Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Jun 07 18:38
Thanks for the thoughtful post, <SteveBj>. I appreciate the way you're addressing the full context of what I'm trying to explore. My thinking emanated from what Nick said much earlier: >> the big thing that's missing from AGI is something exclusively focused on the spiritual/religious side. I agree with you, Steve, that there was a countercultural explosion of unprecedented proportions that erupted in about 1967-68. And I think that we are going about saying much the same thing, in different vocabulary, when I suggest that the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic of this phenomenon resulted, not in a victory of the Eisenhower mainstream over the counterculture, or in the ascendance of the alternative society envisioned by most hippies. What synthesized, instead, was this postmodern amalgam of a mainstream culture that is at the same time more hip and more authoritarian than what preceeded it. Deadhead culture is worth exploring irrespective of whether it can be considered mainstream or alternative. This is a difficult question trying to differentiate whether the phenomenon is a fringe part of the mainstream culture, a new iteration, or evidence of the continuation of this late '60s alternative cultural formulation in the making. Maybe it is possible to deduce, as I think you suggest, that the Deadheads post-1980 were a delayed part of that mainstream absorption. However, I can't equate the Deadhead quintessence with that of the RedSox Nation. Did most Deadheads, even in the '90s think of themselves as part of the mainstream? I think not. The aspect of their phenomenon that is farthest from being straitlaced centers on psychedelic drug use and the sensation of intersubjective oneness that this helped elicit and which was amplified when listening to the Dead. Can this be ignored as part of their socio-spiritual makeup? Yes, the tie-dye, dreadlock, hacky-sack, organic foods commonalities have a distinctly conformist tendency, but isn't this conformity part of their new cultural iteration? I don't see the Deadheads as part of a mainstream America that conducts drug tests at the workplace, will not allow federal financial aid to college if the applicant has ever had a drug bust, or supporting a government that still manages to get us into unjustifiable wars. But, as for absorption, I have no doubt that somewhere, soft Dead music is being piped into an elevator and some Army brat is kicking a day-glo hacky-sack. When I ask the question of Deadhead uniqueness in its microcultural formation, I imagine a sociological cohesion of values, beliefs and behaviors stemming from the counterculture of yore. The Deadheads & Grateful Dead are not a product of the mainstream anymore than the Mormon diaspora to Utah was. Yet the LDS, in the 20th century, became adept at conforming to mainstream American culture while fashioning a way to retain a distinct religious identity. I would agree that the Dead, (in addition to how the band borrowed so eclectically from American roots music and wrote tongue-in-cheek songs such as "U.S. Blues"), were quintessentially American, every bit as much as the Mormon Church. Along with the Rainbow Tribe, The Deadheads are, in my estimation, the best example of a microculture that evolved from the alternative culture of the hippie epoch. They can't be fully appreciated outside of that context.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 04:44
>>>What synthesized, instead, was this postmodern amalgam of a mainstream culture that is at the same time more hip and more authoritarian than what preceded it.<<< Hmmm. I'm inclined to agree, but let me think about it some. >>>Did most Deadheads, even in the '90s think of themselves as part of the mainstream? I think not.<<< No, they did not. You're right about that. Yet thinking of oneself as outside the mainstream doesn't put one outside the mainstream. >>>I don't see the Deadheads as part of a mainstream America that conducts drug tests at the workplace, will not allow federal financial aid to college if the applicant has ever had a drug bust, or supporting a government that still manages to get us into unjustifiable wars.<<< The current approval ratings for both the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration suggest that, actually, supporting both is what's outside the American mainstream nowadays. And I'll speculate that a majority of mainstream Americans -- perhaps just a slim majority, but still -- consider present drug laws and drug policies to be ineffective, outlandish or draconian. At least the medicinal use of marijuana has been approved by voters in various cities and regions and states on several occasions, after all (only to be overruled by federal law). >>>The Deadheads & Grateful Dead are not a product of the mainstream anymore than the Mormon diaspora to Utah was.<<< Polygamy was perhaps a little unusual, yet Joseph Smith and his LDS church grew out of and succeeded with themes that were very much mainstream American in the 19th century, and that's the point I'm trying to make about the Deadhead phenomenon too. Scrape down to the bones of its belief structure, and you find themes that have run through American social and religious history since the 17th century. The New England colonies were established, after all, by congregations who thought of themselves as outsiders, as "alternative" to the religious and political mainstream in Europe. The Dead's resident visual artists often used the design of the flag of the United States of America, or pieces from it, in Dead iconography. There's good reason they did. "Wave that flag" indeed -- the whole trip was as American as Thoreau's stay at Walden.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 05:12
