Auctioning the Dead

icons-and-idols-rock-catalogAmong the most interesting  but often overlooked scholarly resources for the study of the Grateful Dead are auction catalogs: there have been several high-profile auctions of Dead-related memorabilia over the years, and their catalogs have reproduced images and ephemera that are immensely interesting for fans—and very helpful to scholars studying the band and its cultural impact.

The first auction of Dead materials to really make a national splash was called “Life on the Golden Road with the Grateful Dead: The Ramrod Shurtliff Collection,” held in 2007. Drawn from the collection of one of the band’s longtime crew members, the auction provided a glimpse of the remarkable range of materials that illustrated the Grateful Dead phenomenon. That auction was followed by “More Skeletons From the Closet,” which featured materials from the estate of longtime crew member “Ram Rod” Shurtliff. Bonhams followed that with “Visions of Garcia” in May 2012, producing a fine 112-page catalog featuring unpublished photographs along with some remarkable illuminated set lists by Garcia, along with some of his drawings, sketches, and other ephemera.

Recently, Julien’s Auctions, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in pop culture memorabilia—chiefly sports, film, and rock music—hosted an auction featuring hundreds of pieces that pertained to the Dead. With a picture of a young Jerry Garcia gracing the cover, the 333-page glossy catalog features items from Garcia band manager and longtime crew member Steve Parish’s collection, but its major contribution documents the art of the Dead and the broader Haight-Ashbury context that incubated the Dead and so many other iconic bands of the sixties. Sketches, drafts, and posters by Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Randy Tuten, and others chart the arc of Grateful Dead imagery and its broader context of the burgeoning psychedelic art emanating from the Haight. Of particular interest are the dozens of printer’s plates for various Family Dog posters, most of which have never been displayed.

Since the high bidders in these auctions tend to be collectors, not cultural heritage institutions, the catalogs end up being the only way for most scholars to know about, or see images of, those materials. And while some collectibles possess little evidentiary value, many do—especially manuscripts and other one-of-a-kind items.

Some of the insights provided by these catalogs  are expected: rare photographs documenting the band’s early days, instruments that help scholars and fans understand the band’s craft. Other glimpses are more precious, such as three books from Pigpen’s library: Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of the Gone World, and Gregory Corso’s Gasoline. The significance? All three pieces demonstrated the degree to which McKernan was interested in the Beat movement—not just as a reader, but as a practitioner, as his doodles and poem decorating the volumes  suggests.

For scholars, these catalogs can be cited with some assurance, since auction houses go to great lengths to verify provenance and originality—their credibility rests on the authenticity of the materials they sell.

Julien’s joins Bonham’s and Butterfields in documenting some of the fascinating, colorful and compelling artifacts and art that inform the Grateful Dead phenomenon and its dissemination into American culture.

Addendum

Archive supporter Jesse Jarnow emailed to say that I missed an auction: “Great post about auction catalogues, though missing the Guernsey’s (May 8th!) 2002 auction of Wolf & Tiger with lots of Jerry’s clothes, handwritten notes from his days as a music teacher, etc.. Nice catalogue, too.” Jarnow, a fine journalist and author, wrote a thoughtful account of the auction here. Thanks for pointing it out, Jesse – - and if any reader has a copy of the catalog they would like to donate, the Archive would be most grateful.

Icons of the Dead: Backstage Passes in the Archive

This backstage pass recently surfaced in the Archive during processing, and represents one of the earliest examples in the collection. Its simple lettering demonstrates that the central concern backstage during those early years was quick identification—security personnel could quickly and easily spot who should be there, and who should not.

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Over the years, the Dead’s backstage passes evolved into highly sophisticated designs, often incorporating pop culture icons like film stars and comic book heroes. It’s interesting to note that when the band used trademarked images, they were careful to secure permission, even though passes were not sold; I had an interesting chance conversation with the former head of Marvel Comics at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about that and he remained impressed with the band’s scrupulousness. “It wasn’t easy to negotiate copyright clearance for those images,” he recalled. And all to make colorful, memorable, disposable passes that, once affixed to clothing, were often hard to preserve.

For some runs of shows and even whole tours in the late 1980s and 1990s, the band hired artists solely to create passes. Some tours featured designs that fit together like pieces of a puzzle, forming elaborate images that incorporated signature Dead icons and motifs. Although these artistic efforts can be seen as part of the band’s approach to doing business artistically, those designs had a very practical dimension as well: they were hard to counterfeit.

