Grateful Dead's archives have final resting place at UC-Santa Cruz – San Jose Mercury News



The Grateful Dead’s long strange trip through American popular culture is landing in a library at the University of California-Santa Cruz, preserved for future generations of study by scholars and stoners.

Three decades worth of archival materials – from business records to stage backdrops – have been donated by the band to the school’s McHenry Library, where a room called Dead Central is being dedicated to a beloved band dubbed “the largest unofficial religion in the world.”

UC-Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal joined Dead drummer Mickey Hart and guitarist and singer Bob Weir in a buoyant press conference Thursday at San Francisco’s aging Fillmore Auditorium, the site of 51 Dead concerts. In honor of the event, Blumenthal was given a tie-dyed T-shirt.

“All of this stuff doesn’t belong to us – it belongs to the culture that spawned us,” Weir said. “It seemed like getting it into a campus archive, with access for the people in the community that gave rise to it, was the right thing to do.”

The seaside campus was the “most enthusiastic” and “organized,” which helped it edge out two heavyweight suitors, Stanford and UC-Berkeley, Weir said.

“Santa Cruz is the seat of the neo-bohemian culture that we’re a facet of,” Weir said. “So there could not have been a more cozy place for this collection to land.”

The gift does not contain any of the band’s vast musical recordings; those are stored in a Southern California vault belonging to producer Rhino Entertainment. The university said it will work with Rhino on how to access musical material.

But it does contain valuable artifacts that document the band’s ascendance into one of California’s most durable and influential musical phenomena. Currently held in a 2,000-square-foot San Rafael warehouse, the collection includes the Dead’s first recording contract, life-size skeletons of band members used in the 1987 “Touch of Grey” video, and an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 fan letters from around the world, many decorated with elaborate art.

“What you’ll see is our conversation with the people who loved us, and vice versa,” Hart said.

A blue-chip team including several Silicon Valley-based fans – among them venture capitalist and musician Roger McNamee – will oversee a $2 million fundraising campaign for the archive. Seagate Technology CEO Bill Watkins has volunteered technical support.

Formal academics never meant much to the Dead.

But fans say their image-rich lyrics about such themes as love, trust and rebirth are worthy of scholarship. The song “Box of Rain” is as central to Deadheads as Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” was to Beats and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” was to Modernists.

For musicologists, there is value in studying how the Dead’s repertoire updated many of the nation’s older musical traditions, from bluegrass to jazz, said Fred Lieberman, a UC-Santa Cruz music professor. “They were the quintessential American band,” said Lieberman, who first proposed the archive idea to Hart, with whom he has collaborated on three books. This will boost the university’s scholarship on American culture, he said.

However, the gift may do little to help the university shed its image as a mecca of hacky sack and patchouli oil – and, in fact, is likely to attract a tie-dyed pilgrimage. In recent years, the school has worked to refocus attention on its ambitious scientific research efforts. It has even cracked down on its traditional April marijuana smoke-in at Porter Meadow, barring non-students and overnight guests.

Campus librarians said they would welcome Deadheads to the grassy lawn outside the library.

The library already has the vast and eclectic archive of the late Aptos composer Lou Harrison, and was looking to expand.

“This is the first step toward having a library that is a destination for scholars interested in studying an important aspect of America’s vernacular music,” he said.

The survival of the archives through turbulent decades is due to a devoted staffer named Eileen Law, who was hired in 1972 to take care of the Deadheads and who worked with the band for the next 34 years.

Among other jobs, she tended the mail that flooded into a San Rafael post office box.

“Pretty soon I found myself being the keeper of everything – press clips, posters, all their vinyl. I kept getting more and more stuff,” she said. “Everything I could collect, I did.”

At the press conference, UC-Santa Cruz librarians assured Law, who is unemployed, that she’ll play an important role in the cataloging of the material.

“I had faith that something good would someday happen to it,” Law said, grinning.

Fans rejoiced at the news of the gift – and instantly began offering their own contributions to the collection.

“Can we submit material?” one fan asked on the band’s Web site. “I have my own stash – much of it from the parking lot scene, ’83-’95.”