Perhaps, Scott, our disagreement (it's not really) grows from different definitions of the American mainstream. If by mainstream you mean the kind of middle-class, WASP-populated suburbs that emerged, as first a goal and then a lifestyle, in the 1950s and '60s, overlaid with an authority determined and governed by wealthy Ivy League-educated white men, then your points are clear. I think the phrase "American mainstream" must be much broader than that. It must include the national myths most Americans accept as our doctrine -- e.g. that anyone with gumption and hard work can succeed in this country (Bob Weir in a recent Rolling Stone: "When I started to bring home gold records, my parents thought it was all pretty good"), and that peaceful protest is the proper way to address grievances, and that the American wilderness is a place to encounter one's fears and soul, just for starters. It must include as well the versions of American history most Americans agree on, e.g. that we were the "good guys" in WWII, or that the American Revolution was fought to create a new democracy that didn't wilt beneath the authority of a ruling monarch. (This isn't to say this is what actually happened; it's to say these are the accepted versions of the stories, the ones Americans generally accept to be true.) It must also include the ideas and themes contained in our founding national documents, such as the right to the pursuit of happiness. Finally, our definition of mainstream must include the American faith in tolerance of the different and unusual. It is true that our history is stained with hundreds, thousands, millions of examples of intolerance, and uncountable lives have been ruined or even drowned in those stains. Yet compared to the rest of the world, even to present-day western Europe, America has across its history been amazingly tolerant. This is not to say, of course, we have been or are as tolerant of human difference as we ought to be, but by world standards we are a very open-minded culture. That's why Garcia was right. The Dead could happen only here.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Tue 26 Jun 07 06:21
Spirited and stimulating exchange, y'all; most impressive. It's worth pointing out that the degree to which Shakedown Street was and was not in keeping with mainstream American capitalistic values is already a distinct theme in the literature: an MA thesis on vending, a chapter in Rebecca Adams' and Rob Sardiello's book, and it crops up again in Steve Gimbel's essay in his Philosophy and the Dead. I ain't no economist, nor am I a philosopher, so I defer to those better qualified to comment; what I would say is that these critics convinced me that there were distinctly un-mainstream, non-capitalistic elements to Shakedown Street, as well as mainstream capitalistism. Two works come to mind that may cast useful light on y'all's discussion of Deadheads and the degree to which they are/were and are not/were not mainstream: first is Roszak's The Making of A Counter Culture, which came out in 1969; it's a thoughtful critique of the era that birthed the Dead, and I think in conjunction with Garcia's long interview with Charles Reich and Jann Wenner, does a pretty good job of establishing what a counterculture is and how the band fits into that phenomenon, or at least how Garcia thought they did, circa 1970/71. As for whether Deadheads are non-mainstream by their own reckoning and whether this is substantive, I would point folks toward two articles: Adam Kanzer's piece in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems, c. 1992 (I think), "Misfit Power, The First Amendment, and the Public Forum: Is there Room in America for the Grateful Dead?, and David Fraser and Vaughan Black, "Legally Dead: The Grateful Dead and American Legal Culture," in Weiner's Perspectives. Both articles review case law and note that Deadheads have been identified very much as counterculture and anti-mainstream America by the judicial system. I think the most interesting counter example is Alan Lehman's discovery that Deadhead identity could be a healthy mainstream orientation in his chapter in Adams and Sardiello. Lots of good stuff to bounce off of here ... thanks very much for a thought-provoking series of posts.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Tue 26 Jun 07 06:38
[snipped:] "because the Deadhead phenomenon is as American mainstream as Red Sox Nation." Another point to inject in all of this is the degree to which the band were both leader and follower, in a sense: the lyrics, method of music making, and presentation of the show were all imbued with a certain sense of integrity or authenticity: Deadheads (some of them at least) got a sense that there was an underlying unity or symmetry that made it all of a piece ... that's what's fundamentally different about the Dead phenomenon for me, as distinct from NASCAR or Southerners following football teams, or even Jimmy Buffett fans (although one comparative treatment, a BA thesis, between Buffett fans, Deadheads and Phish phans has made me reconsider this somewhat): I see the fan-generated responses to those phenomena as audiences creating a spectator culture with elements drawn from that experience, but necessarily ones that are tied closely into its genesis; I remember one friend taking me to a Buffett concert two years ago (where they played a wonderful Uncle John's Band, BTW) and commenting to me that no one in the audience - - an overwhelmingly Republican, middle-aged crowd - - had any idea about Buffett's left-wing politics and how deeply those are imbedded in some of his songs. With the Dead and the Deadheads, one gets a sense that they are much more closely intertwined, cocreating a culture.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 26 Jun 07 07:34
