Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

‘‘No, but I’ve Been to Shows’’: Accepting the Dead and Rejecting the Deadheads

David L. Pelovitz

Near the end of their almost thirty-year history as a band, the Grateful Dead began to be recognized as a powerful force in the entertainment industry. With the 1987 release of ‘‘Touch of Grey,’’ the band not only achieved their highest standing on the pop charts but also became one of the highest grossing concert draws on an annual basis. The Grateful Dead began releasing two separate lines of CDs of historic concerts, and the Grateful Dead Mercantile Company successfully marketed any number of band-related products, from posters of album art to golf balls with ‘‘Steal Your Face’’ logos. Jerry Garcia even became a fashion designer when a line of neckties featuring his artwork began selling in fine menswear stores. This financial success seems to go hand in hand with a newfound level of respectability that is somewhat unusual for a band with strong roots in the hippie scene of sixties San Francisco. After Garcia’s death, the media attempted to clarify the image of the Deadhead to some extent. Newsweek reported ‘‘to anyone who still thought the Dead’s core audience was gray-ponytailed acid casualties driving VWbuses with rusted rocker panels, the sudden surfacing of politicians, scientists and physicians must have come as a shock; a group of a dozen or so San Francisco lawyers jokingly calls itself the Deadhead Bar Association’’ (Gates 48). Yet the image of a Deadhead remains so unclear that even those who consider themselves the band’s core audience do not agree upon what the term means.

The change in the band’s status is also reflected in the types of people who would associate themselves with the band. Although the band always had some famous fans—including comedian Al Franken, author and countercultural icon Ken Kesey, the late LSD guru Timothy Leary, former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, and basketball player Bill Walton—another

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