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.

Grateful Dead Archive Celebrates Grand Opening June 29 With Moonalice

Greene, Herb, 1942-, “Grateful Dead: Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed June 29, 2012, http://www.gdao.org/items/show/514561

The Grateful Dead Archive is pleased to announce its grand opening, June 29, 2012, with a concert by famed Bay Area band Moonalice on the lawn of UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library. The Library is home to the Archive, the Brittingham Family Foundation Dead Central, our dedicated exhibit space, and now, the Grateful Dead Archive Online, or GDAO, our cutting-edge website that enables patrons from around the world to participate in building the Archive and access digital images of thousands of the Archive’s treasures.

Since the announcement of the gift in April 2008, UC Santa Cruz has been working diligently to curate the band’s incredible trove of materials. Processing continues as we drill deeper into the band’s gift and secure additional materials from donors; a central, related component of this effort is the creation of an online archive, under the leadership of project manager Robin Chandler, showcasing thousands of images, artifacts and materials drawn from the Archive. This remarkable, innovative website also allows users to upload their own content and comment on Archive materials in a ground-breaking, socially constructed website devoted to the Grateful Dead phenomenon.

Grateful Dead Archive logo

Visitors to the Library can see our inaugural exhibition, “A Box of Rain: Archiving the Grateful Dead Phenomenon,” curated by Archivist Nicholas Meriwether, featuring a wide array of remarkable art, artifacts, and memorabilia that the band and more than 100 donors have contributed, and researchers will also be able to access processed materials from the Archive in the Library’s Special Collections Reading Room.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Meriwether commented recently, “and that labor will continue for many years as we process more of the Archive and secure additional materials, but we are excited to celebrate the milestone of the opening of the Archive and the website, GDAO, for researchers and the public.”

Grateful Dead Archive Online logo

Congratulations to Christine Bunting, Robin Chandler, Sue Perry, and Maureen Carey, who worked with Archivist Nicholas Meriwether and a team of staffers to process the physical and digital materials comprising the Archive and the website, and to the many donors who pitched in and continue to support the Archive and help it fulfill its mission to create a first-rate scholarly repository that will allow researchers to study this remarkable phenomenon. The long strange trip continues.


More On GDAO

Since the announcement of the gift in April 2008, UC Santa Cruz has been working diligently to curate the band’s incredible trove of materials. Processing continues as we drill deeper into the band’s gift and secure additional materials from donors. A related component of this effort is the creation of an online archive that showcases thousands of images, artifacts and materials drawn from the Archive. This innovative website also allows users to upload their own content and comment on Archive materials in a ground-breaking, socially-constructed website devoted to the Grateful Dead phenomenon.

The items presented online in GDAO represent the individual and collective creativity of the band, artists, photographers and fans. UCSC has worked hard to identify and contact rights holders to let them know about our online project, which is designed to support scholarship; we have had great success in locating dozens of artists, photographers, creators and rights holders who have granted us a license to display their works in GDAO. The license we use does not limit the creators or rights holders in any way: it only gives us non-exclusive permission to display scans on the site, which is a strictly not-for-profit, educational, scholarly effort. When we know who holds the rights to an image, and they have given us permission, we have incorporated that information in the metadata accompanying each work displayed. The Copyright Information and/or Copyright Statements displayed represents our best efforts to locate and secure that permission.

In some cases it has been impossible to identify and make contact with rights holders. For some materials, we are displaying the works on GDAO to enlist the aid of the community to help us identify and find rights holders we were unable to contact. If you have additional—or conflicting—information about an item you see in GDAO, and/or information about the copyright holder, please contact us at grateful@ucsc.edu and let us know. With your help, we can create a superb destination for fans, researchers, and scholars interested in understanding the mysteries and wonder of the Grateful Dead phenomenon. The long strange trip continues—thanks to you all.

Archive Receives Grateful Dead Hour Collection

Deadheads know multitalented David Gans as an author, radio host, journalist, and musician, all roles he has played for Dead scholars and fans for decades. He has also been a tireless supporter of the Archive, contributing his time and expertise as well as a fascinating collection of materials documenting the writing of his Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead (St. Martins, 1996).
His latest gift is a set of hundreds of tapes and CDs of his long-running syndicated radio show, The Grateful Dead Hour, which add a rich vein of music and commentary to the Archive’s already extensive musical holdings.
Gans’s knowledge of the Dead is nonpareil, and listeners to the Grateful Dead Hour not only hear first-rate gems from the band’s thirty years of performances, but also interviews, commentary, and recent performances by the surviving band members, all of whom continue to make great music—and headlines—today. Gans’s long experience with the band—he first saw them in the early 1970s—along with his years of interviewing and reading make him one of the foremost authorities on the band’s music and history.
That erudition shines in every Grateful Dead Hour as well as in his more freewheeling Tales From the Golden Road, cohosted with Gary Lambert and heard weekly on Sirius XM. Gans salts his broadcasts with insights into the band’s development and achievement that make each broadcast a trove of useful information for scholars. The Archive thanks him for his generosity and support.
 As I was writing this, Gans’s latest musical project, The Sycamore Slough String Band, has been playing in the background. A superb collection of mostly Dead covers (listen especially to their superb reimagining of “New Speedway Boogie”), the band’s First Rehearsals CD showcases the magic that can happen when fine musicians well-versed in the Dead’s unique approach to small group improvisation get together to play their favorite tunes from the Grateful Dead songbook. The band’s bluegrass/newgrass arrangements tease out new layers of meaning to chestnuts long familiar to Deadheads, making this one of the most exciting revisits of Dead music in many years. Recommended.

