'Deadheads' display distinct signs of life
by Fred Contrada
Monday, November 26, 2007
I recognize "Mountain Girl" right away, although I have never seen her before.
The student ballroom at the University of Massachusetts is filled
with senior citizens sporting silver ponytails and tie-dyed shirts,
"Deadheads" come to "grok" the weekend symposium on their favorite
band, but still she stands out. She is dressed vaguely gypsy and
wears her hair in a gray bun, but it's not her clothes and hair that
single her out as the long-time wife of Jerry Garcia and arguably the
original hippie chick.
I simply know it's her.
Wes Blixt introduces us. Years ago, Wes was a reporter for this
paper; now he's at UMass where, among other duties, he has taken it
upon himself to help organize the biggest academic symposium on the
Grateful Dead to date.
Herb Greene, who did most of the band's album cover photos, is here.
So is Dan Healy, the Dead's sound engineer. Bill Walton, a Hall of
Fame basketball player and "Deadhead" extraodinaire, is due to show
up any minute. The list goes on and on.
If you're not a "Deadhead," these might be just a bunch of names.
However, if you are part of the extended family that followed the
Grateful Dead for decades in beat-up buses and designated channels of
the mindstream, this weekend is nirvana.
Although I myself have never attended a Grateful Dead concert, I know
some of the mythology. "Mountain Girl" was on the original bus, the
one that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters drove cross country in
1964, spreading the psychedelic message that formed the basis of the
hippie movement. She had a daughter named Sunshine with Kesey, then
married Garcia and had two more girls.
After Garcia died in 1995, "Mountain Girl" was left with his
considerable legacy, which includes people coming out of the woodwork
to share their favorite trips with her, no matter that they took
place 30 years ago.
Her more formal name is Carolyn Adams Garcia, and when she takes a
seat next to me, the Deadheads at my table swallow their gum and
address her as "Mrs. Garcia." I confess that I really wanted to meet
her for the karma, but I have a couple of questions she graciously answers.
Like, "Is there anything you did that you wouldn't want your kids to do?"
"Riding motorcycles while impaired," she says. "That would be the main one."
I'm not sure what "impaired" means, but my guess is there were colors
involved. "Mountain Girl" has done it all and lived to tell about it.
Now, post Jerry, she lives a fairly normal life. She has a house in
the country in Oregon and is proud of her grown children, all of whom
turned out to be artists. She admits she has never pondered some of
the topics discussed at the symposium, such as "Hell in a Bucket:
Critical Theory and Dead Philosophy."
"Mountain Girl" doesn't blink when I ask her age. She's 61.
A few minutes later, "Mountain Girl" is up on stage with Walton and
Healy, telling stories.
Wes and I once pushed a car around a barrio in Chile under a full
moon, trying to pop the clutch so we could make it home after six
days in the high Andes. These guys, I'm afraid, have us beat.
It seems there was this Grateful Dead concert amid the pyramids of
Egypt. It started at midnight and at 2 a.m. there was a total lunar
eclipse. At dawn, when the concert ended, "Mountain Girl" and Garcia
and Kesey and Walton and the rest of them rode camels into the desert
where tents full of food and drink awaited them.
Some people have all the fun.
Before slipping away, I go down into the Campus Center basement to
check out the Grateful Dead photo exhibit. Herb Greene has this one
black-and-white shot of "Mountain Girl" and Jerry. She must be 20
years old in the picture, but I recognize her right away. Don't ask me how.
Fred Contrada is a staff writer with The Republican. He can be
reached at email@example.com
UMass gets dose of Grateful Dead at symposium
By Kristin Palpini
Published on November 23, 2007
AMHERST - For many fans of the Grateful Dead, the band's songs are
more than music, they're a home.
The wandering rock guitar rifts of Jerry Garcia, the deep, soulful
voice of Bob Weir, the driving bass lines of Phil Lesh and the primal
drumming of Mickey Hart built a kind of mobile home for the band's
estimated 500,000 diehard fans, the Deadheads.
This musical community and why the Dead keeps on trucking is the
subject of symposium last weekend at the University of Massachusetts.
"Unbroken Chain" explored the band's social, economic, musical and
historic impact on America.
"It's really about one thing: getting your mind blown," said Jeffrey
King, a 46-year-old Merrick, N.Y., man who has attended 300 Grateful
Dead concerts. "When something like (the Grateful Dead's music)
occurs in a group of people, a sense of community, musicianship and
intellectualism is born."
On Friday morning, King, along with hundreds of Deadheads from around
the country, congregated at UMass for the symposium's inaugural
address, "Strangers Stopping Strangers: The Deadhead Community."
The gathering felt more like a family reunion than an academic
festival, as people dressed in jeans, well-worn sweaters, Bohemian
shirts and vests hugged each other and shared concert stories.
Why thousands of people, separated by hundreds of miles and a lack of
communication between concerts, have formed a thriving subculture
that persists are among the questions that University of North
Carolina sociology professor Rebecca Adams tried to address in
"Strangers Stopping Strangers."
Adams leads the Deadhead Community Project, a collection of
sociological field notes and surveys collected by Adams and some of
her students beginning in 1989. The research has since been condensed
into five analytical books.
Deadheads, Adams explained, elevated the band's music from mere
albums to a subculture based on the spiritual experience of attending
Grateful Dead shows.
"The music brought people together, even though they didn't live near
one another. Their friendship was the basis for the portable
community," said Adams, who is an unabashed Deadhead.
"It's difficult to explain how we all feel inside," Adams said,
trying to give words to what it is like to listen to the Grateful
Dead. "It's like talking about or describing why we love another person."
