For 40 years, there has been no flock more faithful than the Deadheads. Our loyalty to the Grateful Dead and its members has known no bounds: We embraced them during their glory days and supported them during the darkest times. When others mocked the band’s improvisational mélange of rock, folk, country, blues, and reggae, we defended them and kept on dancing. When the band experienced loss, it was ours too — we mourned with them when Pigpen, Keith Godchaux, Brent Mydland, and Jerry Garcia slipped the mortal coil. And even when we criticized the band and/or its members, it was done from a place of respect and love.
Times change, for some.
From Rolling Stone:
Grateful Dead fans, perhaps rock’s most dedicated bunch, are taking a stand against the band they love. Until recently, Deadheads could download countless live recordings of the band for free from third-party sites, including the popular Live Music Archive, which once hosted nearly 3,000 Grateful Dead shows. All of the downloads were pulled last week at the request of Grateful Dead Merchandising (GDM), the group that handles official products for the band and is overseen by its surviving members.
Deadheads have answered in protest. In an online petition, fans have pledged to boycott GDM — including CDs and concert tickets — until the decision is reversed.
GDM, an organization we made sure to support even when funds were low, has gone the way of filthy lucre, many charge. Now, the marketing arm of the Grateful Dead, which still tours as The Dead, sells live-music downloads through its online store. According to Rolling Stone, the move may be a non-compete strike — or it could be the beginning of a long-rumored deal with iTunes that will make the entire Grateful Dead live vault available for purchase.
This flies in the face of longstanding tradition. The Grateful Dead was one of the first bands to allow fans to record its live performances. We were encouraged to share and trade tapes so as to spread the positive vibe of Dead music. And we accepted the band’s admonishment — official recordings were available for purchase, but recordings of live shows (except for record-company ones) were not to be sold for any reason.
From the petition, which bears thousands of signatures:
Now it appears doing the right thing, for the fans, has given way to greed … We’ve lost all respect for this organization … We refuse to support any aspect of GDM until we see change.
My friend David Gans, a loyal Deadhead and fine musician and songwriter who hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “Grateful Dead Hour” and an author who blogs at Playback, is defending GDM to a point.
“The howling has begun, and the sense of entitlement that has always concerned me is in full flower,” he writes, explaining that Grateful Dead Productions, the business side of the organization, is dealing with serious financial woes and recently laid off many of its longtime employees.
Many are quoting the famous Jerry Garcia statement, ‘Once we’re done with it, you can have it,’ or words to that effect.
I think we need to get a little perspective here.
First of all, when Jerry said that – and he said it more than once, so we know he meant it – tape trading was an important aspect of life in the Deadhead community. It was a one-to-one affair, for the most part, and although there were some social pathologies in evidence, it was largely a manifestation of our love for the music and our desire to enlighten the world and turn our friends on.
That is a far cry from what is happening now. The internet Archive and all the other online distribution sources are high-speed, mass-distribution systems that make the best quality recording available to all who know where to look for them. That is a good thing, of course, culturally – but there is an economic element to this that must be taken into account.
David is correct on that score — and in his criticism that GDM should have been more forthcoming in explaining the controversial decision to its devoted fans. (An official statement from the band is expected to come soon.)
Still, it must be noted that tape trading is still allowed. The good vibes can continue to spread Dead music and messages on a one-to-one basis. And the Live Music Archive, down the road, is expected to offer online streaming of thousands of fan recordings. So things are not as bleak as they seem.
“I think it’s worthwhile to ask ourselves if there isn’t some greed on the other side of the equation,” David writes.
A fair point worth considering. In the end, though, I don’t believe most ‘Heads are being greedy. Change is hard, even when the reasons behind the change make it necessary. Protesting Deadheads are expressing their sadness and anger. They have that right.
I, like others, am sad about the news. But I will sign no petition until I am absolutely sure that it is the right and fair thing to do. In this case, I suspect it is not. I suggest other Deadheads take a break to give the matter serious thought before taking action against the band they love.