A Deadhead school bus conversion
A Deadhead school bus conversion

A Deadhead or Dead Head is a fan of the American rock band the Grateful Dead.[1][2][3][4][5] In the 1970s, a number of fans began travelling to see the band in as many shows or festival venues as they could. With large numbers of people thus attending strings of shows, a community developed. Deadheads developed their own idioms and slang.

Much Deadhead-related historical material received or collected by the band over the years is housed in the Grateful Dead Archive of University of California, Santa Cruz. Archive founding curator Nicholas Meriwether, who has also written extensively about the culture and its impact on society, predicted, "The Grateful Dead archive is going to end up being a critical way for us to approach and understand the 1960s and the counterculture of the era... It's also going to tell us a lot about the growth and development of modern rock theater, and it's helping us understand fan culture."[6]

Overview

The beatnik movement of the 1950s morphed into the psychedelic movement of the 60's, and at the center of this metamorphosis were the Merry Pranksters. On the first historic bus trip, on the bus Furthur, a pattern was set for the Deadhead touring lifestyle to come. By the late 1970s, some Deadheads began to sell tie-dye T-shirts, veggie burritos, or other items at Grateful Dead concerts. This allowed many Deadheads a way to follow the band on its tours. During the early 1980s, the number of Deadheads taping shows increased, and the band created a special section for fans who wished to record the show. These tapes are still shared and circulated today via websites such as the Live Music Archive and bt.etree.org. In the earlier days of the Grateful Dead, there were questions as to whether or not it was in the best interest of the band for fans to tape concerts. In 1982, Garcia himself was asked what he thought about it, and he replied, "When we are done with it [the concerts], they can have it."[7] The practice of taping has evolved with the digital age, and the rise of the Internet has made it extremely easy to share concerts through unofficial channels.

Origins

The term "Deadhead" first appeared in print at the suggestion of Hank Harrison, author of The Dead Trilogy, on the sleeve of Grateful Dead (also known as Skull & Roses), the band's second live album, released in 1971.[8] It read:

DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you?

Send us your name and address and we'll keep you informed.

Dead Heads, P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California 94901.

This phenomenon was first touched on in print by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau at a Felt Forum show in 1971, noting "how many 'regulars' seemed to be in attendance, and how, from the way they compared notes, they'd obviously made a determined effort to see as many shows as possible."[8]

Eileen Law, a long time friend of the band, was put in charge of the mailing list and maintained the Dead Heads newsletter. It is estimated that by the end of 1971, the band had received about 350 letters, but this number swelled greatly over the next few years to as many as 40,000.[8] In total, 25 mailings/newsletters reached Dead Heads between October 1971 and February 1980. After this time, the Grateful Dead Almanac would succeed it, with this eventually being abandoned for Dead.net.[8] Those who did receive the newsletter in the 1970s often found pleasant surprises sent along. One example is from May 1974 when Heads received a sample EP of Robert Hunter's upcoming album Tales of the Great Rum Runners as well as selections from Jerry Garcia's second album, Compliments of Garcia, and some cuts that were from bandmembers Keith and Donna Godchaux's eponymous solo album, Keith & Donna, both on Round Records. This sample was titled Anton Round, which was an alias used by Ron Rakow.[9]

Impact on shows

Fans attending a Grateful Dead concert at Red Rocks, Colorado, 1987
Fans attending a Grateful Dead concert at Red Rocks, Colorado, 1987

The Grateful Dead's appeal to fans was supported by the way the band structured their concerts.

The band's extensive song catalog enabled them to create a varied “rotation” of setlists, which were never exactly the same for each performance (“show”) throughout a tour. The use of these unique set rotations created two phenomena: The first had to do with Deadheads wanting to go to more shows in order to get a chance to hear their favorite song(s) - the same song was rarely played the same way twice during any given tour. Also, a great show often inspired many fans to begin following the band for the rest of the tour, as well subsequent tours. The second was that having a large number of traveling fans had empowered the band to perform multiple shows at each venue, since they were assured that their performances would mostly sell out (almost all shows sold out from the mid-1980s and on). At this point, it became apparent that Deadheads were a major driving force that encouraged the band to keep going. Along with the large number of people attending several shows, a traveling community developed amongst fans in response to the familiarity of seeing the same people from previous strings of shows. As generations turned from the Acid Tests to the 1970s (and onward), tours became a time to revel with friends at concerts, old and new, who never knew the psychedelic age that spawned the band they loved.[10] As with any large community, Deadheads developed their own idioms and slang which is amply illustrated in books about the Grateful Dead such as the Skeleton Key.[citation needed]

"The Vibe"

Some Deadheads use the term "X Factor" to describe the intangible element that elevates mere performance into something higher.[11] Publicist and Jerry Garcia biographer Blair Jackson stated that "shows were the sacrament ... rich and full of blissful, transcendent musical moments that moved the body and enriched the soul."[12] Phil Lesh himself comments on this phenomenon in his autobiography by saying "The unique organicity of our music reflects the fact that each of us consciously personalized his playing: to fit with what others were playing and to fit with who each man was as an individual, allowing us to meld our consciousnesses together in the unity of a group mind."[13]