> Let's look at that social phenomenon for a moment. The parking lot scene? > Entrepreneurial capitalism --nothing counter-American about that! Steve Gimbel addressed this question wonderfully in a paper he gave at the SWPCA meeting last February, and I'm pretty sure it is also in his book, "The Grateful Dead and Philosophy." > By 1980 or perhaps even a little earlier, as the Deadhead crowd grew and the shows got bigger, the music got more conservative and the shows got much more predictable. The truly experimental period was over when the band retired the first time, in 1974. The true "counterculture" was ephemeral and short-lived; in San Francisco it was over by the "Summer of Love," in 1967. Did the band ever write anything new that was close to the open-endedness of "Dark Star" again? That song structure dates from 1967. I agree entirely with the first half of this; I might quibble with the contention that the conterculture was dead by 1967 (although the cozy neighborhood scene that was the Haight was indeed defunct when the hordes hit); and upon reflection, I have to agree that the most open-ended of the improvisational frameworks were created pretty early. But that's not to say the GD didn't continue to blaze trails. I think one of the most impressive things about the Dead is how many different bands they were over time. And their business model, however inadvertently it came into being, provided a model for other bands in their wake.
Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 26 Jun 07 08:27
> one of the most impressive things about the Dead > is how many different bands they were over time Absolutely true! And I think the same thing can be said about the Deadheads -- they were and continue to be multifarious, with the Rainbow contingent (to whom Scott has pointed), the bluegrass contingent (who whom I have pointed), the trustifarians, the investment bankers, the Princeton graduates, the guys who look like cops, the miracle seekers, the wookies, etc. etc. Some of us are deeply embedded in the mainstream, some reject it altogether, and some straddle that boundary (such as it is).
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 26 Jun 07 09:25
Nice, eloquent follow up post, Steve. You succinctly describe several specific ways in which the American mainstreamin the way you accurately depict my sense of the termchanged as a result of countercultural opposition. And I wholeheartedly agree that the Grateful Dead/Deadhead phenomenon could only happen in the United States. In fact, I look at the hippies, who were essentially peaceful, tolerant and respectful of others, as individuals who explored the boundaries of personal freedom and expressiveness to an extent unparalleled in American history. Some of this activity was ultimately rejected, and some of it was embraced by the mainstream culture that followed. In this, the great countercultural dissipation began in 1967-68, but I think it's not accurate to consider the counterculture over at this point in time. The process of mainstream synthesis continues to this day. (I went to a symposium in Boise last week called "The Greening of the Disciplines). Drug use, non-monogamous relationships, communal living arrangements were largely rejected following the '60s while rock music, personal dress, environmental sensitivity, or acceptance of spiritual openess were embraced to a greater degree. So how do we best approach this question related to the Deadhead phenomenon as a distinct or non-distinct microcultural phenomenon? How anomolous was the Deadhead experience? Were they uniquely codependent on the Grateful Dead live concert? In this line of thinking, the phenomenon dies out with the Dead, or at least dissipates as Deadheads try to find splinter groups of the Dead (or other bands) to replicate the center point of their experience. Is the phenomenon replicable as a socio-religious cultural manifestation? Also, to what extent do we view the Deadheads as an evolving microcultural distillation of the counterculture in a way that goes beyond the symbiotics with The Grateful Dead? Was there something about the Deadheads' spirituality, shared sense of the mystical, ability to "commune" around this bands' music in a ritualistic, almost religious manner that is indicative of a religious group in the making? This is where we should be able to differentiate the Deadhead experience from the Phishheads or Parrotheads. In The Hippie Narrative I talk about how Tom Wolfe describes the Prankster experience. Doesn't the same phenomenon apply to the Deadheads on a larger scale and lasting with an amazing degree of intensity for twenty or more years? Doesn't this also imply that the Deadhead experience is replicable, even though tied to an (arguably) sacramental use of potent hallucinogens? "Wolfe ascribed to the Pranksters the feeling of harmonics, synchronicity, and go with the flow brought on by the shared experience of LSD. He goes on to talk about the experience of the Other World, a higher level of reality that was being shared. The group had moved beyond a sense of cause and effect and into the supreme moment. And it wasnt about words, it was about an indescribable experience where the objective and subjective, the ego and non-ego, the I and the not-I disappear. The more the Pranksters lived with one another and took acid together, the more intuitive they became with one another, the more their interactions transcended words into the intersubjective, the vibrations of the higher realm. Even though its never possible to be certain in Wolfes writing, due to his frequent cool affectations when attempting to capture the mental atmosphere and subjective reality of the Prankster scene, there is no reason to believe that the author was being facetious in his assessment of the communal oneness induced by LSD."