Some backstage pass designs were based on designs and symbols from the band’s extensive library of images, such as iconic posters by artists such as Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin; others might be simple motifs, sometimes taken from a sketch by Garcia or even a doodle by one of the bandmember’s children. Some passes featured visual puns based on the band’s name, sometimes repeated over the course of several years.

The rich imagery adorning the Dead’s backstage passes means that researchers who want to delve more deeply into the band’s iconography, and their pioneering approach to the visual art that accompanied their music, will be rewarded by a close examination of the backstage passes in the Archive. This early, simple design documents how an interesting, often-overlooked artform began.

Viva la Muerte and the Next Generation of Dead Inspiration

The Dead have spawned innumerable cover bands over the years, some of whom have gone on to earn enviable followings in their own right. In addition to well-known names like Dark Star Orchestra,  hundreds more carry on the band’s improvisational legacy in almost every state, as well as several other countries. But the Dead’s legendary free-form jams and deft song-writing have also influenced countless other bands, many of whom credit the Dead for inspiration that may be difficult to detect at first—some fans of Sonic Youth, for example, were surprised when Lee Ranaldo discussed his years as a Deadhead and his admiration for the band (see his comments on Europe ’72 here).

Viva la Muerte, an up and coming band from North Carolina recently signed to New York’s Ex Umbra Records, just released their fine debut, All the Birds—a title that for Dead fans immediately conjures up “Brokedown Palace.” Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Matthew Armstrong makes no secret of his affection for the Dead, although no one would mistake the album as a straight-ahead Dead tribute: Armstrong and his bandmates wear their influences lightly, creating a sound that is unique and contemporary but suggests depths that only come from deep learning and sustained immersion in a wide variety of genres.

That may be why All the Birds has such a haunting presence. Too many jam bands focus on the Dead’s skillful multi-voiced improvisational acumen without understanding its deeper roots in folk, blues, bluegrass, and jazz. VLM’s songs and musicianship are original and refreshing, and give the sense of a band that didn’t just study the Dead—they used the Dead’s approach as a template for their own education, going back to those sources and forging their own connection to those primal musical wellsprings.

Armstrong’s songwriting adds an artistic dimension to his other efforts, which include novels, short stories, journalism, and even critical work on the Dead phenomenon—an essay on his experiences in Dead cover bands was recently published in an academic anthology (Full disclosure: which I edited, and was delighted to be able to include). That adds a nice bit of symmetry to the album, as if we’re hearing the musical counterpart to his thoughtful reflections, which discussed the challenges and rewards of performing the Dead’s music. With his songs on All the Birds, Armstrong provides a powerful demonstration of what those rewards can be, for this is the kind of subtle tribute that also defined the Dead’s own approach to American roots music, honoring them while making them indisputably their own.

~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist

Archive Receives Gift of Deadhead Artisan Handicrafts

Two (2) pins and two (2) magnets, handcast concrete, ca. 2.0–3.0 in. Gift of Viki Schecter.

Viki Schecter, longtime Deadhead (and proud mother of a UCSC undergraduate) recently donated a set of four handmade Deadhead artworks to the Archive, shown here. These delightful pins and magnets depict four seminal images and icons in the Grateful Dead phenomenon: the famous Mouse/Kelley band logo, derived from Edmund J. Sullivan’s illustration in the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam; the Owsley Stanley / Bob Thomas-designed Steal Your Face band logo; the squared Grateful Dead emblem, and a stylized version of Garcia’s bearded visage, bedecked in sunglasses.

Schecter created these “MANY years ago,” as she recently wrote. “I sculpted each design with Sculpy [a brand of polymer clay] by hand (except the round one, that was my husband’s belt buckle). I made a latex mold and filled it with cement. Each one is hand painted by me.”

Schecter sold three of the designs in Dead show parking lots, though not the Garcia pins: “Only people who knew me personally had a Jerry pin. They were not for sale. We actually had one friend find us at a show because they saw someone wearing the Jerry pin and knew they knew us.” Schecter also gave a Jerry pin to Bill Graham, before a New Year’s Eve concert—in fact, it may well be the pin that appears in The Official Book of the Deadheads (see p.131).

