouac), often said that the term Beat meant beatific or holy. In one of his first appearances on national television after the publication of On the Road, Jack answers that he wrote the book because he, "was waiting for God to show his face." That doesnt dispel the Dionysian parallel. My point is that the writers themselves who ultimately conveyed the zeitgeist within which the Beats as a larger group existed (including such influential lesser known characters as Herbert Huncke, Lucien Carr, etc.) appreciated and participated in the Dionysian frenzy of life, but, at some point, pulled back enough to put it on paper. That means that they also read, studied and practiced enough to learn how to write powerfully in a way that would preserve those words for posterity. They believed that the people they were surrounded with and the ideas being slung back-and-forth were valuable enough to be saved and passed along. In many ways, the history of counterculture literature in which the Beats play a key role is a first-person Orphic narrative: the narrator starts in a stable environment, travels down into the depths of subculture, and emerges with the story of whats happening down there. Without the re-emergence, we never get the story. And without writers who are able to sustain what the poet John Keats called negative capability (defined by Keats as the ability to be capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason) we never get the story. To be able to convey the value of a subculture to a dominant culture, the writer must not only grasp the essence of the subculture, but the value it holds for the larger culture. Interestingly, the point when that happens is also the point where assimilation and/or attack of the subculture begins (thus we have the Beats in Life magazine and ridiculed on television shows, etc). In any event, within the Beat scene and the Dead scene, there were lots of thieves, addicts, intellectuals, anarchists, musicians, artists, students, creeps, and people with severe mental problems along with lots of brilliant, peaceful, giving, loving, progressive people with vital ideas about America. And, as with the Beat scene, there are lots of caricatures that reduce the scene to one-dimension. One main reason I felt compelled to write Growing Up Dead was that I felt a first person narrative about Deadheads in the tradition of classic, successful countercultural literature had not been published. Whether I succeeded or not is up for grabs, but that was my intention. I wanted to do that because I understood that to convey the true value of the scene in way that could perhaps benefit us still, today, it was necessary to follow out that Orphic narrative. Addressing those statements to Davids question of, I'm wondering if there is anything like this trip available to kids now, well, I believe in the power of literature enough to hope that a book could keep those doors open. Thats the art form Ive pursued, so its the way I felt I could best contribute. Since the book has been published, Ive had emails from many young people (16-to-mid twenties lots of emails from people of every other age too, but thats a different discussion) who say that my story sounds like their story. Some are following bands like Widespread Panic or Phish or Disco Biscuits, etc. Some are playing out scenes within the areas that they live (think globally, freak locally). Where they do these things may ultimately be less important than the spirit and ideas that are being transmitted. To me, that spirit of music, dance, travel (both internal and external), human interaction (both positive and hazardous) is at the root of the American counterculture that has always served as a corrective to our dominant culture. God help us if that ever goes away. But I dont think it will. As much as we lament mass media video game mindless money marketing culture, there will always be kids who look for more. I believe its the responsibility of those who can help guide those kids to keep putting the message out there, no matter how much static you need to endure to get it through. To me, thats the root of keeping the faith.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 17 Jun 09 11:26
> One main reason I felt compelled to write Growing Up Dead was that I felt a > first person narrative about Deadheads in the tradition of classic, succes- > sful countercultural literature had not been published. Whether I succeeded > or not is up for grabs, but that was my intention. I think you did. That's why we're here.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 17 Jun 09 14:04
I think you did too. One of the things you got at in your book that really resonated with me was that the Dead provided, if not an education, then at least the signpost to an education waiting to be had. It could be primarily about music (learning about Howlin' Wolf, Noah Lewis, et al.), but it could also be about literature and the history of ideas equally well. There was, if you looked for it, access to a countercultural tale that goes back to the dawn of shamanism as far as I can tell. You clearly followed the signs.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 17 Jun 09 20:32
And now I'd like to ask a question I have asked others, including others in this forum. "Did it matter? Does it now?"
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 18 Jun 09 06:39
Peter would answer if he only knew how...
