Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Cash Or Kind For Your Opinion On The Amazon Show

Because the asshole from the record company isn’t the hero. That guy isn’t the hero, no matter how macho you think he was, and guess what: in real life, the asshole from the record company wasn’t macho and wasn’t an anti-hero and wasn’t Bobby fuckin’ Cannavale in his outer-borough leather jacket and artfully maintained accent. The asshole from the record company was Seymour Stein. Or Neil Bogart. Clive Davis is not your hero; he’s just a guy who Iggy Pop let blow him for a record deal.

Not the musicians, either. How the light hits their hair. So few are allowed backstage; you must be so special to be here with us. Do you remember the man’s Rock Moves? We’ve taught them to an actor who vaguely resembles the man, but younger, and cheaper, and easier to work with, and that actor’s gonna do those Rock Moves for you.

The fans. Right? The show must be about the fans, man. Faaaaans, maaaaan. The Deadhead, Lysergicus Americanus, proud and strong and true and in need of a haircut. Fans. Fickle, feckless followers. We’re different, though. Deadheads are nothing like sports fans or EDM lovers or gamers or chronic masturbators. The thing we like is nothing at all like the thing they like. Everybody else’s love will fade away, but not ours.

The hero is the music. The hero is the show. The show is the atom; it is where the Dead becomes irreducibly complex; all labor and effort is towards its birth. The arguments and miles lead to the show. The drugs and sex flow from the show. Within the show is the band, the crew, the fans, and even the asshole from the record company, but they are all supporting players. The music gets the big dressing room and billing over the title.

There was fire in the music, and there was a joy in the show, no matter how miserable some of the contributors were. There was something about this music that forced people to assemble, from miles afield, and listen, just shut the fuck up and listen for once in their wretched, short lives.

Nostalgia’s lovely and profitable, but it doesn’t sell out football stadiums. A lot of things celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, and they did it in casino showrooms and shitty outdoor festivals. It wasn’t the band’s pretty faces filling up Soldier Field for three nights. It was the music. It was for the chance to wake up and say, “There’s a Dead show tonight,” again.

The Grateful Dead’s shows were about the Grateful Dead’s music. The Grateful Dead’s show should be about the music.

But, what the fuck do I know?


  1. Considering there isn’t a single non-reference book devoted only to the music, to its evolutions and digressions and strengths and weaknesses over time – or at least not one that’s any good – I’m not exactly holding my breath here. I know you’re not either.

    I assume if any publishing house was remotely interested in such a book, our man David G or good ol’ Steve Silberman (to name two guys who actually write coherently about different eras and styles of Dead music) would’ve written it ages ago. People keep telling me I should do it – that’s not a humblebrag but a fact & overt mini-brag – but I ain’t got the time and assume it’s a doomed venture.

    People want sex and drugs, not actual rock & roll. At least on TV.

    • The closest we’ve ever gotten are Gans’ published interviews, really. Conversations and such. But that’s not the same thing.

      • 1. What about Zybenga’s Dead to the Core (which I don’t think Mr. ToTD has ever addressed in depth despite several promises to do so) (or is that what “not one that’s any good” refers to)? My main issue with it is its lack of completeness, but I do wish we had more options.

        2. I’ve also wondered why the Brain Trust (Gans, Silberman, Blair Jackson) hasn’t put together a book just about the music and its evolution by now — it seems like a gap that’s crying out to be filled. (Judging by the finger marks on the pages, I think I’ve spent more time looking at the tape/music guide at the end of the Golden Road book than any other Dead reference I have.)

        3. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that Mr. C could do justice to the subject.

        • Zybenga’s book is one of my favorites; and my guide when I was getting back into the Dead after years of estrangement.

        • 1. Dead to the Core, that’s a good reminder. But I don’t own a copy and haven’t looked at one in years. My memory is that it’s very “by Deadheads, for Deadheads” in content and style. I feel such a book should work as an introduction AND a guide for moving from intermediate to advanced, as it were…maybe I am recalling wrong? I also remember it being HEAVILY subjective in flavor. Regardless, it’s not bad and I’m glad you mentioned it. I just don’t think it fills the void, functionally.

          2. David can speak for himself, and Blair. I asked Steve S about this on Twitter, and he kindly replied that he’s said his piece on the Dead, and has moved on to other things (with great success, too! Good for him).

          I do have a suspicion that publishers just aren’t into such a thing. Otherwise I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t exist!

          3. Thank you! I’m actually pretty sure I could. But I don’t think there’s a paying gig in it, and I don’t have time to do it for free. I guess. I dunno. Maybe I do?



      • re: Silberman — NeuroTribes is on the top of my stack of books to read next (once I move past my current PKD kick). His original Wired article on Aspergers/autism in the tech world opened a door for me as far as understanding myself (and my upbringing).

        Also, I forgot to say: Words so good. Whole post was spot-on. Nail on head.

      • Messrs Gans, Jackson and Silberman have produced an eloquent exposition on the development of Grateful Dead music, the 5 disc live compilation, So Many Roads. This remains the benchmark for succinct career summary, although 30 Trips Around the Sun may now be the no-holds-barred heavyweight champ.

        After all, as has been noted, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, a point somewhat lost on Paul Simon.

    • Let me add my voice to those who say you should write it. I’ve probably read at least one excellent book’s worth of such material from you already!

      Man, I’d put down some real cash for a co-authored work: “The Music and Bullshit of the Grateful Dead”, by MrC and ToTD.

  2. Could take it or leave it. Will be more likely to watch the Scorsece documentary.

  3. It is indeed about the music. The music drove the crazed decisions that lead a band to build the wall and then haul it around until they are bankrupt. The endless practising to find out how to make it. The epic, dangerous journeys of Deadheads to soak in it. The battles with corporate apparatus and apparatchiks to ensure it went out in its least diluted form. The joy and liberation that it released.

    I don’t think it is possible to portray those times when every molecule in the room was dancing in a TV show, but if the series does not have the music and the show front and centre as the prime motivation, then it will have failed the central truth of Grateful Dead.

  4. Well, regardless of what happens with the show, that was a rather beautiful little post.

  5. I also was quite touched by the words that were assembled on the page and then flowed into the hearts of us Eurethras.
    And, having ‘a chance to wake up and say there is a Dead a Show tonight’ , pure poetry pushing my nostalgia button painfully!

  6. Ditto. Don’t let it go to (To) your Head, but great post, maaaaan.

  7. Slightly late to the party here, but this is magnificent. Thanks for thinking it, writing it, & sharing it with the rest of us.

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