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Counter Culture Critique
Counter-Cultural Critique The psychedelic era is ancient history, but still you see them: people with shamelessly dated tastes in footwear who shop in the wrong places and dress themselves in impolitely colorful tie-dyed t- shirts printed with images of grinning skeletons sporting garlands of roses or the bearded and bespectacled image of Jerry Garcia. A large subclass of the last of the hippies were Deadheads - people who made the Grateful Dead their household religion and more or less organized their lives around their devotions. Thousands who were unborn or still in diapers when the members of the Grateful Dead first played together 3 decades ago learned tribal arts and laws of diet and hygiene that were lovingly preserved and handed down since the Summer of Love. Seen through nineties eyes, the hippies are an odd and anachronistic - but not entirely unenviable - lot. Sure, they sport unfashionably optimistic and fatalistic world-views, disdain anything remotely redolent of pop or mainstream culture, furnish their lives in low-rent rather than high-tech, and work at jobs rather than professions or careers so they can unplug from employment and residence any time they wanted to hit the road. That was one side of the Dead culture, an ambulatory environment, which allowed them to pack up and migrate with the herds of other Deadheads. That was what they valued, the mobility and free life.Many Deadheads were that way, but one shouldn t only remember the most visible Deadheads, the ones who flew their freak flags proudly. There were plenty that flew it on the inside while they participated more fully in mainstream society and economy. They worked at careers and professions, and participated in and contributed to conventional society. Although the most visible of the Dead's audience may have appeared at first glance to be little more than a blissed-out throng of hippies, there were plenty of Deadheads you wouldn't have minded being seen riding in a car with and with whom you could have had meaningful conversations on subjects ranging well beyond their plans for the New Year's shows or the quality of the pot they just got. There were Deadheads who played tennis, lived in fine homes, didn't smoke pot, and knew what things like T-Bills and Capital Gains were all about. There were Deadheads who drive BMWs, ate sushi and wore Armani suits. These followers held a different set of values that was more in tune with those of society, but not far off from those of the traveling hippies. My uncle, Brian O Hera was one of these. He lived a free-spirited life based on the love values of the hippies, but he was also working and became the president of a large reinsurance company. When he was young, during the summer before college, he went and followed the Grateful dead around the country in a bus of his own. One of the greatest times of my life, no worries, but when the summer ended, I knew it was time to go. He was one who liked the concerts and the life, but not for him. He had goals that he wanted to accomplish in life, and he did.The Grateful Dead was a band that inspired individuality and self-reliance; two traits that often came out in their music. "If there's any message in our songs;" says lyricist Robert Hunter, "it's think for yourself." For most Deadheads, a show was something to help keep life from getting too dull or too serious - an escape valve and a bright spot on the calendar. There was more to it than just music, obviously, but everything about the Deadhead phenomenon stemmed from the music, and it eventually came back to that: never mind the hit singles, the giant videos and smoke bombs, just play the music. That s what they did best. They performed different songs from show to show (their repertoire was more than a hundred songs strong) and they played each song differently from show to show. Deadhead culture mirrored the bands originality. The followers were just as unique as the songs played by the band, and never were they the same. The key element, the thing that set the Dead apart from any other rock band, was improvisation, the art of knowing what each band-member was going to play next, and playing with them. The Dead was an all-American musical melting pot, drawn from an astonishing variety of sources that undertook musical conversations in many voices at once. What each player said with his instrument was heard differently by each of the other band members and each person in the audience. The stately pace of a Dead concert was more like baseball than the hyperactive, aggressive tempo of football or heavy metal. It's music that suggests rather than insists, leaves plenty to the beholder's imagination, asks rather than declares. Every time they played the tone and content and dynamic contour were as different as the listeners in attendance.

The Grateful Dead gave people an alternative to corporate America, one without the stresses and worries, but freedom and fantastic optimism. This was a new course in many peoples lives, one that helped them find a reason to live. It gave lives meaning and others a vacation from societal standards, as the music was a rebellion against classical music, the Dead life was a rebellion against classical culture. Rock & roll has always been about rebellion, and the Dead were always about a very particular brand of rebellion. While Elvis' sexuality, Bob Dylan's protest songs, or the Sex Pistols' anger and nihilism was always overtly political, the Dead had always been seen, despite the intense counter-cultural associations they have always inspired (free love, free drugs, no possessions, no governments, no authoritarian rules), as being rather apolitical. They rebelled against society and what it stood for. They called to individuals to change, not the Government, and that s what happened. But the group also held out hope to all the ex-hippies and would-be-hippies that had to make compromises and enter mainstream society. For them, their love of the Grateful Dead allowed the rebel spirit that they once completely believed in to live on inside them. It gave corporate tycoons a blissful escape from everyday life. Lawyers with Deadhead stickers on the back of their town cars may seem cynical, but that was also what the Dead was about. They give hope to both listeners and followers. There were many great things about the Dead, but there is another side of their music and culture. Many of the followers of the Grateful Dead could not balance their lives in the circus called life on the road. Songs like Candyman depict the struggles with drugs that so many went through. Some worked through there dependencies, but many passed away from overdoses or other drug-related deaths. Others didn t die, but still lost their lives. The Grateful Dead attracted societies outcasts; the people that couldn t deal with the issues of relationships and work, people who had dependencies on drugs and alcohol, people who ran away from their problems looking for an easy solution. The Dead focused on feel-good vibes and unabashed hedonism, frequently aided by experimental or mind-expanding drugs. I was privileged enough to have attended a concert and it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I saw people lost; I saw drug addicts and cripples, people who could only feel a synthetic high. It was a whole new world to what I d known. A culture in it s own that had conflicting aura s of pain and rapture. I saw the blissful people at the show, but others, outside the arena, that sight was one of the most depressing feelings I ve ever had, hundreds of people threw their life away in this counter-culture, and who had it taken away by drugs. Was it worth it? Is it worth it? Some couldn t even remember what a show was like. They lived only to live, and that was the only way they knew how. This was a side of the Deadhead culture that I would like to forget. I would like to imagine that they were a completely blissful and happy group that never saw the bad side of society, but I can t. I know that they are a group that, although didn t have to deal with the troubles of society, had to deal with their own problems that are much worse than those of Society. The Grateful Dead was the longest touring band in history. They began as a band, but became a revolution and a cult. People from all walks of life praise and listen to them. Only through their music can we understand the culture. Only those who experienced it will understand. Only those who have danced to The Grateful Dead, looked up and seen Jerry Garcia then turned around to see thousands of fans behind them, and watched them, can only start to understand. The music of the Grateful Dead culture was one that won t ever be seen again. Their music is the only one part of the culture, but it was the glue that held all the people together. There were many aspects of the Dead, but when it all boils down, it was the music, it was the band. "Only the concert itself has a beginning and an end," notes Deadhead Paul Grushkin. "The rest is a continuum. There's a special relationship between the Dead and their audience that his to do with participation and shared identity. And the fruits of the interaction are shared equally. When that undefined magic makes its visitation, everyone knows and everyone shares. It's special because it's elusive; it's there when it is and it's gone when it's not."
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