Archive Receives Latvala Letter

Dick Latvala, 1993. © Susana Millman  
After the band’s first gift of materials, the first major collection to be donated to the Archive came from several friends of Dick Latvala, who presented his collection of more than 500 reels, many in elaborately decorated boxes, along with several linear feet of his papers. Much of that material documents his work to determine which shows were fan favorites. 
What Latvala did not document, however, were the hundreds of letters, most hand written, he penned to fans who emailed or corresponded to tell him what shows they thought should be released. One letter, recently donated by Archive supporter Steve Armato, demonstrates that effort, a thoughtful note letting Armato know that Latvala shared his high opinion of the show in question, May 21, 1974—one known for its legendary, longest-ever version of “Playing in the Band. ” 
Latvala cautions Armato that the process of getting the band to approve a release “really isn’t as simple as one might assume at first glance,” which those familiar with the decision-making process at Grateful Dead Productions at the time would second. But his enthusiastic affirmation of Armato’s opinion—“that incredibly long ‘Playing in the Band’ is one of my favorites, also”—is a sentiment that Deadheads familiar with the show share. Dupree’s Diamond News publisher John Dwork calls it “a wild ride through a dark and stormy sea of swirling musical chaos” that is “stunning in its dark power” in his review of the show in the second volume of The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium.
Latvala’s Letter to Armato, Jan. 9, 1994
Armato recalls with pleasure getting Dick’s hand-written reply in 1994 and he saved it until the Archive was underway. Having donated a wonderful pair of posters and visited the Archive last November, he thought of the letter and asked whether the Archive might be interested. Any correspondence from Dick is potentially interesting to us, and this note is useful on several levels, not only for its insights into Latvala’s work but also his connections with the broader Deadhead scene. Our thanks to Steve for thinking of the Archive and for making this piece of history available to scholars and researchers.

Recent Gifts include a Robert Hunter Broadside

The Archive is delighted to announce the donation of two artifacts from well-known Grateful Dead author and band family member Jerilyn Brandelius: a wonderful broadside reproducing Robert Hunter’s lyrics to “Touch of Grey” and a pristine copy of the backstage pass to a 1980 show, shown at left. Both gifts fill in gaps in our collections. 
Deadheads know Jerilyn from her book, Grateful Dead FamilyAlbum (Warner Books), which not only presents the history of the band but also the band members, from childhood through their time in the Haight and after. Far more than just photographs, the book captured scholars’ attention for its inclusion of remarkable and evocative ephemera  like a Beat-influenced poem by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and a watercolor of fellow Haight-Ashbury band Quicksilver Messenger Service on stage.
The broadside commemorates a reading by band lyricist Robert Hunter at Berkeley’s Black Oak Books.
Created by the Okeanos Press, it is a superb example of handpress printing immortalizing the band’s Top 10 hit, “Touch of Grey.” As an artifact, it represents the confluence of the Dead’s art with their Beat antecedents, which Black Oak and the Okeanos Press both honor.
The backstage pass is also important. Although the Archive has hundreds of backstage passes, that section of the Archive is far from complete, and we rely on the generosity of donors like Jerilyn to help us build a complete set.
Jerilyn’s donation is a gracious nod from the band family to the Archive, and we are most grateful to her for her thoughtfulness and generosity.

“We Are Everywhere”

One timeless Deadhead saying is, “we are everywhere,” a phrase that not only makes the un-secret society universal, but also describes the tantalizing and elusive ways that the Grateful Dead phenomenon has been diffused into the larger culture. 
One striking recent example of this graced the cover of a recent flower catalog. Horticulturally-inclined fans were surprised and delighted when the cover of one of their spring garden catalogs bore the banner headline, “2012 AARS Winner ‘Sunshine Daydream’.” Inside the Jackson and Perkins catalog, there is no mention of Robert Hunter’s authorship of the phrase; the somewhat breathless prose only describes the rose, noting that this “stunning grandiflora is the first rose to win AARS honors from the House of Meilland in France.” (The online catalog description is here.)
Roses have always been central to the Dead’s iconography, beginning with Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse’s seminal image for the band’s appearance at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966, which adapted an illustration by Edward J. Sullivan for The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam: a skeleton surrounded by roses. 
The pinnacle of that association was Mouse and Kelley’s timeless classic Blue Rose, their airbrush masterpiece for the band’s 1978 New Year’s show that also celebrated the closing of beloved San Francisco landmark Winterland Auditorium. That image depicted a holy grail for rose breeders, a blue rose; now the horticultural world has returned the favor, acknowledging the band with this tribute to Hunter’s lyrics for “Sugar Magnolia.”

