This Darkness Has Got to Give:

Learning From Our Past to Preserve the Future

written by Taco Olmstead

photo by Roger Gupta

“Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack

If you’ve got nothing new to say

If you please, go back up the track

This train’s got to run today”

In light of recent events, I could not help but notice the significance of the lyrics to “New Speedway Boogie” and how they pertain to what is happening in our community today. What is happening today could easily turn into what happened with the Grateful Dead community in the late 1980’s and ultimately the behavior that destroyed the community.

“Who can deny? Who can deny?

It’s not just a change in style

One step down and another begun

And I wonder how many miles”

In the late 1980’s, Grateful Dead concert goers or “Dead Heads”, were increasingly targeted and profiled. Not just by police, but by venue security, restaurants, hotels and gas stations. Society as a whole began to look down upon and discriminate against the community and culture. Despite always having been treated with irreverence in the past, the dead head community was truly being vilified. Each time the Grateful Dead came through an area, high school students would be rounded up, their lockers searched, belongings gone through and K9 units would sweep the halls and parking lots.

The hatred went so far that two fans were killed in 1989, one while in police custody and another allegedly killed by arena security personnel. The most tragic aspect of this was that not a single person involved was ever brought to trial or justice.

“I spent a little time on the mountain

I spent a little time on the hill

Things went down, we don’t understand

But I think in time we will”

In the spring of 1990, the federal government used the Massachusetts National Guard for the purpose of implementing increased surveillance, both on the ground and via aerial surveillance on the Foxboro concert grounds. The end result was a massive number of arrests, many were unjustified. This also led to an upstate New York task force labeling Grateful Dead concerts to be the cause in a several month long rash of LSD related incidents and arrests.

Fast forward to the following spring and one could note the general decline in the community via the loss of any modicum of acceptable behavior. Public indecency arrests began to escalate; more venues and entire towns had banned the Grateful Dead and their fans. Gate crashing incidents occurred at a Capital Centre show outside of Washington DC.  There were 121 arrests at a three night run in New York. This was also the first year of wide spread ticket counterfeiting even spreading to the counterfeiting of Grateful Dead Ticketing services, a long respected organization and  one of the coolest ways to get your tickets if some of you can remember!

“You can’t overlook the lack, Jack

Of any other highway to ride

It’s got no signs or dividing lines

And very few rules to guide”

1995, the final year of The Grateful Dead, was perhaps the most disappointing to both the fans as well as the band. Everything from Crack to heroin were being sold at Grateful Dead concerts. The general vibe had went from joyous to distracted, Jerry himself more often looked like he didn’t want to be there. Gate crashing had become a norm as did assault and there were numerous reports of sexual assaults as well. The final straw was a gate crashing incident which left numerous fans and personnel injured and led to the cancelling of shows at Deer Creek. The incident even prompted a letter written by the band to be circulated around the community:

“Over the past thirty years we’ve come up with the fewest possible rules to make the difficult act of bringing tons of people together work well — and a few thousand so-called Dead Heads ignore those simple rules and screw it up for you, us and everybody. We’ve never before had to cancel a show because of you. Think about it.

 If you don’t have a ticket, don’t come. This is real. This is first a music concert, not a free-for-all party. Secondly, don’t vend. Vending attracts people without tickets. Many of the people without tickets have no responsibility or obligation to our scene. They don’t give a shit. They act like idiots. They think it’s just a party to get as trahed as possible at. We’re all supposed to be about higher consciousness, not drunken stupidity.

 It’s up to you as Dead Heads to educate these people, and to pressure them into acting like Dead Heads instead of maniacs. They can only get away with this crap if you let them. The old slogan is true: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

 Want to end the touring life of the Grateful Dead? Allow bottle-throwing gate crashers to keep on thinking they’re cool anarchists instead of the creeps they are.

 Want to continue it? Listen to the rules, and pressure others to do so. A few more scenes like Sunday night, and we’ll quite simply be unable to play. The spirit of the Grateful Dead is at stake, and we’ll do what we have to do to protect it. And when you hear somebody say “Fuck you, we’ll do what we want,” remember something.

 That applies to us, too.”

Phil, Jerry, Bobby, Mickey, Billy and Vince

“Now, I don’t know but I been told

If the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load

I don’t know, whose back’s that strong

Maybe find out before too long”

At this point my brothers and sisters, the ball is in our court. Do we really want to relive past history? Do we really want to define insanity by failing to learn from the same repeated mistakes? We need to start being proactive with our behavior and the behavior of those around us. It’s about self-control; it’s about practicing some form of moderation.

This is a discussion that none of us have really wanted to engage in. This kind of talk has been relegated to few and generally frowned upon. When we start losing places to practice our true religion, music, where shall we go? Are you there for the music or are you there for the party? These are all questions that need to be asked and answered. If you realize you aren’t there for the music, then maybe you shouldn’t be there at all.

“One way or another, this darkness has got to give”