Deadhead crafts are an important part of the broader scene and phenomenon, and the Archive is grateful to Viki for her kind donation. Look for it in the upcoming exhibition, “Songs of Our Own: The Art of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon,” which will open in late April in McHenry Library’s Dead Central exhibit space. Many thanks to Ms. Schecter for her artisanry and generosity! ~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist

Oracles Underground: Five 1967 Underground Newspapers Join the Archive

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Five (5) underground newspapers, ca. 1967: The San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, No. 8 (August 1967), 40 pp. The City of San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, No. 10 (October 1967), 32 pp.  The Haight-Ashbury Maverick, Vol. 1, No. 7 (1967), 16 pp. Southern California Oracle, No. 5 (August 1967), 32 pp. Southern California Oracle, No. 7 (November 1967), 24 pp.  Gift of Charles Stolzenbach.

This collection of five underground newspapers makes an important contribution to the Archive by documenting some of the broader cultural currents informing the Bay Area scene in the critical year 1967. The San Francisco Oracle is considered one of the premier underground newspapers of the 1960s, responsible for pioneering the split-stream method of color printing (where colors were applied to the press as the rollers were moving). Although it only produced a dozen issues from September 1966 to February 1968, the Oracle was quite successful: from an initial run of 3,000 copies for the first issue, print runs swelled to 125,000 copies by the sixth, the first to use the split-stream method. Selling copies was an important source of income for hippies, who served as the newspaper’s principal distribution mechanism.

For scholars, the Oracle is important for a number of reasons. As an important community voice of the Haight, it represents a vital form of contemporaneous evidence: articles on issues the neighborhood was facing at the time depict the scene as it appeared to Oracle staff, who were a part of the Haight; even the want-ads provide snapshots of themes and currents in the Haight-Ashbury during its heyday. For historians, the prominence of Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Michael McClure in the Oracle’s pages shows how these elder statesmen of Bay Area bohemia were a vital and visible part of the Haight’s flowering, alongside emerging voices and visions, such as Lenore Kandel and Rick Griffin. The October issue, for example, features a lengthy piece by William S. Burroughs and a five-page interview with Tim Leary, along with a poem by Lew Welch, a poet whom Robert Hunter credits as an important influence. These two issues are especially welcome, since most copies show some variation, and these differ from those reproduced in the facsimile edition produced by Regent Press in 1991.

The Oracle is well known, due to editor Allen Cohen’s prominence as a poet along with the paper’s own visibility, fueled by the critically-acclaimed 1991 facsimile edition. That edition informed a welter of new critical studies of the Haight, but many other ephemeral newspapers of the time have not fared so well. Two other contemporary efforts included in this gift are the Haight-Ashbury Maverick and the Southern California Oracle, the latter with two particularly nice issues. The Haight-Ashbury Maverick took its cues from the Oracle in its sensibility and design; poems, essays and illustrations vividly capture the Haight sensibility, even as it peaked and began its decline. One sketch, “The Eight Thirty Bus,” by Robin, conveys the hippie worldview nicely:

There before us, and about 10 feet below us was a young man of about 35 years/standing-reading the NEW YORK TIMES, in a dark grey business suit. Waiting for his prompt 8:30 bus to come and fetch him and bring his soul back to his dark frey [sic?] desk where he would sit—in constant fear of everything. It took us near 10 minutes to cease our wild laughter/then it happened—I became the laughter of life, the chuckle of intelligence, and the pity of wisdom. Silently I returned to the window and wondered if perhaps the man glaring up at me couldn’t detect the smile of truth in my eyes. My pity forfeited to the tickling of life and I burst out laughing again/I was 2 hours old now and would stay that way forever and ever. (p.3)

Underground newspapers have been recognized as critical sources for scholars studying the sixties for decades, and these issues will be helpful to not only those studying the Grateful Dead but a host of related contexts. The Archive thanks supporter Charles Stolzenbach for his generous gift.

~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist

New Deadhead Literature and a Fellow Traveler

James D. McCallister, Fellow Traveler: A Rock & Roll Fable. Chapin, SC: Muddy Ford Press, 2012. Softbound, 351 + iv pp. $16.95

 

The Grateful Dead have always had a serious literary bent, from the Beat inheritance of the band symbolized by Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey to the extraordinarily literary qualities of their lyricists, from Bobby Petersen to Robert Hunter to John Perry Barlow. Deadheads responded with their own literary efforts, from wonderful impromptu parking lot poetry to formal, published efforts in a wide variety of genres.