Two Deadhead Poetry Books Donated to Archive

The Archive is delighted to announce the recent gift of two books of poetry by Robert Cooperman, an award-winning poet and author of sixteen books whose many accolades include the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. Recently he was named as a finalist for the Foreword Magazine Book of the Year.

These two books, Not Too Old to Rock and Roll (Snark 2003) and A Tale of the Grateful Dead (Main Street Rag 2004), are of interest to Dead scholars and fans for their powerful, thoughtful and deeply evocative verse treatments of themes dear to Deadheads. Cooperman is known to Dead scholars for his appearances at the annual Southwest/Texas American and Popular Culture Association conferences, where he read his Dead-related work, and one of his poems, “Halloween Costume Party,” was published in Dead Letters: Essays on the Grateful Dead Phenomenon, Vol. 1 (2001).

These two books capture Cooperman’s range nicely, from the more formal, studied exposition of the interlinked poems comprising A Tale of the Grateful Dead to the delightful, and occasionally haunting, poems that trace some of the broad arcs of Deadhead experience in Not Too Old to Rock and Roll.

Deadhead literary scholars and the Archive owe Cooperman thanks for his generous gift—and Deadheads everywhere owe him thanks for his poetic tribute to the Grateful Dead.

Archive Benefit Coming Up!

The Archive is pleased to announce a special one-night only benefit and preview of the Grateful Dead Archive, from 7 to 10 pm on November 5, at Dead Central, the exhibit room for the Archive in UC Santa Cruz’s beautiful new McHenry Library.

Guests will enjoy great food and wine, live music, and a tantalizing preview of the Archive’s treasures, focused around the poster art of the Grateful Dead.

Famed poster artist Stanley Mouse is our guest of honor, and we are honored to have been able to commission him to fully realize his delightful sketch “Writing Music,” now created as a beautiful painting commemorating this exhibit. Guests will receive a signed, numbered copy of the poster of that painting, along with a delightful 225-page keepsake book that will help you remember the exhibit.

Tickets are on sale here (or paste this URL in your browser and follow the steps: http://events.ucsc.edu/attics).

We hope to see you there!

A Most Unusual Archivist

Usually this blog focuses on recent donations to the Archive, but the reprint of David Lemieux’s superb interview from Glide magazine (May 20) at Dead.net warrants mention here for several reasons. As anyone who reads David’s column or listens to his radio show knows, he is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and erudite of Deadheads—both a fan and a sharp-eyed (or eared) critic, and someone who leavens his enthusiasm and critical acumen with a healthy scholarly—and emotional—perspective.

That perspective, and the hard work that informs it, is one of the many fascinating facets of this interview. Every Deadhead who has marveled at the quality and caliber of a recent Road Trips or Vault recording will be interested to read what goes into each release.

And for professors or graduate students in archival studies interested in understanding how that profession’s training can inform other work, it is hard to imagine a more extraordinary job description for someone with an MLIS (David’s degree focused on film archiving, which was his first position with Grateful Dead Productions). Thanks to David for sharing his thoughts and describing his work.

Grateful Dead Archive Receives Vital Dick Latvala Materials

The Grateful Dead Archive is honored to announce the final accrual for the Dick Latvala Collection, a vital affiliated collection in the larger Grateful Dead Archive. Personally delivered to UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library by Latvala’s son Rich, this generous gift completes the Latvala Collection with a number of important recordings, many in Dick’s inimitably hand-decorated boxes, along with a cache of files.

Scholars and fans will be pleased to note that Deadheads often illustrated their letters to Dick, just as they did their missives to the band. While the Archive generally does not accept gifts of equipment, there was no question about the significance of the Technics reel-to-reel recorder that accompanied the bequest: This is the machine that Dick used to create his incomparable collection of reels, now housed with the Grateful Dead Archive. In keeping with Dick’s commitment to sonic perfection, it was maintained scrupulously, and arrived in pristine condition, like it had just rolled off the assembly line—except for the gold-toned Steal-Your-Face sticker, prominently mounted on the front.

Best known as the namesake of the famed recording series Dick’s Picks, Latvala (1943-1999) became an avowed fan in 1966, first seeing the Dead perform at the fabled Trips Festival held in San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall that January. A longtime taper who attended more than 300 shows, he went to work for the band later and eventually was named the first Vault Archivist, a role that finally allowed him to midwife the series of live recordings bearing his name and much beloved by Deadheads to this day.

His centrality to the scene and the contribution he made the Grateful Dead phenomenon were as outsized as his ebullient personality, and his unwavering drive to care for the band’s recorded legacy made him one of the two dedicatees of Dennis McNally’s authorized band history, A Long Strange Trip, along with Jerry Garcia. As McNally said in an interview, “there’s God and His chief disciple … the dual dedication is very heartfelt. Garcia gave me my chance … And Dick was his great follower.” The Archive is most grateful to Rich and his mother Carol for this gift.