On the Bus, Off the Bus : Material Culture and Deadhead Identity
MetadataShow full item record
At the end of the final tour before guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the Grateful Dead swiftly responded to a gate crashing incident with an open letter to fans. When a rowdy bunch of newcomers threaten to "screw it up for you, us and everybody," the band was insistent that the audience "act like Dead Heads." What did this mean? What did it mean to be a Deadhead? And what kept this heterogenous community together through the many challenges it faced over the years? This monograph is in part an attempt to answer these questions. There is already an incredible amount of detailed, insightful scholarship on the Deadhead phenomenon, much of which is refreshingly interdisciplinary. Notably absent, however, is an in-depth examination of the material culture of the Dead and the Deadheads. Almost every scholar includes some mention of tie-dye shirts or Guatemalan pants, for example, but no investigation of the causes and consequences of this material culture so markedly different from the norm. This monograph is intended to be an initial foray into this fascinating discussion in the hopes of sparking further interest and study. With that in mind, the first two sections of this paper will intentionally ignore material culture and instead provide a broad historical and anthropological framework through which to understand the later resumption of this main theme. The next two sections make up the bulk of this text and are the primary site of the author’s own research. The first of these sections seeks to understand Deadhead material culture in the times and spaces Deadheads were most often together: the times "on the bus," attending shows with other Heads. The second deals with material culture when Deadheads were "off the bus" and for the most part separated from the bulk of other Deadheads. Grouping material culture in this way is clearly an artificial construction, but highlights the interplay between the vast amounts of Deadhead material culture extant. The final section focuses on the time from the "Touch of Grey" phenomenon of 1987 until Jerry's death in 1995, using material culture as a lens through which to view the intricacies of Deadhead identity in this tumultuous time. In this way, the author demonstrates the utility of material culture as an analytical lens and point the way toward a better understanding of Deadhead identity as a whole.