Full disclosure, I fell in love with the artwork, visuals, culture and sense of community of the Grateful Dead decades before I fell in love with the music. It’s not that I didn’t like the music, I just didn’t fully appreciate and understand it as I do today. It sounded clangy, drum-heavy… kinda like the music my parents blasted in the living room on Saturday nights……
Does this make me NOT A REAL DEADHEAD?
Growing up in the 80’s, the Grateful Dead artwork was so incredible - like something I’d never seen before - a new source of creativity for me and it made me feel something inside.
I’ll always remember the first time seeing the stealie / steal your face. I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet! I was in middle school, and I used to hang out at a local record store named Music Market after school and on the weekends. It was really the coolest place to see and be seen as an 80’s teenager in Orange County, California. I’d ride my turn-down-handle-bar bike there every day to see what was new and different. All the coolest local punks, skaters, rappers, and outcasts in my suburban town used to work and hang out there, and it was a foreign, interesting scene. I would spend hours looking at all the records and album cover artwork discovering new kinds of music. It was such an escape for me - a way for me to get in touch with my insane and curious creative side. Music Market was where I discovered rap music, saw my first real mohawk in the flesh, and developed my crazy fascination for heavy metal hair bands…. grown men wearing glam makeup and more AquaNet than me!
I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw the cover of the Steal Your Face album cover from across the Music Market store. It was like a beacon drawing me in.
I quickly sprinted across the floor and dug through the Grateful Dead album bin like a bull in a China shop. The artwork was so different, colorful, and intriguing- like nothing I had ever seen before. I was fascinated, and I needed to know more about this band, time, people, and artists that created this amazing art. It really made me feel like I was transported to the sixties. The fashion inspired me to wear bell bottoms, patchwork, and big flared-sleeve tie-front tops to junior high and high school - channeling the hippie, bohemian look and vibe. This was the beginning of my trademark “California modern bohemian” aesthetic that has become my brand today.
That glorious day at Music Market I caved into the curiosity and bought a Grateful Dead cassette tape single, “Touch of Grey.” At that time, a full album was a splashy purchase on my paper route salary, so the single would have to do. I had to understand what this crazy music was about and my hopes were high!
Putting that tape into my pink boombox, I pushed play waiting for the musical equivalent to the magic that was the album art. Wait... what?? Record scratch.
Not literally, but this was not what I was expecting to come out of speakers of this psychedelic band. The music was chaotic, clang-y…. it felt old to my teenage ears. I was expecting the exact opposite. My beloved MTV was playing the Touch of Grey music video on the reg, so I wanted to like the music, but somehow it just didn’t float my boat.
My high school sophomore year in 1993, I convinced my dad to let me and my best girlfriend go on a business trip with him to San Francisco just so we could go to Haight Ashbury and see where it all started. Even though it was no longer 1969, the energy and GD spirit were still alive. My love for Fillmore, tie dye, bell bottoms, lava lamps and nag champa was instantly born. I remember this trip was the first time I had ever smelled marijuana. I was a curious prude - but my mom was super strict and drugs were baaaaad!
Although the music didn’t make sense to me, I couldn’t help but feel happiness inspired by Grateful Dead artwork like the dancing bears. It was all just so iconic and probably most recognizable asset in rock & roll history next to the Rolling Stones lips.
It wasn’t until 5 years ago in the summer of 2018 when I met the love of my life did I really, truly fall in love with the beats and poetry that is the Grateful Dead music. I met Steve, a fellow Dead Head (but WAY more hard-core than I) randomly in a bar during a late afternoon lunch in Santa Monica. I was totally allergic to dating in LA at this point, and Steve was going through a very colorful divorce. I found him extremely charming, engaging and almost infectious, and the communication from the start was “not like other guys.”
In our early texting, Steve asked me, “Have you heard of a band called the Grateful Dead?” I instantly sent him a selfie of me wearing a vintage “Space your Face” tie dye T-shirt, and picture of Paris Hilton wearing my Grateful Dead Dress (see next blog for that full story) that I made in 2005.
