I think I went to 67 Grateful Dead shows. I’m the only Deadhead who doesn’t know the precise number and it’s totally humiliating. This is the sort of factual minutiae Deadheads excel at, but I don’t know because of my OCD cleaning obsession. When Jerry died, I realized, oh – that’s why Deadheads keep drawers full of ticket stubs! Other than a few shows in high school and college, I mostly followed them as a practicing lawyer from around 1991 to August 1995 when I had a bunch of Deadhead friends and we all had plenty of disposable income, so I saw a lot of shows in those four or five years.
I checked with my fellow Deadheads after Jerry Garcia died and tried to figure out a rough number of shows we had been to together, which is how I came up with the estimate of 67 shows. And they were awesome.
Contrary to some people’s image of the Dead, they were huge in my very affluent WASP hometown of New Canaan, Conn. There was a faction in favor of making “Truckin’” our prom song, but the sense of the senate went for some schmaltzy rainbow song instead. I bet no one from my high school class can remember what it was. We would have remembered “Truckin.’”
I didn’t go to the reunion-type shows — it was too much like Beatlemania — but I have seen Ratdog, and I hear Phil and Friends is fantastic. It’s a rule of Deadhead-dom to claim to HATE Donna Godchaux and always say, “Phil makes the band,” though I think that pronouncement was proved inaccurate after Jerry died.
I still listen to the Dead channel on Sirius and also my 50 or so concert tapes. I guess I need to get those transferred to a disc before they disintegrate. My first albums as a little kid were Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits — and Workingman’s Dead. How many other people still listen to the music they liked at age 12?
If I would ever go to any type of reunion show, it would be the Dead, just for the Deadheads — the drum circles, the ptomaine-y veggie burritos, the copyright-violation T-shirts (“Is it Live or is it Dead?” from the “Is it Live or is it Memorex?” ad) the tie-dye. Actually, I hate tie-dye. But still – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Deadhead dancing.
Deadheads are such a draw that I didn’t even notice that the band wasn’t playing at the Jerry memorial in Golden Gate Park after Jerry died. I was sure the rest of the Dead had performed, but someone told me they just blasted concert music and showed a huge video of the band. I didn’t notice because we were walking around in the crowd, just like a regular outdoor concert with everyone dancing, spinning and holding drum circles.
I like Deadheads because they’re very friendly, open-minded, individualistic people — not fake-open-minded and not a “mob of individualists.” Sometimes they’d ask why we’d decline the joints friendly Deadheads would pass around, but they were so charming about it. They weren’t offended or snippy, just genuinely interested. Deadheads are intellectually curious individuals.
Loads of Deadheads were libertarians – and not just for the drug laws. When I was a law student working at the Department of Justice, I used to leave the Bush DOJ with a slew of Republican appointees to see the Dead play at RFK.
In an interview Jerry and Bobby Weir did with Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1990s, they said they were happy to have Reaganites at their shows and liked some of those “rightest” ideas. The band’s most significant political act was when Jerry Garcia testified in Congress about something or other, sitting at the witness table, in the august (non-smoking) chambers, chain-smoking. Also, the Dead donated those snappy Olympic uniforms to the Lithuanian basketball team after Reagan liberated them from communism.
I can never pick a “favorite” song, just as I can’t pick a favorite Scalia dissent, but among the ones I love are: “Tennessee Jed,” “Althea,” “Stagger Lee”, “Eyes of the World,” “Loose Lucy,” “Franklin’s Tower,” “Deal,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Unbroken Chain,” “Cassidy”, “Pride of Cucamonga,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Ripple,” “Casey Jones,” “I Will Take You Home,” “Passenger,” “Mississippi Half-Step,” “Good Lovin'” and of course, the famous Mickey Hart rap version of “Fire on the Mountain.”
It breaks my heart that the band never played “Pride of Cucamonga” in concert. That would have been as big a story as Brexit and probably would have rocked the stock market just as much.
The Dead’s best venues were the outdoor concerts. I’ve been to a few, including one outside of Kansas City on the Fourth of July, but my fave was Shoreline Amphitheatre — a beautiful outdoor arena built on a landfill. The weather was great, you could buy California chardonnay by the glass and I had a bunch of Cornell deadheads out there. By day, we’d go around San Francisco or go sailing, and, by night, we’d go to see a psychedelic rock group.
Now that you have me talking about the Dead, I’m getting nostalgic. Maybe I will go to a Dead & Co. show.