Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

The Ripple Effect

Joseph Holt

Until August 9, 1995, there was a rock ’n’ roll band, the irony of whose name suggested the ultimate dimension of gratitude: the Grateful Dead. On August 9, 1995, the leader of that band, Jerry Garcia, died in a chemical-dependency recovery center. He had an Episcopal funeral and the well-known writer Matthew Fox, himself a Deadhead, preached the homily. One might think that this brought an end to the Grateful Dead, as no longer would the surviving members of the band continue to play under that name. But the name, the Grateful Dead, is continuing—like the after-effects of a ripple—to exercise its power upon our culture’s imagination. And not just the name, but the music, the poster, album and T-shirt art, the lyric poetry, the Internet, the smells and flavors of an entire parking-lot cuisine, and of course the people. A community of grateful people: a family, a tribe—grateful, but certainly not dead.

The Grateful Dead—how did they get that name? A famous story in St. Augustine’s autobiography tells of how he was converted to Christianity. Upon hearing the voices of some children outside his window singing ‘‘Take up and read! Take up and read!’’ Augustine opened his Bible at random and read the first passage that his finger fell upon. So compelling was this reading that he was changed thereafter, and he determined to give up his whoring ways and to devote his life to God (Confessions 8.29:170). Remember that story and instead of the Bible, substitute the Funk and Wagnell’s New Practical Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1955 ed. The year was 1965 and the band at that time was calling itself the Warlocks, but later discovered that this name was already in use by another rock band. So they all met at Phil Lesh’s house to discuss new names. Nothing seemed to work, and then they turned to the dictionary. Jerry Garcia opened it at random and the first

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