Were You a “Dead-Head?”
CIRCA 1960: Photo of Grateful Dead Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
If you were a dead-head, that means you were an uber-fan of the Grateful Dead! The Grateful Dead was a psychedelic rock band from yesteryear that emerged in 1965 during the counterculture era. They were known for their unique, eclectic style of music ranging from rock, jazz, country and folk, to bluegrass, blues and reggae. They embodied the essence of the spirit of that era; the spirit being … just be yourself and do what makes you happy!
Dead-heads were self-proclaimed die-hard fans and groupies of the Grateful Dead. They followed the band and their successes as well as physically following them from concert to concert. The “Dead,” as the group was often called, had a fan-base like no other. True fans were so “over the top” for the group and couldn’t get enough of their music; especially the lengthy “jamming” they were known for. The Grateful Dead was one of those pioneer bands known for displaying their instrumental talent by showcasing expertise on their instruments with impressive solos.
The Grateful Dead was known for their signature emblem of a skeleton. Dead-heads would know that iconic logo, anywhere, even without any words to describe it.
The term "dead-head" was coined by, Hank Harrison, author of The Dead Trilogy, in 1971. The copy read:
“DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you? Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed. Dead Heads, P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California 94901.”
From that historic moment and following, dead-heads took on a life of their own and developed their own expressions and slang. They were somewhat of a brotherhood/sisterhood alliance. It was as if the fans were an extension of the group, itself!
In the 1970’s, dead-heads began to be known for wearing and selling tie-dyed t-shirts as well as other items, including veggie burritos, at concerts … yes, veggie burritos. This, being a way to raise money to continue to follow the band. It was similar to a cult-like following. Burritos? Crazy, right? Burritos or not… fans were passionate!
The dead-head phenomenon was first, formally recognized in 1971, in a publication by the Village Voice, an American news and culture paper. The paper was known as being the country’s first alternative to mainstream publications. It reported, "how many 'regulars' seemed to be in attendance, and how, from the way they compared notes, they'd obviously made a determined effort to see as many shows as possible". “Pockets” of dead-heads started popping up all over the country. They were known to load up buses full of fans and travel, far and wide, following the Grateful Dead; camping out for the chance to see their beloved band.
Over the years, much dead-head related memorabilia has been received and collected by the band and has been memorialized in the Grateful Dead Archive. The band continually, and faithfully tracked the mailings and fan letters it received over the years and reported many pleasant accounts of their impact on the growth and development of modern music. They have been credited with helping mainstream America to understand the counterculture and always valued their fans.
The band also challenged the expected norm when it came to the “regular set” a band would play when in concert. Sets were randomly changed-up and encores could be expected… or not. The Grateful Dead knew that America was ready to make the change from the expected to the unexpected. It was time and they delivered!
If you were/are a dead-head, you know exactly what I am talking about. The Grateful Dead exuded a vibe that was part of an era, shaping and enriching our souls and minds. Despite any other affiliations, we were able to come together on this level, although it may have been intangible.
Jerry Garcia has long been known as the “front man” of the Grateful Dead. Although he has since passed on, his legacy continues to live.
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