David Lemieux and the Grateful Dead Archives

By Kuffler, Jason | ARSC Journal, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

David Lemieux and the Grateful Dead Archives


Kuffler, Jason, ARSC Journal


In February of 2008 I had the pleasure of attending a colloquium at the University of British Columbia (UBC), hosted by the School of Library, Archival & Information Studies that featured the archivist for the Grateful Dead, David Lemieux. In front of a packed house of SLAIS students, music students, and various UBC faculty members, including a few department heads, David, a self-proclaimed Dead Head, talked for over an hour about how he landed his dream job and what he has done for and with the Grateful Dead since he was hired in 1999. As an archival student, and someone with a real love of the history of Rock 'n' Roll, David's story was completely inspiring. My second exposure to David came on the 14 October 2008 when he came to talk to my Management of Audiovisual and Non-Textual Archives class. He showed us some examples of his work including The Grateful Dead Movie, which was originally produced by Jerry Garcia, who passed away in 1995. In addition to these two presentations, I had the opportunity to meet with David to talk about his career over the course of an afternoon in Victoria, B.C. (1) I was interested in discovering what a Rock 'n' Roll archivist does and the skills one would need to archive Rock 'n' Roll.

David's path to his dream job started in his late teens when he committed to being a Dead Head fulltime by following the Grateful Dead all over the United States, Canada and Europe. (2) After doing this for about four years, he decided to dedicate himself to education and in eight years he completed degrees in history from Carleton University in Ottawa, film studies and production from Concordia University in Montreal, and a master's degree in film archiving from East Anglia in Norwich, England. (3) In 1998 as part of the requirements for his degree from East Anglia, David had the opportunity to do one of his two internships at Library & Archives Canada with Canadian film preservationist Bill O'Farrell at the Gatineau Preservation Center. (4) David considers Bill, referred to by some as the archiving godfather of Canadian film preservation, a mentor and it is obvious that Bill imparted a great deal of his knowledge and passion for preservation upon David. (5) David's second internship was completed at the British Columbia Provincial Archives in Victoria where he was caring for their collection of Canadian film, audio and video. (6) In 1998 David decided to contact the Grateful Dead to find out how they archived their visual material, in what was primarily a commercial audio archive. (7) Dick Latvala, the Dead's audio archivist, who is considered to be the first in-house Rock 'n' Roll archivist, called David two months later and invited him to come to San Francisco and see the "Vault." (8) David took Dick up on the offer and flew to San Francisco. (9) While Dick had catalogued the audio collection and had been making sure that it was in good condition, David wondered who was taking care of the 3,000 moving image items on video, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of feet of 16mm film. (10) Upon meeting the Dead's producer John Cutler, David pointed out that if something was not done about the Dead's 3/4" video tapes that they would deteriorate beyond repair within five years. (11) A month after returning home from the trip, David wrote both Dick and John letters thanking them for the experience. In John's letter he said that, if they ever decided they needed an archivist to take care of the moving image material, he would be more than happy to help. (12) One week later, John Cutler called David and said that he had been thinking about what David had said about the 3/4" video tapes and agreed. (13) By showing his expertise and obviously conveying his knowledge of content and passion for the Dead's moving image material, David had impressed John and made him realize that action had to be taken. (14) John said that the video needed to be catalogued and after that a preservation plan would be devised; but first they had to know what was there.

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