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Grateful Dead Essay, Research Paper
The Grateful Dead, the most popular so called underground band of all time. This band has underwent many changes, some good and others bad throughout their thirty or so years of performing. I plan to prove that a band that has remained together for thirty plus years isn?t as easy as many would assume. In fact I would have to say the ?down? times in the band almost equal the outrageously great time they had. Despite all the down times the amazing music of the Grateful Dead always made it possible to bring smiles to empty faces anytime anywhere. Even now that the bands figure head (Jerry Garcia) has passed on, the family that he created (Deadheads) and left behind will never forget him or his music.
The very underground San Francisco based band didn?t always go by the name Grateful Dead. When they first came about they went by the name, ?Mothers McCree?s Uptown Jug Champions? who consisted of band members, Jerry Garcia, Ron ?Pigpen? McKernan, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann. Keep in mind them and their followers were for the most part war protesters. All, very young and some not even out of high school. Soon after they had established the band they started playing at many house parties, small bars, and roadhouses. Their music was loved by so many because it was said, you can sing the lyrics without ever making a sound., and you could sing the lyrics with dance and drugs. A little while later they had a name change to the Warlocks when they grasped more unsuspecting followers that soon became life long ?Deadheads?. Before nineteen-sixty-five the band had in a way dropped out of society and the straight music scene, playing at houses and roadhouses and only performed for a good friend as a private house band. For the next six months only performed at the Acid Tests, immersing themselves in a sensosiorm of sound, light, and mind altering drugs that transformed their audiences, forever. ?I know that if the Acid Tests had never happened we would have been just another band,? stated Phil Lesh in a nineteen eighties interview.
This is now where the Grateful Dead were born as we know them today. The name, Grateful Dead as every deadhead knows, choose itself when Garcia flipped open an old dictionary at Phil?s house, ?and there it was?It was one of those moments,? he told Rolling Stone, ?like everything else on the page went blank, diffuse, just sorta oozed away, and there it was grateful dead. Big black letters edged all around in gold, man, blasting out at me, such a stunning combination.? A veritable fat trip. ?So I said, ?How about Grateful Dead,? and that was it.? The band was smoking a superpsychedelic DMT. In another, later account, Garcia didn?t like the name at first but thought is was just to powerful to ignore. Weir and Kreutzmann didn?t like it either but ?people started calling us that and it just started, Grateful Dead, Grateful Dead?? Here is the definition of the word Grateful Dead in the 1955 Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary. GRATEFUL DEAD- The motif of a cycle of folk tales which begins with the hero?s coming upon a group of people ill-treating or refusing to bury the corpse of a man who had died without paying his debts. He gives his last penny, either to pay the man?s debts or to give him a decent burial. Within a few hours he meets with a traveling companion who aids him in some impossible task? The story ends with the companion?s disclosing himself as the man whose corpse the other had befriended
LSD, of course was the genie behind the birth of the Dead. It surprised me to learn that the Grateful Dead used LSD every time they played until the 1970?s. By then, the larger crowds demanded more control from the musicians than LSD allowed. LSD, introduced the Dead to what percussionist Mickey Hart calls a ?road map,? to which they could return again and again to bring back the sights and sounds and sensations? of the early trips. However it wasn?t the kind of map that told you what to do, ?like if you go from here to there, you?re going to find Eureka.? It only showed you that ?you?re on the road? that you found ?this rhythm and this zone,? which is what made musical invention possible.
The Acid Tests of the early sixties had a tremendous influence on the Grateful Dead. The initial experiments had been launched by the Central Intelligence Agency, which began to investigate mind-altering drugs and parapsychology in 1953 under the program called MK-ULTRA. MK-ULTRA had its roots in the Office of Strategic Service?s (OSS) wartime fascination with so-called truth telling drugs like mescaline, Scopolamine, and liquid marijuana. The first government?s Acid Tests were carried out on workers in the Manhattan Project new mind control program. Later, MK-ULTRA was mainly conducted at prisons and mental hospitals.
By 1959-1960, the CIA had started farming its research out to VA hospitals and Army Chemical Corps. In university cities such as Palo Alto and Boston, volunteering for an LSD trip became the hip thing to do. These explorations took place weekly sensations where they were paid between twenty and seventy-five dollars a day ?more each time to keep you coming back,? says band member Robert Hunter, who signed up to test drive a batch of what the government called ?psychotomimetic [madness-mimicking] drugs.? During one session, tears had poured out of his eyes, and the clinician asked why he was crying. ?I?m not crying,? Hunter said. ?I?m in another dimension. I?m inhabiting the body of a great green Buddha and there?s a pool that is flowing out of my eyes.?
The constant abuse of drugs led to some high tension between band members in the late sixties and early seventies. Weir?s, whose tuning and timing were off, was doing too much acid in Jerry?s view. Pigpen was also falling behind. He was drinking more and rehearsing less, and visibly struggling with the huge Hammond organ that had replaced the carry on keyboard that he used to play. Neither musician was keeping up with the new direction the band was headed. One afternoon after Weir and Pigpen had left a recording session, Jerry ordered the band manager, Rock aside and ordered him to fire them both.
