Why the Grateful Dead Matter

 Why the Grateful Dead Matter

By Lou Pastina

Recently, a soundbite has been making the social media rounds, it includes the Chairman of the Federal Reserve testifying in Congress on the state of the economy. One of the Senators asks Chairman Powell if he caught the recent Dead & Company tour, to which he replied, yes, he did. I was flabbergasted! Further, the Chairman reported that he has been a life-long Dead fan and really enjoyed the show. I told this story to the mermaid, and she asked me what is it about the Dead that fascinates people, is it the drug culture? And I said, no, it has nothing to do with that, except for some fringe elements. The allure of the Dead is the music and the community that binds together like-thinking people. I don’t mean that everyone is a liberal, or a conservative, or even a Democrat or Republican, or is even black or white, it’s more a state on mind.

The Dead came to be during that transition between Jack Keourac and Ken Kesey, the Beat Generation, and the Hippie Generation. They took elements of folk, rock, jazz, symphonic sounds and put them altogether in one big jambalaya of Americana. They never played the same show twice. They allowed all their shows to be taped and to be shared among fans well ahead of Napster or Apple Music. Yes, they have played horrible shows where nothing seems to fit, and the notes crash into each other. But, so many shows are sterling examples of musicianship and extemporaneous expressions of pure joy. The Dead have transcended generational lines, with fathers taking daughters and moms taking sons to shows that sometimes include grandkids. Playing four hour shows night after night is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not achievable if one is always high on drugs. It takes discipline, it takes musicianship, it takes total commitment to the craft and to the fans.

The chief economist on CNBC Steve Liesman plays in the Stella Blues Band, a Grateful Dead cover band, and they are very good. It cracks me up to listen to him explain what the Federal Reserve Chairman just did in raising interest rates, when both the Chairman and the economist are huge Dead fans. The Dead are more than just the sum of their parts, they are more than just Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir or Phil Lesh.  They are a concept that says it’s ok to experiment with the music, take it to a place no one has gone before, stretch the boundaries a bit, and see what happens. I know some people get uncomfortable with that. I get it; every song has a beginning, middle and end. But isn’t it fun to play with those concepts a bit?

In general, Deadheads are mellow, are interested in having a good time, enjoying the music and are not anarchists. I think when they first started, coming out of San Francisco during the Haight Ashbury days, there was a tendency to label the Dead as this or that. But after over 50 years of playing, they have outlasted most musicians and genres of styles. They are their own force of nature. They can be a dance band, a jazz band, a blues band, an acoustic band.  They can do it all. Yes, several members met tragic ends, but their members were a microcosm of what the world looks like. Not everyone makes it; it’s as simple as that.

I remember when the Beach Boys were banned from the White House because they were considered an evil rock band. Could you imagine? I remember when a President invited the Allman Brothers to the White House. I am hoping one day we get a President who is a Grateful Dead fan.  Then, I know we will be alright, because a Dead fan will always be kind and would probably always try to do the right thing.

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