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Contact Lisa M. Krieger at or (408) 920-5565.

It's Academic! Grateful Dead Symposium At UMass


UMass gets dose of Grateful Dead at symposium

By Kristin Palpini
Staff Writer

November 23, 2007


AMHERST – For many fans of the Grateful Dead, the band’s songs are more than music, they’re a home.

The wandering rock guitar rifts of Jerry Garcia, the deep, soulful voice of Bob Weir, the driving bass lines of Phil Lesh and the primal drumming of Mickey Hart built a kind of mobile home for the band’s estimated 500,000 diehard fans, the Deadheads.

This musical community and why the Dead keeps on trucking is the subject of symposium last weekend at the University of Massachusetts. “Unbroken Chain” explored the band’s social, economic, musical and historic impact on America.

“It’s really about one thing: getting your mind blown,” said Jeffrey King, a 46-year-old Merrick, N.Y., man who has attended 300 Grateful Dead concerts. “When something like (the Grateful Dead’s music) occurs in a group of people, a sense of community, musicianship and intellectualism is born.”

On Friday morning, King, along with hundreds of Deadheads from around the country, congregated at UMass for the symposium’s inaugural address, “Strangers Stopping Strangers: The Deadhead Community.”

The gathering felt more like a family reunion than an academic festival, as people dressed in jeans, well-worn sweaters, Bohemian shirts and vests hugged each other and shared concert stories.

Why thousands of people, separated by hundreds of miles and a lack of communication between concerts, have formed a thriving subculture that persists are among the questions that University of North Carolina sociology professor Rebecca Adams tried to address in “Strangers Stopping Strangers.”

Adams leads the Deadhead Community Project, a collection of sociological field notes and surveys collected by Adams and some of her students beginning in 1989. The research has since been condensed into five analytical books.

Deadheads, Adams explained, elevated the band’s music from mere albums to a subculture based on the spiritual experience of attending Grateful Dead shows.

“The music brought people together, even though they didn’t live near one another. Their friendship was the basis for the portable community,” said Adams, who is an unabashed Deadhead.

“It’s difficult to explain how we all feel inside,” Adams said, trying to give words to what it is like to listen to the Grateful Dead. “It’s like talking about or describing why we love another person.”

Deadheads had a lot to bond and form friendships over, Adams said. In addition to their love of the Dead’s wildly improvised, but fluid music, the fans connected over their dedication to charity (providing free food, concert tickets and shelter, among other things, to fellow concertgoers), the “dirty hippie” stigma attached to the group by non-fans, and drug use.

But perhaps the most important link between Deadheads is spirituality, the feeling that attending a Grateful Dead concert is a religious and enlightening experience.

“It’s a multilayered experience for true Deadheads,” said Paul Freedman, 58, of Washington, D.C., trying to describe the importance of the Dead’s music. “It’s like flat land and then the Dead comes along and says, ‘No you’re a cube, man.’ It opens up different dimensions, different ways to think about things, to experience things. It’s not just music, it’s a live culture.”

“Unbroken Chain” is part of a semester-long graduate history seminar titled “American Beauty: Music, Culture and Society, 194595,” and an undergraduate course titled “How Does the Song Go: The Grateful Dead as a Window into American Culture.”

The Grateful Dead study was made possible by Dennis McNally, the Grateful Dead’s longtime publicist, who earned his doctorate in history at UMass in 1978.

“We all know this is a special trip,” McNally said in his opening remarks Friday. “I’m very proud to come back here and do this.”

In the future, UMass plans to hold similar studies that focus intensely on a single aspect of American culture.

“I was afraid people would look at this as a joke, not as a rigorous academic investigation, just some aging hippies back on campus,” said John Mullin, dean of the UMass graduate school. “We’re here because this is a new way of giving knowledge. This will be the first of [a number of] deep interdisciplinary looks into different cultural aspects of life.”

Symposium activities included more than 50 presenters for 20 panel sessions, ranging from music composition and improvisation to an examination of the band’s business model. The weekend also included concerts, gallery exhibits and presentations.