Deadheads had a lot to bond and form friendships over, Adams said. In
addition to their love of the Dead's wildly improvised, but fluid
music, the fans connected over their dedication to charity (providing
free food, concert tickets and shelter, among other things, to fellow
concertgoers), the "dirty hippie" stigma attached to the group by
non-fans, and drug use.
But perhaps the most important link between Deadheads is
spirituality, the feeling that attending a Grateful Dead concert is a
religious and enlightening experience.
"It's a multilayered experience for true Deadheads," said Paul
Freedman, 58, of Washington, D.C., trying to describe the importance
of the Dead's music. "It's like flat land and then the Dead comes
along and says, 'No you're a cube, man.' It opens up different
dimensions, different ways to think about things, to experience
things. It's not just music, it's a live culture."
"Unbroken Chain" is part of a semester-long graduate history seminar
titled "American Beauty: Music, Culture and Society, 194595," and an
undergraduate course titled "How Does the Song Go: The Grateful Dead
as a Window into American Culture."
The Grateful Dead study was made possible by Dennis McNally, the
Grateful Dead's longtime publicist, who earned his doctorate in
history at UMass in 1978.
"We all know this is a special trip," McNally said in his opening
remarks Friday. "I'm very proud to come back here and do this."
In the future, UMass plans to hold similar studies that focus
intensely on a single aspect of American culture.
"I was afraid people would look at this as a joke, not as a rigorous
academic investigation, just some aging hippies back on campus," said
John Mullin, dean of the UMass graduate school. "We're here because
this is a new way of giving knowledge. This will be the first of [a
number of] deep interdisciplinary looks into different cultural
aspects of life."
Symposium activities included more than 50 presenters for 20 panel
sessions, ranging from music composition and improvisation to an
examination of the band's business model. The weekend also included
concerts, gallery exhibits and presentations.
Grateful Dead Tribute
By: Coby Kalter, Collegian Correspondent
Issue date: 11/20/07
It's hard to sum up the lives, experiences and thoughts of a
community whose hearts have been touched by the Grateful Dead, but
this weekend's "Unbroken Chain: The Grateful Dead in Music, Culture
and Memory" public symposium came close.
The symposium was a phenomenal experience that took attendees on a
journey through the life of the band as well as through the life of
its fans and the culture it spawned. Through different aspects of the
Grateful Dead's life and culture, a vast amount of lessons in the
arts, social sciences, engineering and business fields were to be
learned. Dean John Mullin said it best when he explained how he was
trying to "cross-fertilize" different academics through the Grateful
Dead in order to bring a new type of class to the University of Massachusetts.
Rebecca Adams, professor in sociology at the University of North
Carolina at Greensboro and co-author of "Deadhead Social Science: You
Ain't Gonna Learn What You Don't Want to Know," helped start off the
weekend with a look into the Deadhead society. With firsthand
experience in the field from following the Grateful Dead around the
country on tour, she was able to give different reasons for their
difference from any other band. She also gave insight into the
different kinds of fans there were and included a map of what areas
fans can be found in at shows.
One panel during the weekend was about the media and its perception
of the Grateful Dead of "hardly ever cool," as Steve Silberman,
co-author of "Skeleton Key: a Dictionary for Deadheads," explained.
David Gans, host of the Grateful Dead hour radio show, explained that
some journalists would sometimes only go to the parking lots of shows
and find a story there and never actually go into the show. This
often led to bad criticism of the band.
A solution to this problem was creating media by Deadheads that would
go out to other Deadheads. John Dwork, a Hampshire College graduate,
helped to do just that as the creator of Dupree's Diamonds, a
magazine that reported on happenings within the Deadhead community.
Further into the symposium, Dan Healy, the band's tech specialist,
spoke about his time with the Grateful Dead and how his understanding
of sound technology affected the band. He explained that what he and
his crew were doing with the band was "frontier work" because they
were trying to incorporate many different visions with one sound
system, which had never been done before.
He went on to say that the "audience was always part of the show"
because they were trying to put them on the same "sound trip" that
they were on. Healy said that Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist of the
band, would call the sound they produced "quintaphonic sound" which
is now known as surround sound.
Other panels during the symposium included a deeper look into the
lyrics of the band's works, a breakdown and search for meaning in the
band's improvisational style and an introspective into 1960s
counterculture and society. These panels further helped piece
together what the Grateful Dead were truly all about.
Another keynote speaker was the Grateful Dead's own publicist and a
UMass graduate, Dennis McNally. He described the Grateful Dead
experience as "both dionysian and improvisation." These two terms
really capture the essence of what the Grateful Dead were all about.
A "rich and complex phenomenon" is how McNally described the Dead's
cultural and musical effects on America. He then went into his
experience with the members of the band, saying that they "prized
thought" and were "a cult of intellect."
"We were all the Grateful Dead," he said.
The highlight of the conference was a panel consisting of Carolyn
Adams Garcia (Mountain Girl), Jerry's first wife, Dan Healy and
former NBA great and notable Deadhead Bill Walton. They discussed
their trip to Egypt and other memorable times they shared on tour. As
they reminisced, the audience felt the joy of these experiences and
laughed right along with the panelists. It was this highlight event
that really echoed the presence of the Deadhead family that had
gathered on campus.
Throughout the conference, galleries were open, displaying
photographs taken by Susanna Millman, Herb Greene and Lloyd Wolf of
the band and fans at concerts; paintings commemorating the essence of
the Grateful Dead by Mikio Kennedy and Mike Dubois and Jerry Garcia's
The array of panels, speakers and galleries really captured the
Grateful Dead's impact on many peoples' lives. Learning from
different experiences of how they encountered the band and how they
affected the Deadhead community was truly inspiring to any fan. These
presentations also displayed the effect the band itself had on
American culture. For any Deadhead, this was truly a historic weekend.
Coby Kalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.