David Gans (tnf) Thu 18 Jun 09 09:41
David Gans (tnf) Thu 18 Jun 09 11:53
But seriously. What does all this mean? Why do you suppose the Grateful Dead culture continues to exist, diffused as it may be among various band members and their musical and spiritual heirs?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 18 Jun 09 14:23
I think the culture continues because the art is really, really good. (BTW, I'm going to answer this in the past tense b/c we're talking about the G.D. not the Dead) Each member was intensely invested not only in the possibilities of the band and music, but in their individual instruments. They explored their own roles and pushed the boundaries of their playing in ways that reward listeners over and over and over. The music also incorporated so many different types of music that hardcore listeners can pull up different songs, eras, styles and find music to fit their needs at any given time. The Grateful Dead are also an incredible story of endurance. Ernest Shackleton may have survived the Antarctic, but those guys got up on stage night after night, year after year, city after city, and hung themselves on the line in the name of chasing down the bitch-god music muse. Their dedication to their art is an amazing inspiration and also sets a pretty high bar for other artists. As the old saying goes: half the battle is showing up. Those guys showed up. In the end, I believe that great art endures and lesser art fades away. The Boys made great art and that's why the legacy will remain strong. The culture surrounding the band grew out of the band's beliefs, influences, and the original community that nurtured them, so its also infused with all the elements that make the art great. As long as those threads are alive and the live wires are twitching with creative energy, people will be drawn to the music and will discover the culture surrounding it.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 18 Jun 09 16:30
(BTW, anyone reading this from outside the WELL is invited to send a question or comment to firstname.lastname@example.org - we'd love to ehar from you.)
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Fri 19 Jun 09 05:33
>As long as those threads are alive and the live wires are twitching with creative energy, people will be drawn to the music and will discover the culture surrounding it. < Yeah. I think that one happily ironic result of the band's sudden, belated popularity in mainstream radio music (even as that medium was moving into its own death throes) and their decline and demise in the early 90's, was the flow of that energy and music (much original tho GD inspired) back into the local joints of so many cities and towns.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 19 Jun 09 07:15
The early 90s was definitely an amazing time for fans of G.D. inspired jam-oriented music. There was an explosion of talented, original groups touring around the East Coast and playing their own music: Phish, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Spin Doctors, etc. etc. along with a ton of bands playing on a smaller scale, but in a similar vein. As result, a lot of those smaller bands got to open for the future jam heavyweights and had some cool musical interactions. As I talk about in Growing Up Dead, I went to college in Potsdam, NY, way up North near the Canadian border - and also a couple hours away from Burlington. So we had early access to Phish bootlegs, live recordings, and club shows. The first time I saw them was a free concert in the Potsdam student union. We had lobbied hard to get them there and were all psyched to help the band carry in equipment, set up, and then dance hard all around the union. As early as '90 the college bands I was involved with were mixing jammy originals with covers by Phish, WSP, Blues Traveler, etc. Basically, we were playing covers of these bands while they were barely past playing covers themselves! And, of course, we played plenty of G.D. covers too. Personally, after spending years on the G.D. scene and watching the way things were spinning out of control, it was a real boost to have these talented, like-minded bands start showing up and playing excellent music. July 20 and 21 1991, there was a little music festival at Arrowhead Ranch in Parksville, NY: http://ksstudio.com/ahr/snapshots.html. Phish headlined, playing with the Giant Country Horns. Spin Doctors, The Radiators, the Authority and TR3 also played. There were about 2000 people in a beautiful outdoor summer setting, everyone camping, no cops in sight, no hassles whatsoever, and great music with lots of dancing. I went with Sissy (known to anyone who read GUD) and we both had a palpable sense - even within the moment - that we were helping kick off a necessary, new direction. Since we had been on the G.D. scene, we also felt this was a chance to transmit some energy and lessons from that scene to this new scene. That show is now, rightfully, epic among Phish-heads, but in my mind it also serves as a signpost that there was help on the way.
