Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

Clinging to the Edge of Magic: Shamanic Aspects of the Grateful Dead

Nancy Reist

When we get onstage, what we really want to happen is, we want to be transformed from ordinary players into extraordinary ones, like forces of a larger consciousness. And the audience wants to be transformed from what ordinary reality they may be in to something a little wider, something that enlarges them. So maybe it’s that notion of transformation, a seat-of-the-pants shamanism, that has something to do with why the Grateful Dead keep pulling them in.

—Jerry Garcia

(1991, quoted in Henke 37)

Jerry Garcia may not have intended his ‘‘seat-of-the-pants shamanism’’ comment to be taken literally; indeed, all of the band members denounced attempts by some fans to turn the Grateful Dead into a religion. Nevertheless, some interesting parallels between shamanism and the Grateful Dead experience do exist. These similarities may explain some of the Deadheads’ legendary commitment to the band and their tenacious efforts to maintain the community after Jerry Garcia’s death. Of course, a collective as vast and informal as the Deadheads includes a diverse group of people who participate for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is pure entertainment. I do not pretend that this chapter addresses the experience or motivation of all, or even most, of the people who attend the concerts and events associated with the Grateful Dead community. However, I will argue that one of the factors that has contributed to the continued maintenance of the Grateful Dead community is the need that many of its members feel for shared, familiar rituals of transformation and transcendence.

-183-

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