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.