James D. McCallister’s Fellow Traveler joins the list of Deadhead-penned novels with a fine allegorical treatment of the latter-day Dead scene. Centered on the experiences of several fans of a band called Jack O’Roses, clearly inspired by the Dead, the novel traces these intertwined lives as they navigate a world following the retirement of the band. Memories and evocations of that world during the band’s final decade bring to life a powerful vision of the last few years of the Dead scene, including some of the horrors of the band’s final tours in 1995, especially Deer Creek. In an eloquent and moving afterword, McCallister makes that point explicitly, saying that part of his reason for writing the novel was as a rejoinder to “the gatecrashers at Deer Creek, individuals who, on July 2, 1995, not only ruined what turned out to be my final Grateful Dead concert, but caused what would have been my final show to be canceled” (“Endnote,” p.[353]).

But the novel is far more than an elegy to a vanished scene: the characters are compelling, the dialogue crisp and believable, and the plot pulls readers along without sacrificing the literary flourishes that keep the book in mind well after the climax. Throughout, the nods to Deadhead culture and allusions to the band’s canon are subtle, well placed, and contribute to the sense that the Dead phenomenon, even in its last stages, can sustain high-level literary fiction.

McCallister considers his novel more of a genre effort than literary fiction, although some readers may disagree. Most would place Fellow Traveler alongside Philip Baruth’s lyrical and powerful debut, The Millennium Shows, recently re-released by Kearney Street Books. The acquisitions editor of that press, Gary McKinney, calls Fellow Traveler “a truly charming and deft literary achievement—a magical, captivating work,” high praise from the author of a pair of mystery novels featuring Deadhead sheriff Gavin Pruitt. McKinney’s works, Slipknot and Darkness Bids the Dead Goodbye,  follow what is often considered the first Deadhead novel, Alan Neal Izumi’s Dead Tour, published by Relix magazine in 1988, although McKinney’s are not set in the Deadhead milieu, which provides the context for Izumi’s narrative.

McCallister’s Deadhead bonafides are impeccable: a taper and later Shakedown Street vendor, he went on to become co-owner of a Deadhead shop, Loose Lucy’s, originally one of a chain of six such shops and now the last. Located in Columbia, Loose Lucy’s continues to provide South Carolina Deadheads with a sense of continuity and connection, even seventeen years after Garcia’s death and the retirement of the band. Some of Fellow Traveler was written while McCallister manned the shop, where I would often visit him when Columbia was still my home base.  (Full disclosure: McCallister acknowledges my friendship in the “Endnote” of the book, and I had the pleasure of reading drafts of Fellow Traveler as it went through a number of revisions before settling into its final, published form.)

Fans who came to the Dead phenomenon following Garcia’s death will find Fellow Traveler to be a fine evocation of the last years of the scene, just as scholars studying the broader literary aspects of the Deadhead experience will need to spend time with McCallister’s story. With more and more books devoted to the band and phenomenon appearing, it is important for scholars and thoughtful fans to also consider the fictional treatments that often limn and illuminate the most telling but often hidden currents that informed the Deadhead experience. For scholars, Fellow Traveler helps chart the cultural diffusion of the Grateful Dead phenomenon and the Deadhead experience—and for readers, it’s simply a fine read.

~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist

A Bell, the Beat Imperative, and Omphalos: Two Literary Journals Donated to the Dead Archive

Geoffrey Gronlund, ed. Omphalos, Vol. 3 (Winter 2007). Bridgton, ME: Nine Point Publishing. Saddle-stapled pamphlet, 5-3/8 x 8-3/8 in., 24 pp.

Geoffrey Gronlund, ed. Omphalos, Vol. 11 (Summer/Fall 2010). Bridgton, ME: Nine Point Publishing. Perfect-bound paperback, 5-3/8 x 8-3/8 in., 88 pp. Signed by Stanley Mouse on inside front flyleaf.

Archive supporter Geoff Gronlund visited McHenry Library on August 25 and toured the exhibit, leaving behind a wonderful gift: two issues of a literary journal he edited and published from 2005 to 2012. Entitled Omphalos, the journal adds to the Archive’s holdings of Dead-related literature with a wonderful unpublished short story by Robert Hunter, entitled “Great Bell of the Atlantic,” which appears in Volume 3, and ten illustrations by Stanley Mouse decorating Volume 11, which Stanley signed.

Gronlund is a committed Deadhead and literary fan, dating his love for collecting small press printing and book arts to his discovery of a signed copy of Ken Kesey’s Last Go Round, purchased from an Ithaca, NY, bookstore in 2002. An avid reader of the Beats, Gronlund already credited Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac for much of his literary outlook, and Kesey linked that passion to the extraliterary (and literary) art of the Grateful Dead.

