Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

Deadhead Tales of the Supernatural: A Folkloristic Analysis

Revell Carr


INTRODUCTION

Beyond the material aspects of Deadhead culture (styles of dress, foodways, arts and crafts, etc.) lies an intricate belief system that shares aspects of many folk and established religions. An underlying theme found throughout the Deadheads’ belief system is an acceptance of the supernatural. Miracles, magic, and psychic phenomena all play an important role in the way many Deadheads view the world.

One way to begin looking at this aspect of Dead culture is by examining the stories Deadheads tell about their experiences at Dead shows. This chapter examines the religio-spiritual aspects of the culture by relating narratives about unusual, or ‘‘miraculous,’’ occurrences that Deadheads experienced at shows. The Motif-Index of Folk Literature, devised by Stith Thompson and Antii Aarne, has been used to document the relationship of these stories to traditional legends. Some of the Deadhead narratives will be followed by a motif number and the name of the related folk motif. The motif numbers will allow future scholars to trace the similarities between Deadhead narratives and the traditional stories of a variety of cultures. The motif numbers show that Deadhead narratives are not random or arbitrary in their form and function, but part of a continuing thread of supernatural belief. This chapter also examines the function of these stories among Deadheads: what purpose they serve in the community, how they are communicated, and how they contribute to the perpetuation of the Grateful Dead phenomenon.

For this project, eleven Deadheads of varying levels of experience were interviewed in Eugene, Oregon. Although there is some difference in the number of extraordinary events experienced by older and younger Dead-

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