If I hear one more newscaster say, "What a long, strange trip it's been," I'm going to heave up lunch from a week ago.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry Jerry's gone. I'm sorry his old frame finally couldn't accommodate all the drugs he believed it should. I'm even sorry that I never, ever found anything to love about the Grateful Dead. And believe me, I've tried.

I've always gotten along great with Deadheads until the subject of music came up. A long time ago, I made the foolish mistake of telling one of them at a party that I thought "Truckin'" was a good song. He immediately took my statement as an invitation to play all six sides of Europe '72, including a 13-minute live version of the aforementioned, suddenly not-so-good song. Gazing at the infamous back cover cartoon of the Ice Cream Kid ramming a frosty cone into his forehead, I found myself wishing that I were that buck-toothed dweeb, armed with two creamy cones I could shove in both ears to spare myself. That Saturday night ended with three Deadheads getting clocked by some Sabbath fans because they simply would not step away from the stereo.

Despite my purchase of many various artists compilations over the years, I've somehow managed to avoid owning a single Grateful Dead recording, even by accident. Yet here I sit: sporting a tie-dyed shirt that never gets worn out of the house, thumbing through Skeleton Key, the official "Dictionary for Deadheads," trying to like Jerry's band one last time. And it's hard. Dreadfully hard.

But even if you vehemently hate the group's music, you've got to be in awe of the band's "deadicated" following. Deadheads have seen their band of choice so many times they've actually memorized hand signals that band members give each other before playing certain songs. Given this repetition, veterans of more than 100 shows probably know when Phil Lesh has to take a leak and is holding it in.

Though I didn't see any terminology for piss retention in this handy reference book, I did come across some other eye openers, like all the subcategories of Deadheads out there. There's Deaf Heads, hearing-impaired Dead fans who still go to shows "armed with paper cups, balloons and other resonating props" to pick up vibrating bass notes. Then there are the Spinners, who twirl around continuously to the music in an effort to get a natural (not to mention cheap) high. Spinners are also adept at sneaking into Dead concerts by incessantly whirling and whining until gate guards throw in the towel and look the other way. Wouldn't you?

But, wait! There's also the Stylies (""Caucasian Heads with dreadlocks"); Touchheads (new fans pulled in by the 1987 hit "Touch of Grey"); Tour Rats (the "recreational/touring homeless" found in parking lots at every show mooching tickets); Wharf Rats ("sober Heads who take their 12-Step meetings on tour"); and Wedgers ("people who sleaze ahead of the line while the line is moving").

When all the eulogies and candlelight vigils are said and done, Deadheads of every sort will face the question of the hour: Should the Grateful Dead carry on without Jerry? Sure, he's irreplaceable, but so was Keith Moon. Though some Heads may see it as sacrilege even to suggest a Jerry-free Dead, the show may have to go on for reasons that have nothing to do with music. Because, as Deadheads inform nonbelievers ad nauseam, "It's more than just the music." With no more Dead shows, there would be a rapid swelling of tie-dyed co-dependents suddenly deprived of their only livelihood. This onslaught of aimless wedgers and spinners could wreak havoc at unemployment offices across America.

It's a long shot, but the characteristic gentle passivity long thought to be a Deadhead mainstay may recede in the coming months, and those who cannot be cross-trained might take to the streets with unbridled hostility. We may one day talk about Deadheads in the same fearful tones now reserved for disgruntled ex-postal workers.

Politicians up for reelection would try to intercede by throwing some cash incentives the band's way and pleading with the Dead to "at least consider giving David Crosby a call."

Yes, who indeed could conceivably fill Garcia's black tee shirt? Whoever the band chooses would have to possess at least three of the four following traits:

1. A patronly benevolence
2. A big ol' potbelly
3. A predisposition to take massive amounts of recreational drugs
4. A predisposition to take solos that are way too long
Let's examine some of the more likely candidates:

David Crosby Not such an odd choice since he played in the Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra, an informal collaboration between members of CSN&Y, the Dead and the Airplane in the early Seventies. True, Crosby's got a new liver now, but his impressive history of drug abuse would only serve to bolster the Dead's own survival status. Just one heated argument with Stephen Stills could make this one a reality.

Paul Kantner Ditto on playing in the PERRO mentioned above. Kantner re-formed Jefferson Airplane and no one cared. Now he's re-formed Jefferson Starship and no one cares. What else is there for him to do?

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