Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

The Piping of Heaven: Reckless Musings on Philosophical Taoism and the Grateful Dead Phenomenon

Joseph P. Noonan III

The gentleman is never reckless where speech is concerned.

—Confucius, XIII:3

Now I am going to make my statement here. I don’t know whether it fits into the category of other people’s statements or not … I’m going to try speaking some reckless words and I want you to listen to them recklessly.

—Chuang Tzu, 42–43, 47

Although Deadheads are rather diverse and have no single ideology, the Grateful Dead (hereinafter ‘‘GD’’) experience has been ‘‘a lesson to me’’ (Hunter 228). I hope to communicate some of this lesson by comparing it to philosophical Taoism. 1 I am in an awkward position, however, given Lao Tzu’s warning that ‘‘one who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know’’ (Lao Tzu LVI) and Barlow’s, that ‘‘they’re a band beyond description.’’ Hence, a certain ‘‘recklessness’’ must characterize this essay. The essay printed here is but a part of a sketch of an unpublished longer work, hence the request that you read ‘‘recklessly.’’ Its intent is to draw the reader into a process of reflection rather than to finally and dogmatically make claim to its veracity.

Confucianism and mid-to-late-twentieth-century American culture, the contexts out of which philosophical Taoism and the GD phenomenon respectively sprang, share a conservative program of enculturation resulting in a striking conformity and contrivance of thought and behavior. Philosophical Taoism and the GD phenomenon offer similar critiques and alternatives to

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