In 2017 the University of California Press launched Studies in the Grateful Dead to explore the achievement, impact, and significance of one of the most iconic American rock bands, the Grateful Dead. The series presents original monographs and edited anthologies by experts representing a range of disciplinary perspectives and fields that highlight the complexity, power, and enduring appeal of this protean, compelling musical and cultural phenomenon.
The inaugural volume, Listening for the secret: The Grateful Dead and the politics of improvisation by Ulf Olsson, is a critical assessment of the Grateful Dead and the distinct culture that grew out of the group’s music, politics, and performance. With roots in popular music traditions, improvisation, and the avant-garde, the group provides a unique lens through which we can better understand the meaning and creation of the counterculture community.
Below, a performance from 1974 that has been cited for its outstanding group improvisations (beginning just before the five-minute mark).
In 1990 Mickey Hart and the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center began work on what would become known as the Endangered Music Project—an effort to disseminate both new and archival recordings of vanishing world traditions.
In a 1993 interview, Hart described assembling the tracks for the project’s first CD release, The spirit cries: Music from the rainforests of South America & the Caribbean:
“My selection process was mostly earplay…I didn’t want it to be an ethnography specifically of the area, I wanted it to be a popular work.”
“I would listen to them over and over…in different environments, on the beach, in the house, in the car….I would listen in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, and the selection revealed itself to me.”
This according to “Opening up the ‘Oz of archives’: Mickey Hart and the Endangered Music Project” by James McKee (Folklife Center news XV/1 [winter 1993] pp. 3–7).
Today is Hart’s 70th birthday! Below, a brief documentary about The spirit cries.
The storyteller speaks: Rare & different fictions of the Grateful Dead (Bellingham: Kearney Street Books, 2010) is a Grateful Dead-inspired collection of literary short stories. Genres represented include horror, romance, time-travel, family saga, zombie, western, science fiction, and mystery noir.
Below, Jerry Garcia discusses storytelling in Terrapin station.
Related article: Dead studies
Launched in 2011 by the Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California Santa Cruz Library, Dead studies builds on momentum that has been growing among Grateful Dead researchers for some 15 years.
The annual Southwest/Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conferences have seen the rise of a group that has come to be known as the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus; one of them, the historian and archivist Nicholas Meriwether, founded an irregularly published journal called Dead letters to disseminate their work.
Now, thanks to two anonymous donors and a dedicated Editorial Board, the Grateful Dead Archive has become the publisher of a continuation of Meriwether’s work, retaining him as Editor. The new journal aims to be “the definitive organ of Grateful Dead scholarship, as well as an important community resource.”
Below, the band in its heyday.
Related article: Dead fiction