I first saw the Grateful Dead in concert during the summer of 1980. I was 17 years old. It was a pivotal experience in my life. The band's music, particularly the songs written by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, have been a big part of my life ever since. Garcia could play notes on a guitar that would put tears in my eyes. His death in 1995 remains the only time I have ever felt personal loss over someone I never even met. Whatever the remaining band members decided to do, I knew that my ride on The Bus was pretty much over.
Now we have proof that the soul of the band died with him. Despite decades of a liberal policy on Deadheads' sharing of concert recordings, the Dead organization has moved to stop downloads (NYT registration required) from the Internet Archive, a virtual treasure trove of live shows.
The band's mouthpiece, Dennis McNally, gave the official line: "One-to-one community building, tape trading, is something we've always been about. The idea of a massive one-stop Web site that does not build community is not what we had in mind. Our conclusion has been that it doesn't represent Grateful Dead values."
What a load of horseshit. What doesn't represent the current values of the Dead is competition with the official vault releases they grind out on three-CD sets every month. True Deadheads have always traded live recordings and still commonly bought official releases from Grateful Dead Merchandising.
We believed in these guys. We went to the shows, we traded the tapes, we bought the albums and took pride in a relationship of trust between the band and its fans. Now we have to face the fact that Jerry was the spiritual leader of the group more than we ever knew. When he died, he took the heart of a wonderful 30-year experiment with him.
It wasn't always about greed. This was the band that paid college tuition for the children of its office staff. They founded and funded The Rex Foundation. They were the first band to provide medical and dental benefits for their staff and crew. They kept concert ticket prices at a fair level. Hell, they once played a show just to raise money because one of their roadies needed money for a down payment on a house.
Next thing we knew, Jerry was gone and they were fighting over his guitars.
I've already signed the online petition protesting this latest development. If you're a Dead fan, you should too.
Jerry, we miss you more than ever.