Elizabeth Yeager (eyeager78) Fri 19 Jun 09 08:18
Peter, Im interested in hearing you speak more about the relationship between the Grateful Dead and The Dead. In an earlier post you make a distinction between the two: I think the culture continues because the art is really, really good. (BTW, I'm going to answer this in the past tense b/c we're talking about the G.D. not the Dead) Each member was intensely invested not only in the possibilities of the band and music, but in their individual instruments. Do you see the culture each embodies as being separate? Are they distinct from one another? How may this be significant to a discussion of the Grateful Dead culture continuing today?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 19 Jun 09 09:03
Welcome, Liz, and thanks for your question!
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 19 Jun 09 09:31
Hi Elizabeth, An interesting thing happened after I wrote GUD, but before it was published - the Dead announced that they would tour again. When I started the book, there were no signs of a tour. In fact, it looked to me like that might never happen again. You can see that in certain passages of the book - a strong sense of the past tense without glimmers of future tours. In a twist of synchronicity, the band announced their spring tour a few months before my book was published... and, what's more, the tour would start the same month my book was released. There was no wrangling or changing publiction dates or anything - it just worked out that way. Pretty damn cool. However, it also created a situation whereby I'm talking about a book written about a band in the past tense, while the band members launch a very public rebirth. When I wrote the book, I was consciously trying to preserve something that looked like it was going, going, gone. Suddenly, the Dead were on Letterman, NY Times, even The View! So for me, with specific regards to GUD, I'm careful to distinguish between G.D. and The Dead - because, technically, the band I wrote the book about *is* gone. That said, I saw The Dead in Albany and MSG and it was obvious that the music, the spirit, and the scene around the shows was very much alive. Of course, this isn't a big surprise because I've been to Phil shows, Bob shows, The Other Ones shows, etc. and, of course, the Deadhead community has always remained very strong, especially now that so much of it is online. But these were the most coherent, G.D.-like shows I had seen since Jerry's death. It really brought me back. And there's no doubt that the tour sparked new life into the community too. People were psyched, people were bitching, people were critiquing, recording, traveling, discussing, seeing old friends, etc. In short, they were being active Deadheads in the world. Regarding the culture between the two groups being different - yes, inevitably, because the avenues the band was using to promote the tour were/are very sophisticated. This tour was a huge deal on a larger media scale, not just among the community. The website, the rehearsal videos, the merch, the whole set-up from the band's end seemed very streamlined and savvy too. I don't say that as a negative, just an observation - they knew what this tour was all about and how to maximize its impact. And they pulled it off. Kudos. I think the real test of "the scene" in a cultural sense though will only be visible if The Dead keep touring, venue after venue, year after year, outside the glare of that big media spotlight. In other words, it's tough to gauge the real situation until things settle down. That said (and this is also covered in the book) I'm not nearly as in touch with the Dead scene as I was in the 80s and 90s. A couple weeks ago I was out in San Francisco doing some readings for GUD and photographer Jay Blakesburg came out to one of my events. He had just done the whole tour (minus, I believe, one show) and was talking about the shows and all sorts of lower-key band activity in the Bay Area. It was really cool to hear him talk and to pick up some of that energy that's very present, very current, very alive today. And going to those shows on the spring tour put me back in touch with that on a personal level too - damn was I sore after that Albany show! I danced my ass off at both those shows and MSG was as strong a show as many I saw back in the 80s and 90s ("in and out of The Garden he goes!"). But, as I cover in the book, my main focus shifted away from the band to pursuing my own art. A big theme of the book is taking the experience, lessons, and energy of G.D. music and the scene and transfering it to your own trip. Inevitably, that means losing touch with the minutiea of fandom, but, in my opinion, it pays a greater homage to the spirit we've been discussing. It's not quite "believe it if you need it, if you don't just pass it on" because the belief is always alive and is never passed. But there's a deep truth about the enduring power of the scene within the subtext of that lyric: G.D. music and the scene is bigger than any one person. In a way, it will always be there, and in a way it's already gone (quoth Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself."). But once you've tapped into the G.D., once you truly catch that flow, it never fully leaves you. It's always a part of your makeup - practically at a molecular level. And if you've caught it at that level, it's healthy to step outside the scene enough to transmit its positive attributes and to pass along the lessons.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 19 Jun 09 10:08
> A big theme of the book is taking the experience, lessons, and energy of > G.D. music and the scene and transfering it to your own trip. Yes indeed. That's always been a huge part of it for me. I always said a GD concert was a great way to rev up my own creative flywheel. > once you've tapped into the G.D., once you truly catch that flow, it never > fully leaves you. It's always a part of your makeup - practically at a > molecular level. That's true, too.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Fri 19 Jun 09 10:58
Truth and fun, truth and fun!
