I was not a Grateful Dead fan growing up. I listened to only Top 40 until I got to college and even then, the Grateful Dead was still a little too out there for a kid from the South. I was afraid of them for some reason. Maybe it was the drug culture, maybe it was the long hair, maybe I was just an idiot. I knew some of the bigger songs, of course, like “Truckin’” or “Casey Jones” or “Uncle John’s Band” or “Sugar Magnolia,” but that was about it.
Then when I started working at Billboard, some of my colleagues were rabid fans and I realized I’d really missed out. Their fans weren’t all major stoners who followed the band around and sold toast on a stick in the parking lot at the shows. And so what if they were? How great to feel so passionate about a band that you wanted to see them as many times as you could.
When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, I had friends who could not stop crying. It was like a death in the family for them and the end of an era that would never come again, no matter how much other jam bands tried to fill the void.
One of big regrets is that I never saw them live. They would take over Madison Square Garden when I lived in New York for a series of shows and even though I could have walked to MSG from our offices, I never went.
Two years ago, I wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times about the band’s push into merchandising. The remaining members had put the new record executive in charge of licensing their image through his paces. He was an incredible Deadhead. He was able to answer questions about obscure songs like “Victim or The Crime” and that’s how he gained their trust. I interviewed Mickey Hart for the piece and it remains one of my favorite interviews. What the band did in terms of building a community, not just with its fans but with everyone who worked with them, was groundbreaking. They have such a legacy of giving back, especially in the San Francisco area.
On Saturday, Berkeley’s listener-sponsored radio station KPFA is holding its 27th annual Grateful Dead Marathon, “Dead to the World,” from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., hosted by David Gans. There is also an auction of GD memorabilia.
So today’s $10 goes to all my Deadhead friends and to help make up for all the years I missed out on some great music. Saturday's marathon will stream online live via KPFA's website, as well as on some partner websites. I'll be listening.
Feb. 21: KPFA
52 down, 313 to go