That Music Instinct

Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University is hosting a new two hour documentary on the science of music: The Music Instinct: Science and Song. It airs on PBS on June 24th and investigates music’s “fundamental physical structure, its biological, emotional, and psychological impact, its brain altering and healing powers, and its role in human evolution.”
Levitin is the author of The World in Six Songs (Dutton 2008) and This Is Your Brain On Music (Dutton Penguin 2006). According to Levitin “evolution may have selected individuals who were able to use nonviolent means like dance and music to settle disputes, and songs also serve as memory aides and as records of our lives and legends.”
Before hitting academia Levitin worked as a session musician, a commercial recording engineer, a live sound engineer, and a record producer for, among many bands, the Grateful Dead.

Attics of My Life

As archivists we are always so indebted to those folk out there who have the instinct and the eye to save ephemeral items of seemingly little value, and later to gift what has become an important “collection” to libraries, historical societies, and museums. Currently on display in Berkeley’s Veterans Memorial building is a Berkeley Historical Society exhibit Up Against the Wall-- a visual array of posters from such a collection. The late Michael Rossman, a Bay area political activist collected approximately 25,000 posters documenting concerts, rallies, political campaigns, and other social causes and movements from 1965 to 1974. His friend Lincoln Cushing, a librarian, arranged for 39 of these to be seen in this exhibit, including a 1966 handbill from a May 14th Veterans Memorial Hall dance with the Grateful Dead. The exhibit runs through September 26th.

Not Fade Away

Now that The Dead tour is over, all the reviews have come in and it looks like everyone, including the band had a good old time. One aspect that critics seem astonished by is the youth of the attendees. (Although this doesn’t seem surprising to us given that a Spring Quarter class “Music of the Grateful Dead” taught here at UCSC has enrollment of over 400!) We did enjoy the May 11th review by August Brown and Jeff Weiss in the LA Times. They reviewed the Los Angeles Forum show and quoted 13 year old Emma Cleveland from Ridgecrest CA. whose entire family had driven over 150 miles to attend the concert; “The Dead’s music keeps people feeling alive and happy. It’s amazing music; every time you hear it, it puts you in a good mood.”

True Legacy

One other note about Peter Conners. In response to Ben Ratcliff’s article on the Dead in the April 12th issue of the NY Times, Conners has written a reply that made the Times Letter section on 4/26. He notes “The article should also be a reminder to Deadheads that fetishizing artifact over experience threatens the values of spontaneity and creative possibility that super charged every Dead show. Let’s use the live recordings as a way to perpetuate the celebratory rituals of music, dance and unity that are the Dead’s (and Deadheads’) true legacy.”

Growing Up Dead

Poet Peter Conners who claims he was born in a small town called America, has just published his memoir with Da Capo Press: Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead, which chronicles ten years of his life from a suburban Rochester teenager through 1995 as a serious Deadhead. Conners is known for his prose poetry collection Of Whiskey and Winter (White Pines Press, 2007), his well regarded novella Emily Ate the Wind (Marick Press, 2008), and as being founding co-editor of Double Room: A Journal of Prose Poetry and Flash Fiction. His new book is being touted as part memoir, part social history, and for (as noted in Publishers Weekly) “offering a perspective often missing from other Dead chronicles.”

Conners is currently on tour himself giving readings from the book and doing interviews. In June he is scheduled for several events: on the 3rd David Gans will interview him for “The Grateful Dead Hour” (www.gdhour.com), and this conversation will be continued from the 10th to the 24th on “The Well” (www.well.com); Conners will also be at Books Inc. on June 4th (601 Van Ness in San Francisco.)

Deadheads and Licklider

Another older book still being reviewed is Patrice Flichy’s The Internet Imaginaire. (MIT Press, 2007), an introduction to the history of the Internet. Book reviewer Paul E. Ceruzzi admits to being a Deadhead and a heavy user of the concerts available via the Internet Archive. He therefore holds particular interest in Flichy’s chapter 3 which “discusses communities of people who had been excluded from traditional access to computers, among them the fans of the Grateful Dead rock band who traded information on the San Francisco Bay area network, the Well” and to imagining if Deadheads were as important to the creation of the Internet as the visionary computer scientist J.C. R. Licklider. Ceruzzi’s review can be found in the March 2009 issue of ISIS, published by the History of Science Society.

Deep Time

Wai Chee Dimock’s book Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time received lots of praise and some criticism when it came out in 2006 from Princeton University Press. It’s still being reviewed and it continues to be controversial. A recent review by Paul Giles can be found in the Dec. 2008, Vol. 69, No.4 issue of Modern Language Quarterly. As Ms. Dimock’s publisher notes, she reads “American literature as a subset of world literature. Inspired by an unorthodox archive–ranging from epic traditions in Akkadian and Sanskrit to folk art, paintings by Veronese and Tiepolo, and the music of the Grateful Dead– Dimock constructs a long history of the world, a history she calls “deep time.” Giles says the book “is testimony to the often brilliant critical practice that functions through cross-referencing and juxtaposition, illuminating distant and proximate, high culture and low culture, in the light of each other. ” No wonder Blues for Allah is an inspiration for Dimock.