David Gans (tnf) Fri 19 Jun 09 12:55
Now there you go, throwing my words in my face! I'm about to take off for a weekend tour that will likely keep me offline until Sunday. I might be able to check in at some point Saturday, but I'm not sure. So I'm hoping all ofyouse will keep the conversation going in my absence.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 19 Jun 09 15:03
<after I wrote GUD> I'm working in Swedish on a play right now, so this made me laugh as I tried to figure out what you meant. "GUD" means "GOD" in the Scandinavian languages. <A big theme of the book is taking the experience, lessons, and energy of G.D. music and the scene and transferring it to your own trip.> So if we're talking about "Did it matter? Does it now?", the answer may depend on how we value or attend to the cosmic spirit of collectivism (that transcends ones "own trip"). In this, the Deadhead scene is/was a direct descendent of the hippie phenomenon, especially as it concerns a collectivist scene. So, Peter, what do you think the future holds for the Grateful Dead musicking experience as a social construct that can be replicated? Do you predict future rock nekyias modeled on the Deadhead scene and/or the best of the GD type of show. (BTW, when I saw the Dead in The Gorge in May, there was a palpable sense of community in the air, but the showalthough great at timeswas too uneven in its song selection and delivery to engender a sustained Dionysian journey or Nekyia). Do you think the show experience, of the type delivered by the GD at their best, holds the potential to transcend the event and influence cultural change? You've alluded to Phish, Widespread Panic as somewhat similar phenomenon with caravanning fans. What do you see in the sense of family/tribe formed within these collectivist scenes that may have greater applicability in the future as the participants leave the concert/mediascape/campground/Shakedown Street/parking lot culture and plug into a more privatized existence? Might not the Deadhead type of scene serve, inadvertently, as a grassroots model to help us break through the privatized/mass consumer paradigm that drives contemporary society? [What would be the answer? I'm expecting a GUD-like answer, Answerman.]
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Sat 20 Jun 09 06:43
GUD gawd, Scott ;-) An intervening question for all I remember when I "got it", surprisingly a year before I saw my first show. I was walking past the dorm room next door to mine as a college freshman. Eddy was blaring NFA from the "Skull Fuck/Skull and Roses" album. His stereo was obscenely huge and bone-shaking loud. In an instant I knew that whatever band that was playing, they were big fun and good trouble. I was hooked in a matter of seconds as my adolescent affection for The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, AM radio rock and soul took a back seat to this new fascination. So, my question is anybody else had similar pre-show epiphanies?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sat 20 Jun 09 09:44
So the author of GUD was at the Rochester International Jazz Fest until late last night. The RIJF (I believe that means "angel" in Icelandic) has turned into an amazing festival the past few years: http://rochesterjazz.com. In addition to the tons of club shows, on weekends they block off a few major downtown streets, set up stages, and have some outstanding bands play for free. Last night was a clear, 72 degree night in Rochester, and a few thousand people milled around the streets - spirits were high and I got to hang out with a bunch of friends. Big fun, but I must admit, Im a bit fuzzy today. The Campbell Brothers - Sacred Steel Guitar started the outdoor show: http://www.rochesterjazz.com/artist_lineup/?artist_id=321. The band features two brothers (Campbells, of course) who play pedal steel and lap steel guitars. The music is stomping, righteous, high energy gospel blues and the crowd ate them up. After the Campbell Brothers set was over, Robert Randolph & The Family Band played: http://www.rochesterjazz.com/artist_lineup/?artist_id=315. Having these two bands play back-to-back was organizational gold. The bands complemented each other perfectly the Campbell Bros pumping up the crowd with a PG set, and then Randolph coming in with the PG-13 (at times Prince-like R rated) version of Gospel Blues Funk Jazz jams. Randolph is a great performer, engaging the crowd throughout the show at