Hell Hath No Fury…

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.

David continues,

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.


5 thoughts on “Hell Hath No Fury…

  1. High Natalie…

    I have considered signing, like you, but I think that a compromise should be reached… The Grateful Dead always encouraged trading, and I believe that this should continue. Perhaps the “New” Dead should charge for their archives, and let the “Sacred Years” (1965-1995) alone.

    This might encourage ‘donations’ from Original DeadHeads such as you and I and the many more fans from years gone by to help continue what the Rex Foundation was originally all about.

    Times have changed, and with the Death of Jerry many things can never be the same.

    It’s very sad that eras have to come to an end, but unfortunately, that’s what life is all about.

    Peace, Love & Light,

  2. Hey RD! Hoping all is well.

    The good news is that tape trading is still A-OK.

    And a statement appears on Phil Lesh’s site:

    “It was brought to my attention that all of the Grateful Dead shows were taken down from Archive.org right before Thanksgiving. I was not part of this decision making process and was not notified that the shows were to be pulled. I do feel that the music is the Grateful Dead’s legacy and I hope that one way or another all of it is available for those who want it . I have enjoyed using Archive.org and found it invaluable during the writing of my book. I found myself being pulled back in time listening to old Grateful Dead shows while giggling with glee or feeling that ache in my heart listening to Jerry’s poetic guitar and sweet voice.

    We are musicians not businessmen and have made good and bad decisions on our journey. We do love and care about our community as you helped us make the music. We could not have made this kind of music without you as you allowed us to play “without a net”. Your love, trust and patience made it possible for us to try again the next show when we couldn’t get that magic carpet off the ground. Your concerns have been heard and I am sure are being respectfully addressed.”

  3. Hi everyone, I just started this petition and am starting this blog so people can talk and debate about the issue here ad infinitum.

    Here is the petition:

    Grateful Dead music inspires in its fans an extraordinary passion, hence this news of pulling the archive is breaking the heart of thousands of people today. We see the Grateful Dead historically as a representation of something pure and good. In order to love something so much, you have to trust it. Despite the stereotypes and social mockery, we have proudly remained fans of the Grateful Dead for all these years, defending it and ourselves because we knew in our heart that that this music we are following is good, and pure. Some say we have no right to protest this mid-game ‘changing of the rules.’ But what those people are not accounting for is the MILLIONS of hours that Deadheads have collectively spent in combining, uploading, remastering, patching flawed recordings…..voluntarily, and out of love, and trusting that it would be shared freely. In our opinion, to at this point stop the free sharing of these recordings is so sad, and so wrong. Jerry is gone, and he has no say, and we all know what he would have said. This is unfair to us. So much work has gone into building the archive. Please let it stand.

    You can sign it here:

  4. Thanks for sharing the link, Spinneresque. I really feel for those who uploaded files and hope that, as Phil said, the GDM folks will be able to reach some sort of fair compromise with the ‘Heads. This darkness got to give…

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