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 09:48
Thank you, Scott.
has DSO ever done an acid test set? (sd) Tue 26 Jun 07 12:22
I'm interested in the rise of the fraternity and sorority kids as Deadheads. Its easy to suppose that they are pre-sorted into the joiner slot. They had the time on their hands and the money to get to shows without too much effort. The band and deadheadism was already widely known so there wasn't any real strain on their imaginations to decide to join. and, who doesn't like a little kind bud and a night out instead of studying for a polysci final? It looked like to me that they fed the Phish and DMB groups early on, too and maybe lead the way into the application of the travelling party and easy acceptance of any vaguely jammish band as worth following ideas.
went taxis cowboy (xian) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:20
The Dead deliberately played East Coast colleges from very early on, so that led in way to the collegiate and even preppy Deadhead type. DMB got its start playing frats, I believe. Re "Did the band ever write anything new that was close to the open-endedness of "Dark Star" again? That song structure dates from 1967," I'd point to Bird Song as close. Not quite as spare, and yes written in 1971 or thereabouts, but in the '80s it was the closest thing we got to Dark Star and at times it was very out there. I'd say Slipknot! (1975) was pretty open, if structured at either end. But the trend was clear, yes.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:41
It strikes me that a reasonable argument could be made that the Dead's devotion to its audience, and vice versa, worked to hinder the band's musical explorations and development rather than encourage them. This is anecdotal, sure, but consider the example of Miles Davis: famously disdainful of the audience, yet arguably the most continuously progressive successful musician in American history.
Gary Burnett (jera) Tue 26 Jun 07 13:56
First time I ever saw moe. was in the back yard of a frat house in New Brunswick, New Jersey as well. Not to mention dancing to a Dead cover band in the front yard of an eating club in Princeton (not knowing either Nick or Christian at the time!) Steve's point about the symbiosis between the band & the audience being a hinderance in some ways is interesting. Certainly it resulted in some horrifically lazy performances over they years. On the other hand, some of the band's most adventurous songs in the later period (e.g. "Victim Or The Crime") were not always well accepted by large portions of the audience, despite the degree to which they undeniably pushed at the margins of "Grateful Dead music." (I highly recommend Shaugn O'Donnell's essay on Victim & its relationship to Bartok in AGI, by the way!)
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 27 Jun 07 09:21
What a great conversation this is! I can hardly believe two weeks have gone by already. Thanks so much for joining us, Nicholas, and for so ably leading this interview, Christian. Though our spotlight has turned to a new author, please know that if you're able to do so, you're very welcome to stick around longer. This topic will remain open for additional questions and comments indefinitely, so we hope you'll keep going. If you have other obligations that are demanding your attention, then we appreciate you having shared your time with us and hope to see you back here again in the future.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Wed 27 Jun 07 14:05
Thanks Cynthia, and thanks especially Xian for being the lead interviewer on this ... but thanks to all who asked such thought-provoking questions, posted even more thought-provoking anwers, and generally made this the best interview I could have imagined or hoped for. I'll continue to catch up on some older posts and questions, but wanted everyone to know how much I appreciated your participation, commentary, and insights. Thank you, all!
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 28 Jun 07 06:28
Thank you!! Next stop, Respectability?
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Fri 29 Jun 07 05:42
Naw ... it'll take a while longer before Dead studies can claim, as Garcia did, that if we hang out long enough we'll get some credibility ... besides, respectability is overrated.
No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Fri 29 Jun 07 13:23
dug this nicholas. thanks
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sat 30 Jun 07 13:20
Thanks for hanging out and reading! That goes for all who simply read and didn't post questions or thoughts ... thanks for merely checking the convo out and seeing what the state of "Dead studies" is.
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