Marjorie C. Luesebrink
From its beginnings, the Grateful Dead (GD) has been making legend. The myth-hero quality of its charismatic leader, Jerry Garcia; the tales of the joyful/comic/tragic road; the Pied-Piper experiences of the flocks of Deadheads—camping at the concert outposts, following the band around the country—have made GD a magic community of its own. Since 1965, when the band members used the magic of accident to find their name, 1 they have generated a rich oral tradition and a sizable written record of lively lore (Dodd and Weiner).
Another aspect of the GD legend, perhaps less well explored, is the deep connection it has to legends of the past—myths as old as Gilgamesh (2500 B.C.E.) and folklore as evocative as the motif of the ‘‘grateful dead.’’ 2 Wedo not know exactly how legends influence real-world behavior or what role folk material plays in our own lives, but we do know that the motifs, symbols, and story patterns of ageless tales exert a powerful pull on the imagination. And so it would seem; for the Grateful Dead, the making of legend is closely related to the making from legend.
In order to investigate this interface, we can look at the way folk material persists in the legacy of the Grateful Dead. In his retelling of a classic quest legend—The Water of Life: A Tale of the Grateful Dead—Alan Trist 3 brings together these mythic sources. By incorporating carefully selected elements of the old tales—the grateful dead, the never-empty sack, the magic lute—into a search for the healing Water of Life, Trist creates a new legend, resonant with meaning not only for the GD tribe, but for contemporary society as a whole. 4 Through Trist’s blending of folklore and storyline, along with the illustrations of Jim Carpenter, we can revisit and re-examine the