The Dead will never die.
Most bands are just bands. They make catchy music that a portion of the population likes, they make a comfortable living off this music, and when they inevitably break up or die off them and their music are done. However, a handful of truly remarkable bands transcend just being a band and become something much more. These few bands overcome the death of the actual band and continue to live on.
The Grateful Dead are one of these bands. The Grateful Dead began creating music as the house band at Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests (huge LSD parties that author Ken Kesey threw when acid was still legal) in 1965 and continued to make music for decades until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. Throughout this time they played over 3,500 concerts, released 14 studio albums, and released over 40 live albums. This by itself is an impressive feat for a band by their sheer massive volume of music isn’t what makes them truly great, It was their ability to create songs that’s meanings evolved as the listener evolved.
I am a perfect example of Dead continuing to live. I have never been to a true Grateful Dead concert and unfortunately I will never be able to have this honor, but yet the Grateful Dead have affected me in ways that rivals any living person today. They have helped through their messages of positivity and helping each other to live a more positive and accepting life. They have taught me how to better handle the bumps in life.
One of the hardest times in my life was when my best friend from high school went to rehab in Ohio. Prescription pill abuse was very prevalent in my high school and unfortunately my best friend fell victim to it. Through what he called “harmless experimentation” he became a daily user of xanax and 30mg Oxycodone “M” boxes as well as an occasional user of cocaine. I remember the day that he came to me and my other best friend and told us that he officially realized he had a problem. He told us that he had told his parents and that they were coming to get him and taking him to a rehab in Ohio. After he left me and my friend sat there in silence. I put on a Dead record in order to try and get my mind off of my best friend leaving. The Dead song “he’s gone” came on. I went to change it because previously i had thought of it as a sad song about someone leaving, but as i listened to the lyrics again the meaning changed for me. The lyrics were
“Now he’s gone, now he’s gone Lord he’s gone, he’s gone.
Like a steam locomotive, rollin’ down the track
He’s gone, gone, nothin’s gonna bring him back…He’s gone.
Goin’ where the wind don’t blow so strange,
Maybe off on some high cold mountain chain.”
The meaning of the song evolved for me. The singer was no longer sad because the person was leaving, he was happy. Because of my new experiences I connected my friend with the steam locomotive. He was “rollin” towards a new future. One that didn’t hold all the negativity of where he was from. The possibilities were endless and the Dead helped me realize this. It turned what was one of the darkest things in my life at that time to a positive.
The Dead’s music has the ability to evolve with the listener. With each new experience the listener feels a new, but just as strong connection with the song. It is this ability that makes the dead endure. A parent can listen to a Grateful Dead song with their child and they can both enjoy it, even if it is for two completely different reasons. That is why the dead will survive.
I Believe in the Grateful Dead and I believe in their ability to remain important long after all the members are dead and gone.