Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

Why Are There So Many Jewish Deadheads?

Douglas M. Gertner


PROLOGUE: GETTING ‘‘ON THE BUS’’

At my first Grateful Dead concert in 1976, I was struck by how many Jerry Garcia look-alikes were also attending the show. It was the ‘‘U.S. Blues’’ tour during the bicentennial summer, and I had ventured to Chicago with some friends for one of the performances the band had publicized via a direct-mail ticket offer to its fans on the Deadheads mailing list. As I roamed the ornate lobby of the Auditorium Theater during intermission, I found myself doing numerous double-takes as big men with thick, dark, curly hair and beards crossed my path.

Over the next several years of attending Grateful Dead concerts, this trend continued, and at some point I realized that many of the dark, bearded men were Jews. In fact, as I became more aware of the extended community of Deadheads worldwide, it was clear that Jews constituted a large part of its membership. That realization was the spark that ignited the ideas discussed in this chapter. Please understand that the notions advanced here, like those first, innocent observations at intermission in Chicago, are based on anecdotal and personal examples. No quantitative data have been collected to confirm my observations. Nonetheless, enough possibilities exist to suggest that a connection between Deadheads and Jews is more than just the stoned illusions of a long-time fan.

In this chapter I explore the Jewish Deadhead phenomenon from the perspective of someone who is both a fan and a scholar, by comparing the history of the Grateful Dead and its fans, the Deadheads, to that of Jews and Jewish tradition and practice. I enumerate the key Jewish players in the band’s ‘‘family’’ and suggest a central theory and supporting thoughts for

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