Jackson, Gans Commemorate the Grateful Dead
Two Haddon Hill neighbors, friends, and Dead scholars have published a well-received book about their favorite band.
Blair Jackson and David Gans are Grateful Dead scholars and historians with a new book out.
Photo by Stephen Texeira
The Grateful Dead’s long, strange trip has taken the band everywhere from Egypt to Copenhagen to Madison Square Garden. But more or less, the city it returned to more than any other was Oakland.
Of the 2,200-plus concerts the Dead performed for more than 30 years, the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium, the Oakland Coliseum, and the Oakland Arena hosted dozens of them. The Dead’s first Oakland show was in 1971—a Black Panther fundraiser for Huey Newton’s birthday. Its final Oakland appearance was at the Coliseum in February 1995, just a few months before Jerry Garcia’s death.
Now, a pair of Oaklanders has written an acclaimed new oral history of everyone’s favorite rock/bluegrass/country/jazz/psychedelic band. Music journalists Blair Jackson and David Gans recently published This Is All a Dream We Dreamed, a 512-page jaunt through 50 years of concerts, jams, friendships, and music that has won rave reviews from fans and critics alike.
The duo—who, between them, have written nine books about the Dead—talked to hundreds of band associates, fans, friends, family, and others who were along for the Dead’s wild ride.
“This was exactly the right project for us,” said Gans, a writer, musician, and longtime host of Dead to the World on KPFA. “We live 300 feet apart, we’re old friends, and we’ve both been Grateful Dead journalists for almost 40 years. … It’s a little weird to be ghettoized as Grateful Dead scholars, but frankly, it’s our area of expertise. And we’re having a lot of fun.”
Gans and Jackson, who live on Haddon Hill, are not remotely surprised that the Grateful Dead is still selling out stadiums and have been the inspiration for dozens of books, discographies, blogs, and cover bands. The Dead’s role in American culture transcends music or even stereotypes, they said.
“The songs are inescapable,” said Jackson, former editor of The Golden Road fanzine. “Just about everyone has heard ‘Truckin’,’ ‘Ripple,’ ‘Uncle John’s Band.’ Everyone knows a Deadhead.”
“We are literally everywhere,” Gans interjected. “Even Al and Tipper Gore are Deadheads. It’s permeated the culture in a very cool way.”
“And the history itself is pretty irresistible,” Jackson continued. “It includes the Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, the pyramids of Egypt. And Garcia himself has become such an icon.”
The Grateful Dead’s first shows were on the Peninsula and San Francisco, and later the old Winterland in San Francisco was more or less the band’s home base. But in the late 1970s, when Winterland closed, the band moved across the bay, adopting the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, and later the Oakland Coliseum/Arena, as the venues of choice. The reason was partly economic (the Kaiser center was cheap to rent), partly cultural (the East Bay had slightly fewer complaining neighbors), and partly practical (Oakland venues could draw larger crowds than most concert halls in San Francisco could accommodate), Gans and Jackson said.
The Dead also played plenty of shows in Berkeley and other Oakland spots, as well. Bob Weir played once at the Scottish Rite Temple, and in 1985 Garcia played at the Dunsmuir House, an event Gans and Jackson said is perhaps best forgotten.
“That was just a year before his coma,” Jackson explained. “And he was not in good shape.”
But even the Dead’s worst shows were pretty good. If nothing else, the Grateful Dead knew how to entertain. Every show was different, and the band constantly experimented and evolved.
“You really didn’t know what strangeness was going to assault you,” Jackson said. “They inverted a lot of conventions in the music business, and that inspired a lot of people.”
“It really was a unique culture,” Gans said. “And continues to be.”