Friday, March 12, 2010

The Grateful Dead

I guess it was inevitable. I teach a class that focuses on utopian and dystopian representations of California, so how could I avoid the Grateful Dead?

A while back I met David Gans, host of "The Grateful Dead Hour" (syndicated) and "Dead to the World" (KPFA). That started me pondering the band and its story. Since then, I've been reading the books, listening to the CDs, watching the films, visiting the website, and generally immersing myself in that world.

One of the attractions, I think, is the sheer volume of material and its multi-sensory appeal. You can read, watch, and listen forever. When the Grateful Dead archive opens at UC Santa Cruz (scheduled for next year), I may find myself on its doorstep. Maybe people will bring their sleeping bags and line up outside.

Both Ramparts and the Dead emerged from the same Palo Alto-San Francisco axis, so the points of contact are certainly there. But the Grateful Dead saga is an even fuller articulation of the utopian-dystopian aspect of California culture.

If you'd like a little taste of that, check out Festival Express (2004). It's a documentary about a Canadian tour in 1970 that included the Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Band. A private train, the Festival Express, transported them from gig to gig. As the Amazon description puts it, "In five days' time, the festival played in three Canadian cities with the entire conglomeration traveling, playing, and getting smashed together the whole way."

The screen grab above is from one of my favorite scenes. It shows a very wasted Rick Danko, Janis, and Jerry singing "Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos." Given what I've read about Garcia, he probably couldn't have been happier traveling, playing, and partying with other musicians around the clock. Every once in a while they got off the train to do a concert.



At 3:09 PM , Blogger Hipstorian said...

Peter - Loved your book on Ramparts. Can't figure out how to get in touch except by leaving a blog comment. - RBM

At 9:24 PM , Blogger Peter Richardson said...

Thanks so much, Hipstorian (Rachel?). You can reach me at peter_richardson (at)


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