When Gronlund founded Omphalos, he never imagined that he would end up publishing Robert Hunter and Stanley Mouse, but these two volumes are a credit to his vision and perseverance. Mouse fans will be pleased to see how well Stanley’s paintings lend themselves to illustrating the poems in Vol. 11, making the point that the art of the Dead always tapped much deeper cultural wellsprings. (Several of the images are available as posters for sale at Mouse’s website, too.)

Hunter’s story fits in with a number of efforts he has written in recent years reworking his vision of Christian origins and Western myth, a body of work now reminiscent of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes project. A whimsical but brooding story set in a post-apocalyptic America, “Great Bell of the Atlantic” features some of the famed lyricist’s telltale whimsy and erudition, with semi-comic imagery wrapped with pointed allusions all cloaking some very thoughtful meditations on the human condition:

“Religiosity is the bane not only of government but of religion itself. It was never otherwise and, if the calculations were not erroneous, never could be. Contrary to Yeats, it appears the falcon can see the falconer pretty damn well, in point of fact, but does not care to return to the glove.” (15)

There are a few telltale Dead references throughout, such as “love light” and the bell itself, the central metaphor and subject, although it isn’t until the denouement of the story that the real Dead subtext unfolds, and we’re treated to Hunter’s vision of the Jubilee, which plays such a prominent role in his lyrics for “Sugaree”:

“Religion, law, philosophy, and science are among the means to approach it, but once the Jubilee is attained, they serve no further purpose and are replaced by art, music, baseball, and a whole lot of dancing.” (20)

In Leviticus 25:10, Jubilee is described as a celebration held every fifty years and widely interpreted as a time for forgiving all debts; Hunter’s take provides a whimsical and poignant telling of the metaphor that continues his long-running spelunking of the subterranean crannies of literature and myth that so much of his work has mapped over the years. Some of that he published on his website, others have cropped up as email publications—look for wonderful story cycle Red Sky Fishing especially—and in a variety of small press efforts, like Omphalos. The Archive is grateful to Geoff for thinking of us and bringing this to our attention.

Gronlund’s work as editor and designer is first rate, and the production—especially in Vol. 11—is superb. The color printing makes Mouse’s illustrations come to life, and even the earlier print pages gathered in the center of Vol. 3 are superbly rendered. Sadly, Omphalos has ceased publication, but it leaves behind an impressive legacy and some wonderful work, as seen in these two issues. Two good articles about Gronlund’s bookstore and printing efforts can be found here and here. Many thanks to Geoff for donating these issues to the Archive, and we wish him well with his next ventures.

Nicholas Meriwether
Grateful Dead Archivist

The Days Between at the Archive

The sculpture of Garcia’s hand by Tom White, outside of Dead Central.

For Deadheads, the time between Jerry Garcia’s birthday (August 1) and death (August 9) has come to be called The Days Between, after the song of the same name. In keeping with the spirit of Hunter’s moving elegy, that eight-day period has become a time for reflection for those whose lives have been changed or touched by the Grateful Dead phenomenon. For some, that week has become a time for forgiveness and healing; for others, it is simply a time to remember and reflect on their experiences with the Dead and with Garcia in particular.

Since opening in June, the Dead Archive has become a destination for fans traveling to Northern California, often as part of a Deadhead tour to visit the Haight-Ashbury and take in a meal and a show at Phil’s Terrapin Crossroads or Bob Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall. Noted band photographer Herbie Greene visited on August 14, just after the Days Between, and dozens of Deadhead baseball fans made a pilgrimage to the Archive before heading off to the third annual San Francisco Giants’ Jerry Garcia Day on August 3, benefitting the Rex Foundation.

Thanks to the generosity of Manasha and Keelin Garcia, who threw out the first pitch, the Archive was represented at Jerry Day and watched some fine ball playing (alas, the Giants lost). Moonalice, who honored the Archive’s public celebration with a great show at the library on June 29, gave an inspired performance to open the festivities; they played a fine set that built on their prowess as a first-rate original band who can also do ample justice to the Dead’s songbook.

