The Electric Nietzsche
Deadhead Test: The Birth
of Tragedy and the
DAVID MACGREGOR JOHNSTON
To use your head, you have to go out of your mind.
“The music started and everybody was dancing. Nobody was dancing with each other; they were just all kind of dancing. Everybody’s up and down. I looked at all these freaks and thought, ‘What the hell is goin ‘on?’ Then I looked down and all of a sudden I’m dancing. All these heads are going this way and that way, but pretty soon there’s a groove going and all of a sudden everybody’s dancing together. Everybody’s like one, and the crowd gets excited. Then the band starts getting excited, and then the crowd gets more excited. Everyone just starts feeding on everything and then this magical thing just happens. It’s just so beautiful. You see, when you listen to music, it comes in, but when you listen to Dead music, it comes out.”
That’s the way one tour veteran in the 1995 documentary Tie-Died described his first show. Whether he was tripping on LSD or some other hallucinogen we can only guess, but it was clear that he was caught in the magical moment that was the Dead show.
About ninety-five years before the Dead first played together, Friedrich Nietzsche addressed just these sorts of magical moments in his first book, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spint of Music, but he was interested in a different sort of ritual: the drunken revelry honoring Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and ecstasy. An ambivalent source of decency and depravity, Dionysus’s myths and fables tell of drunkenness, madness,