Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

The Grateful Dead as Community

Rachel Wilgoren

In order to gain a clear perspective on the cultural impact of the Grateful Dead, it is necessary to examine the community that has risen up around them: a community of fans with its own traditions and rituals, morality/ philosophy, and support mechanisms. We must also explore the benefits offered by membership in this community in order to see why it has been so successful. Lastly, it is crucial that we examine the very nature and changing dynamic of community, so that we may evaluate the position of this subculture within American society today.

It may be helpful to start with a definition of the Grateful Dead community before looking at its origins. Rolling Stone writer Mikal Gilmore describes the Grateful Dead community:

The Dead and their audience practically form their own self-sufficient fellowship, an alternative commonwealth that boasts, among other things, its own pop press, made up of several Dead-related magazines; its own radio program, syndicated as ‘‘The Grateful Dead Hour’’ hosted by David Gans; its own computer-linked database system (in which Deadheads not only trade fans’ notes and debate ethical issues but also pass along their concerns directly to various band members); and its own worldwide network of tape collectors, who, with the band’s blessing and cooperation, record all the Dead’s performances and share them with other obsessive archivists. (Brandelius 232)

The concept of the Grateful Dead as community dates back to the mid-60s when the band and its support staff (consisting of spouses and close friends) all lived in a house at 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco, which served as both home and band headquarters. The communal spirit of the

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