How to Talk to Your Indie Rocker Friends About Your Grateful Dead Past
Back in 2009, the National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner produced and curated the double-disc compilation Dark Was the Night. The proceeds from this double-disc compilation benefited the AIDS-fighting Red Hot Organization and featured a selection of indie rock bands from Spoon to Death Cab. Yesterday, the Dessers announced that they will be doing a second comp for Red Hot--but this one will be a Grateful Dead tribute.
Why oh why would they do this, you might be wondering. Some of you, however, might be wondering the opposite. As in: how wonderful that they are doing this but how can I hide my enthusiasm for this given that I must disguise my penchant for Grateful Dead-related topics from my hipster/indie friends? What follows is a guide to having this discussion, as well as a broader discussion about your shameful Grateful Dead past.
We'll go over fun facts to mention (such as: the fact that you can find a five-year-old Courtney Love pictured on the back sleeve of their 1969 release, Aoxomoxoa), as well as what not to mention (such as: fashion), and what to stress (their participation in the Acid Tests, as well as their interest in technological innovations such as the Wall of Sound and what was in 1997 referred to as "cyberspace"). So, here we go! The DOs and DON'Ts!
Phil Lesh and Donna Jean
DO be honest.
First, if your friends are not total assholes they will appreciate you for who you are. If you followed the Grateful Dead, now's the time to 'fess up. If you didn't but you wanted to, now is also the time to 'fess up. This comp, which (as you should remind your friends if they are being jerks) will benefit a charity that fights AIDS, is as good a conversation starter as any.
Grateful Dead ticket stubs
DO contextualize the Grateful Dead within the larger framework of American live music history.
The Grateful Dead, like it or not, was the most successful touring band in contemporary history. The Grateful Dead was always, first and foremost, a live act, playing nearly every weekend for thirty years for an average of around 77 times per year. There were, of course, exceptions, like in 1975, where they performed only five times the entire year. Still. That's a pretty impressive schedule and we are hard-pressed to think of another band that could fill stadiums throughout the U.S., weekend after weekend, year after year, for as long as the Dead did.
The Wall of Sound was built exclusively for the Grateful Dead to use on tour. It was considered the largest live sound system in use at the time, and they toured with it from 1974 to 1976.
DO mention that the Grateful Dead was also on the cutting edge of technology.
From participating in the Acid Tests to creating the Wall of Sound to experimenting with MIDI to a 1997 attempt to construct a virtual version of Terrapin Station, the Dead (and their fans) was always an innovator. Long before music executives were having conniptions about trading mp3s online, the Grateful Dead invited fans to tape live concerts and trade them amongst themselves, recognizing that the experience of being at a live show was a far cry to listening to it on tape, and furthermore, that it was "easy enough to restrict the real experience of the desirable event to those willing to pay for being there." Forward thinking, no?
DON'T mention the fashion.
Maybe leave that part out.
Back cover of Aoxomoxoa. Fun fact: Courtney Love is one of the kids in this picture. Can you guess which one she is?
DO play your indie friends some Grateful Dead songs if they seem sufficiently interested.
Might we be so bold as to suggest selections from Aoxomoxoa or Workingman's Dead if you will be using a studio album? (And if you use Aoxomoxoa, perhaps you could invite your friends to guess which of the children on the back cover is Courtney Love?)
DON'T be ashamed of your sordid Grateful Dead past (except for maybe the fashion.)
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