one point he brought roughly 75 women from the crowd up on stage and they danced like crazy while he sang some stuff about shaking your hips etc. Not sure what he saying, honestly, because the spectacle on-stage was hilarious and took complete attention, but the gist of it was that the women in the crowd should dance their asses off. And they did. Lots of the men did too. These guys seamlessly mix styles and Randolphs pedal steel cuts through the jams, holding it all together and pushing the music forward. Like the Campbell Brothers, Randolph is coming out of a religious, gospel tradition (though hes definitely come farther out) and theres an air of raucous holy-spirit in even the nitty-grittiest numbers. The other cool thing about the jazz fest is that musicians are always popping up in each others sets. Last night, Susan Tedeschi opened up for Taj Mahal (at the same time that the Randolph Bros were playing but that show costs money and was held inside). Towards the end of Randolphs set, she slid on stage for a smoking version of Voodoo Chile. Tedeschi has a soulful, bluesy, original voice and it was cool hearing her interpret this classic tune. Midway through Voodoo Chile, Chuck Campbell came up on stage too. They put Chucks pedal steel next to Randolph, front and center, and the two dueled it out, topping each other on crazy Hendrix-flavored solos. Randolph closed out the show with one, two, three I dont know how many encores it just kept going and he kept the energy pumping high until he left the stage, waving, dancing, and shouting blessings. I started out writing this about last night, because I wanted to tell Scott that his question is three levels deeper than my post-Jazz fest mind can handle this morning. (BTW, Id love to hear your own take on this stuff, Scott. Youve obviously given it some thought and Id be very interested.) But once I got going, it occurred to me that this might be an answer in itself. As good as it was to see many friends last night times are tough. People are losing jobs or teetering on the brink of it or figuring out new ways to scrape by (like choosing the free outdoor show instead of the costlier indoor show). As we all know, America is struggling with reimagining itself while in the throes of a serious economic crisis. Thats not theoretical, its very personal and theres fallout everywhere. Last night wasnt a Dead show by any stretch. But it was a positive, upbeat gathering of people who all came together for two reasons: music and fun. I also give thanks to the city of Rochester for encouraging and facilitating the festival its a great boon for the city. In the end, none of the music, fun, gathering, etc. solved anyones problems on a personal or collective scale. But it helped. It helped. We all got to look at each other having a good time. We all experienced the same music and for a while, I hope, a lot of people got to leave some of the worrisome shit behind. I know I did.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 20 Jun 09 10:05
Wow. Kinda makes me want to go back to Rochester for next year's festival (I grew up there but haven't been in many years).
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sat 20 Jun 09 10:20
It'd be well worth the trip! The festival is the best thing to happen to Rochester in a good, long time. The line-up is diverse and top-notch and a club pass gets you access to just about everything. Highly recommended. BTW, tomorrow morning at 8AM EST I have a radio interview about GUD airing on WNTI radio out of New Jersey. The interview can also be heard online at: http://www.wnti.org Hell, while I'm plugging away, here are links to some other GUD related media: GUD Reading from Books Inc in San Francisco: http://fora.tv/2009/06/04/Peter_Conners_Growing_Up_Dead Book Trailer (courtesty of my talented artist friend Steve Smock): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuron_SJ8UM Straight up book website: www.growingupdead.com Straight up author website: www.peterconners.com Long podcast interview: http://keyholemagazine.com/articles/peter-conners-growing-up-dead-interview Links to other media, collaborations, interviews, etc. http://peterconners.com/default.aspx?id=47
i love my uncle, god rest his soul (xian) Sat 20 Jun 09 12:26
Peter, we gotta get you to come down to albuquerque sometime for the oldest established permanent floating neverending Dead caucus in the southwest.
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