Jackson takes this further, citing drummer Mickey Hart as saying "The Grateful Dead weren't in the music business, they were in the transportation business." Jackson relates this to the Deadhead phenomenon directly by saying "for many Deadheads, the band was a medium that facilitated experiencing other planes of consciousness and tapping into deep, spiritual wells that were usually the province of organized religion ... [they] got people high whether those people were on drugs or not." (For more on the spiritual aspect, see Spinners in the section below). It was times like these that the band and the audience would become one; The Grateful Dead and the Deadheads were all in the same state of mind.[14]

Rock producer Bill Graham summarized much of the band's effect when he created a sign for the Grateful Dead when the group played the closing of the Winterland Ballroom on December 31, 1978, that read:[15]

They're not the best at what they do,

They're the only ones that do what they do.

Cheers!

— Bill & the Winterland Gang[15]

The "Vibe" of the Grateful Dead is kept alive today by the many festivals that celebrate their traditions.[citation needed]

Through the years

Deadheads are often involved in social and environmental activism.[citation needed]

Recordings of shows

Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead performing on January 20, 2009, at the Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball during President Barack Obama's Inaugural
Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead performing on January 20, 2009, at the Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball during President Barack Obama's Inaugural
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At almost every Grateful Dead show, it was common to see fans openly recording the music for later enjoyment. This can be traced to shows in the late 1960s, with the number of tapers increasing yearly. In 1971, Les Kippel, from Brooklyn, New York, started the First Free Underground Grateful Dead Tape Exchange with the purpose of preserving the heritage of the Grateful Dead's concert history by exchanging copies of recorded tapes made from audience members. This started a new era in recording, collecting, and trading Grateful Dead tapes. Often referred to as the "Original Napster"[by whom?][citation needed], the tape exchange grew into an international movement that continues today.

The "Tape Exchange" evolved into Dead Relix magazine, co-founded by Kippel and its first editor, Jerry Moore (1953–2009), a native of The Bronx, New York.[20] First fliers were handed out at concerts in 1973, followed by a first issue in 1974. In 1974, Dead Relix evolved into Relix magazine and kept the Grateful Dead in the news while they took a year off in 1975. In 1980, Toni Brown became owner and publisher of Relix. In 2000, it was sold to Steve Bernstein. Relix is the second-oldest continuously published rock magazine in the world, after Rolling Stone.[citation needed] In 2009, Peter Shapiro bought "Relix" and still maintains ownership. Relix is still the only publication that supports the heritage of the Grateful Dead.

There were other Deadhead magazines that came about in the 1970s, notably, Dead in Words and In Concert. The 1980s saw the production of Terrapin Flyer, Dupree's Diamond News,[21] Golden Road, and Acid. Dupree's Diamond News was distributed as an in-concert newsletter at several hundred Grateful Dead concerts, where it averaged 10,000 copies per run. Dupree's Diamond News was also distributed on a quarterly basis as a full-color, 72-page magazine to approximately 35,000 international subscriptions.

In 1998, Grateful Dead scholar Johnny Dwork, the founder of Terrapin Flyer and Dupree's Diamond News, published the award-winning, three-volume The Deadhead's Taping Compendium: A Guide to the Music of the Grateful Dead on Tape.

Fans were also known to record the many FM radio broadcast shows. Garcia looked kindly on tapers (he himself had been on several cross-country treks to record bluegrass music prior to the Grateful Dead), stating: "There's something to be said for being able to record an experience you've liked, or being to obtain a recording of it ... my responsibility to the notes is over after I've played them." In this respect, the Dead are considered by many to be the first "taper-friendly" band.[22]

It is a matter of strict custom among Deadheads that these recordings are freely shared and circulated, with no money ever changing hands. Some bootleg recordings from unscrupulous bootleggers have turned up on the black market, but a general "code of honor specifically prohibited the buying and selling of Dead tapes." These recordings, sometimes called "liberated bootlegs", are still frowned upon by the community and that feeling "has spread into non-Grateful Dead taping circles."[22]

Many Deadheads now freely distribute digital recordings of the band's live shows through the Internet Archive.[23]

Archives

Much Deadhead-related historical material received or collected by the band over the years is housed in the Grateful Dead Archive of UC-Santa Cruz. Archive curator Nicholas Meriwether, who has also written extensively about the culture and its impact on society, states "The Grateful Dead archive is going to end up being a critical way for us to approach and understand the 1960s and the counterculture of the era...It's also going to tell us a lot about the growth and development of modern rock theater, and it's helping us understand fan culture."[6]

Celebrities

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Deadhead subculture is the established tradition of Deadheads who are celebrities only within their own subculture, and not outside of it. This represents a continuance of the folk roots underlying the genetic group mind of the Deadheads, a sense of living mythos in the now, that continues to this day. The names of these heroes and legends are not widely shared with the uninitiated, so they are not listed here. Instead, listed are celebrities famous outside of Deadhead culture, whom also happen to be Deadheads. The following celebrities have claimed to be Deadheads or have had media reported on them saying they are Deadheads:

See also

References

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Further reading