That idea was ridiculous, and Rock knew it. You don?t fire your lifetime friends and your partner, and if you do you do it yourself, and Garcia refused. Pigpen, whose legend grew as he himself began to dwindle away with liver disease, was a tougher case. He rarely came to band meetings, but he still did know how to work the crowd. As late as 1970-1971, when the Grateful Dead took the college circuit by storm, he was often the star, rapping the blues in a way that drew his student audiences into a magic circle of warmth that left them hungry for more. ?We can calling ourselves the Grateful Dead but after Pigpen?s death,? Garcia said at Ron McKernan?s funeral in 1973, ?we all knew this was the end of the original Grateful Dead.?
Mickey Hart once stated ?If you only know a band by it?s records, you wouldn?t like the Grateful Dead very much.? The Dead made many records throughout the years but the prize possessions are the bootleg albums and tapes from many shows, personally the only albums I really enjoy from them are their live ones or bootlegs of course. The Grateful Dead was and band who played for you and not to you like most bands do. The only reason they were out there was for the audiences. It was a short step for the Grateful Dead to envision recruiting a lager community of heads and freaks, ?a Deadland of airwaves and albums and concerts,? which would help the band steer clear of obstacles in it?s path. These included internal problems of uneven talent and colliding music styles, and more importantly, record prices that the Dead wanted to lower the level that Waner had set.
The step that soon sent the Dead off the track from all other bands of their time was taken in1971, when a brief notice was slipped in the jacket of the live album Skull and Roses. Signed by Garcia, 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. It was simply an invitation to write the Dead and let them know who there fans were. With this small gesture it showed a big turn out. By 1972, 25,000 letters had rolled in, many drawn up with dense calligraphy that became an icon of the Deadhead correspondence. This action provoked an on going movement with recruiting. ?We went out and recruited these guys head for head, their fathers and their sisters, and their mothers. We went on a head- hunting mission for twenty-five years,? Hart says; ?we went out and got the army in tow. And said, ?Okay, you guys are something you are a thing. And they themselves recognized their own identity and grew bigger than we could ever even imagine.?
The Grateful Dead was tired of having to live up to the expectations of record labels. The labels were just in it for the money, the Dead enjoyed playing for people who couldn?t afford to see the constantly raising price to see them, they were not allowed to put on any free shows which they liked to do in such places as the Golden Gate park in San-Francisco. So in 1973 a letter from Grateful Dead records read ?This adventure is a jumping off point to get us in a position of greater contact with our people, to put us in command of our own ship, and for unspoken potentials for the ?far out.? It was the first time any rock group attempted to control all aspects of its record business, recording, cutting, and pressing, distribution and promotion. But by1976, financial problems had set in and poor record sales resulted in failure. Needing help United Artists decided to take on the task.
The band had its largest publicity in the later 1980?s. In 1987, the album In the Dark was released which included the hit song Touch of Grey. This song soon made it to the top ten it made the radio, and yes the Grateful Dead made a MTV video. The popularity of this song brought in tremendous revenues like the band had never experienced before from any of their other albums and never saw again. Not to say the Grateful Dead was in any kind of financial trouble but drew in a lot of money from it. In fact the Grateful Dead made more money from concerts than any other band ever has, partly because the Grateful Dead played tremendous amounts of shows all over the country and even toured in Europe. The Grateful Dead in 1970 played one-hundred and forty-five shows more than anyone else ever has and probably ever will.
In my opinion the Grateful Dead had a lot of talent and a great ear for truly good music. In writing this research paper I have learned many things about the Grateful Dead. One being, the idea of how drug related and based the band actually was. I can?t go around promoting the use of drugs but, they really can open your mind up to many different lifestyles and open your ears, eyes and soul to become one with the music. After all the drugs and alcohol had created this band and ultimately destroyed it. Alcohol having killed Ron ?Pigpen? McKernan with liver disease and the one whom brought the band together and forced them to stay together through all the bad times the infamous Jerry Garcia. Jerry died in early August of 1995 of a heart attack, which was a direct result of his terrible cocaine problem. Jerry enlightened this world with his music and will never be forgotten among the family he has left behind. The Grateful Dead officially was ended when Jerry passed away, however the remaining members still tour and play under the name ?The Other Ones? and the family of the Grateful Dead the deadheads still follow them around the country. In my mind the Grateful Dead has never died and never will, they will never be gone if you won?t let them.
1) de Curtis, Anthony, and James Henke, eds. The Rolling Stone
Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. New York: Random House, 1992.
2) Jackson, Blair. Goin? Down the Road: A Grateful Dead
traveling companion. New York: Harmony Books, 1992.
3) Hofmann, Albert. LSD: My Problem Child. Translated by
Jonathan Ott. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.
4) Gans, David. Conversations with the Dead: The Grateful Dead
Interview Book. New York: Citadel Press, 1991.
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