On August 9, 1995, a housemate and I stole a huge vinyl sign from a nearby convenience store, dragged it into our front yard, flipped it onto its back, and scrawled the following words on it in black spray paint: “We’re grateful Jerry’s dead.”
We fastened each end of the sign to either side of our front porch so it festooned our house like a celebratory banner. We lived on a busy street in Muncie, Ind.—we were students at Ball State University—and we were counting on some of the Grateful Dead-loving neo-hippies who were so prevalent on campus at the time to drive by and feel the sting of our lusty contempt.
Yes, it was a rotten thing to do, and I’m not proud of it. But so deep was our dislike of the sanitized jam band culture that had emerged around the Grateful Dead and its descendants (Phish, Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic, etc.) in the early ’90s that we felt that the opportunity to publicly mock the movement’s forefather on the day of his death was too good to pass up. Anyway, the prank was short-lived; a more mature housemate arrived home from work shortly after we’d hung the sign and demanded that we remove it immediately, which we did.
I hated the Grateful Dead as a young man, and, all things considered, I still do. But the white-hot, wholly unreasonable hatred I harbored toward the band in my youth has mellowed and grown more nuanced in its maturity. Sure, it’s still hatred, but it’s a kinder, gentle sort of hatred of three distinct shades (hence the three “hates” in the title).
Musical hatred. As a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the rock idiom that gave birth to the Beatles, verse-chorus-verse song structure, melodic hooks, and a roughly four-minute cap on song length, the Grateful Dead are anathema to everything I love about rock music. As far as I’m concerned, if there is a hell, the speakers there are blaring an extended improvisational jam that never repeats and never ends.
Sociological hatred. In the early ’90s, the Grateful Dead subculture and its more loathsome trappings—noodle dancing, licentious drug use, abstinence from personal hygiene—was co-opted by burnt-out trust-funders, wayward frat boys, small-time drug dealers, and tail-hunting amateur musicians. The Deadheads of the ’90s were drawn to the Dead not because of hippie ideals, but rather because they could indulge their basest impulses in a friendly environment.
Philosophical hatred. Even if those faux-Deadheads of the ’90s had been more devoted to the quasi-mystical, dimly anti-establishment ethos of the Dead, I wouldn’t have liked them any more. Although the Grateful Dead never laid out their philosophy in manifesto fashion, they clearly favored a squishy blend of Eastern transcendentalism and ‘60s social liberalism that, as far as I could tell, was little more sophisticated than the creed espoused by Stephen Stills when he sang “Love the one you’re with.” (God, I hate that song.)
Having said all of that, if you love the Grateful Dead, I don’t begrudge you that. Like my hatred for the band, I’ve mellowed in my older age. Anyway, these days, I try to practice my own squishy brand of philosophy, which, coincidentally, is also rooted in ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll: I let it be.
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