The number of visitors to the Library spiked during The Days Between,  with fans coming from as far away as Germany, New York, and Florida to see the exhibit, “A Box of Rain: Archiving the Grateful Dead Phenomenon.” As the Archivist and the curator of the exhibit, I gave impromptu tours for several groups, and it was interesting to see what pieces engendered the strongest reactions (most visitors singled out the letters on display on the band’s conference table, especially the ones from Pigpen’s father to the band, and from the band to Richard Nixon).

One of the cards left at the Archive, celebrating Jerry’s birthday.

As the week progressed, the sculpture of Jerry’s hand, by Santa Barbara artist Tom White, became a focal point for several fan contributions, shown here. The Archive has thousands of fan letters and gifts like this; it is a pleasure and an honor for the Archive to now be the recipient of that attention, and to continue the tradition.

That tradition has now lasted for seventeen years after the untimely, early death of Jerry Garcia, and these expressions of the reverence and wonder that the Dead inspired seem no less heartfelt and immediate as the sentiments expressed at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park on August 13, 1995, when more than 25,000 of us gathered there to pay our respects. On behalf of the Dead Archive, many thanks for sharing your feelings with us, and with everyone who paid homage during this special time of remembrance.

~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist

 

We Are Everywhere: Deadhead Writings and the DNA of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon

DNA, Memoirs of the Messiah (Self-published, 2008),  6 x 9 in., 171 pp.

There has always been a strong literary bent to the Deadhead experience, most obviously in the lyrics penned for the band by Robert Hunter, John Perry Barlow, and Bobby Petersen, among others. A few of the scene’s deeper literary connections can be seen in their close association with Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, whose group of friends included Beat icon Neal Cassady, hero of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel and Beat Generation manifesto On the Road. Cassady was part of Kesey’s group, dubbed  the Merry Pranksters, who recruited the fledgling Grateful Dead to perform at the Acid Tests in the fall of 1965.

That history was recounted in another seminal book, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a bellwether of what would be called the New Journalism and a foundational text in the Grateful Dead library. Wolfe’s remarkable narrative helped immortalize the origins of the Dead and made a strong case for treating the group and their project with seriousness—an important nod at a time when the counterculture and rock music were hotly contested topics in the first flush of the culture wars over the meaning of the sixties.

Over the years, Deadheads have contributed to the burgeoning literature on the band and phenomenon, from mystery novels to poetry to scholarship in a wide range of disciplines. Most of those publications are obvious, with titles that most readers, and certainly any Deadhead, would recognize. But fans, cultural critics and historians interested  in the broader dissemination of the Grateful Dead phenomenon need to look carefully to trace how widely the Deadhead worldview has spread in American culture.  “We are everywhere” is a familiar Deadhead mantra, but often that ubiquity is cloaked and difficult to ferret out.

One book recently donated to the Dead Archive is a perfect case study in that subterranean ubiquity. Memoirs of the Messiah, a literary mélange of meditations, anecdotes and reminiscences, is not a Deadhead memoir, but it is salted with references to the band and scene, and charts the way that the Dead phenomenon has continued to evolve and spread in the years since Garcia’s death to become a significant strand in American culture. Written as a series of “revelations,” by a reluctant self-proclaimed messiah, the book presents Santa Cruz stand-up comedian, sometime political candidate and writer DNA’s thoughts about a variety of topics.

The author officially changed his name to DNA—one of the great lines in the book is, “Appointing your own name is guaranteed to agitate the other monkeys in the zoo” (p. 157). That is emblematic of the charmingly subversive tone to the book, although DNA’s style is far from iconoclastic. Indeed, Deadheads will recognize hallmark traits of the scene at its best, even though DNA’s story largely unfolds in a post-Jerry world.

That world is still defined by the absence of that luminous musician and avatar, and Memoirs of the Messiah is noteworthy for its evocation of a cultural landscape forever altered by Garcia. References to the Grateful Dead  pepper the book, from lyrics scattered throughout to Deadhead scenes, such as waiting in line in front of the Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland before a show.

DNA contributed a copy of the book to the Archive, but he has also been a friend in other ways, writing about the Archive for local newspapers. For more of his work, see his website. A fine article on his multifarious talents appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel here.

Fans of samizdat publications will find DNA’s book appealing and thought-provoking on its own merits, but for Deadheads and scholars the book is particularly interesting for the degree to which it limns the arc of the broader dissemination into mainstream culture of the Grateful Dead phenomenon. Memoirs of the Messiah is one of dozens of such works that will provide cultural historians and scholars of popular culture with a fascinating map of how the Deadhead experience continued in the years following the band’s formal dissolution.