His next question directly after that was, “What’s your favorite song?” I panicked. OMG. I don’t really have a favorite song…. I know the “radio hits” but I really don’t KNOW the music. I told him “Touch of Grey” because that was my first single and what I could name on the spot…. and it was safe. But I wasn’t at all sure of my answer and I knew he probably would think I was a poser. Thankfully he didn’t geek all out and ask me some obscure thing that only hardcore Heads would know.
Steve quickly followed up with, “Well, if you still like me next month in July, do you want to go to the Dead & Company show at Dodger Stadium?”
Secretly Me: (😍!!!!!!!)
Me to Steve: “I’ll think about it Steve. I’ll put that one in the hopper and get back to you.” 😉
We made it to July. Believe it or not, this would be my first show ever! I booked a room at the Standard Hotel in DTLA, and 2 Dead Head couple friends of Steve’s joined us for the adventure. The show was at 6 pm, so we had the whole afternoon at the pool - a total scene of excessive day drinking & meeting other Heads. By 5 pm I was already hammer time!! Getting into the show was a blur - as was most of the show. Apparently “Shakedown Street” was not in the main parking lot at Dodger Stadium and we were running late……
Steve had an extra ticket and it blew my mind that he just gave it away to some random stranger in the parking lot…. This rando came in with us AND sat with us!! This is when I learned about the Miracle.
I really had no idea what to expect and looking back on that first show, knowing what I know now, I wish I could do it all over again. For a real Dead Head, it was an epic show and set list. At the time, I didn’t understand those were all the “real hits.” The songs that people connect with the most. The fans knew all the words and could name the last time the Dead played it (including the song before… and the song after…shit, the whole darn set list!)
Fast forward to 2019, and Steve and I are now joined at the hip. Steve cooked up a weekend trip at Shoreline Amphitheater in Northern California to see two back-to-back shows with his college fraternity brothers. My knowledge of the band had grown quite a bit at that point and I was so excited to go to my very first Shakedown Street.
Shoreline is iconic to the band - the amphitheater was built to resemble the “stealie” logo by the Grateful Dead’s promoter, Bill Graham. The Dead were supposed to open the premiere season of Shoreline, but Jerry’s coma shut that all down….
Being with Steve up to this point, I had spent a lot of time listening to the music and learning about the band. I understood the music better and it all made more sense.
The Shoreline Shakedown scene did not disappoint!! My outfit was on fire and so inspiring! I received so many compliments from strangers that loved my vibe. This made me so happy as all I had ever wanted was to fit in with real hippies!
Steve bought a magical grilled cheese sandwich from a dirty hippie, that she made next to her bare feet, sitting on the uncovered ground. Learning that the grilled cheese was iconic to Shakedown as with so many other staples like homemade tapes, tie dyes, beer, handmade jewelry, and drugs sold from tailgates and pop-up tents made it that much more amazing! (Much more on the Shakedown Street Experience through my eyes to come in next blogs…)
Fast forward a few years and a handful of more Dead & Co. shows under my belt, I now know and love the music on such a deeper level. There’s sooo much complexity to the music. I never knew that they rarely ever play the same set twice, and the music is always different. It’s the same songs, but performed differently.
As an artist, this makes so much sense to me. I often get bored with my products, and I’m always “over” them before they even release. I love that the Grateful Dead infuse a fresh new perspective to their music with every performance. It’s so inspiring to me, and helps me create new life with my tried-and-true Meg Fab that people know and love.
So now it’s your own business to decide if I’m a real Deadhead. Is there a qualification exam? I feel the spirit in my heart and soul, and have embraced the music, community and culture – weaving it through my own art and my daily life.
Charlie Hargraves, a good friend and REAL Dead Head (he’s been to over 120 Grateful Dead shows, 20 Jerry Garcia shows, and 20 Dead & Company shows and has an amazing set of tapes) recently said something that hit me deep in my soul:
“To first appreciate the Dead takes an opportunity to hear the music where it moves you in the right way at the right time.”
For me that “opportunity” was Steve coming into my life and showing me the light of the Grateful Dead. I am forever changed!
Peace, Love & Grateful Dead Fabulous,