When I was young, before Jerry Garcia had touch of gray and Jam Band Culture errupted, I used to count on something in my dealings with Deadheads I called the Grateful Dead Package Deal. I was never a Deadhead or anything close to it, but their culture, shall we say, had a few features that I found stimulating.
The Grateful Dead Package Deal was my way of determining how I might navigate any musical discussions with Deadheads, particularly attractive Deadhead women and Deadheads who were “holding” at the present time, which was all the time. In these cases, I didn’t want to be the guy who lashed out with one of those “I hate the Dead!” tirades that Angry, Young Mr. Moderator may have had on his mind. I could always say I liked “Bertha”, and after having seen the band live, I gained an appreciation for Phil Lesh’s bass playing. That was about all I could hang onto the night I saw them in 1981 or 1982.
Certain patterns in the tastes of Deadheads, beyond their 257 bootleg Dead tapes from Red Rocks, emerged, some of which I could use to make me seem a little more sympathetic should a music conversation arise. They seemed to like The Band, for starters, which was a godsend. I can’t tell you how many cultural transactions took place over a brief discussion on The Band. Deadheads may have only liked them for the sloppy, contented values of “Up on Cripple Creek”, which they may not have distinguished it from Neil Young‘s “Cripple Creek Ferry”, but at least my end of the discussion was sincere.
After that I had to stretch. Subscription to the Grateful Dead Package Deal came with a copy of Bob Marley‘s Greatest Hit. At the time I didn’t appreciate Marley, and I resented the fact that he was the token black artist (not including the rocking Jimi Hendrix) that so many numbskull white rock fans professed to love in the ’70s. I had to hold my tongue when that hits album was thrown on the platter at a Deadhead gathering. I could enjoy “No Woman, No Cry” to the point that I could block out visions of grinning Deadheads hugging and doing that Dead Dance while Bob sang out the chorus.
Little Feat came with the package. Although I was never a fan of Little Feat, I secretly admired their anal, overly thought arrangements. Although admired by Deadheads, the members of Little Feat didn’t strike me as grinning, hugging in the parking lot types. They had big beards and guts, which probably attracted Deadheads to them, but they struck me as being more like Steely Dan than the Dead. Maybe our Little Feat fans can better fill me on on what the heck that band was all about. Nevertheless, their music made sense to me, which enabled me to converse on their merits, if not sincerely, rationally.
Some Deadheads liked Traffic. The coolest of Deadheads knew the full scope of the band’s work, which I’ve always liked, but even when faced with those Deadheads who only knew “Feelin’ Alright” and “Glad”, I could converse with sincerity.
Jerry and the other Dead musicians did their share of offshoot collaborations, but Angry, Young Mr. Moderator could never process that David guy who played mandolin, Merle Saunders, and the like. Bob Weir was my least favorite member of the Dead, so his ’80s collaborations with the bassist who played with Lou Reed did nothing for me as well. Beside, by that point the band had that touch of gray, and I’d moved beyond having any need for a insincere talking points regarding the Dead.
In the days before Phish and their subsequent spawn of jam bands to fill the great void of the Dead, do you recall being faced with Grateful Dead Package Deal issues? Am I missing any bands that might have come with a subscription? Are there other bands with associated cultures for whom you’ve had to rely on a package deal?