This Debate Has No Loser

by | Apr 12, 2009

The band known as “The Dead” embark on spring tour 2009 today in Greensboro, NC. It’s not news that this band has friends in high places (and high friends in places), but today it’s imminently clear that some of those friends work for The New York Times.


There’s a massive print and multimedia feature written by Ben Ratliffe in today’s paper, clearly timed in concert with the start of this tour. The feature examines Deadheads’ eternal need to define, categorize and remember. For instance, many heads believe 5/8/77 was the best performance ever delivered by Grateful Dead.

Ratliffe’s central argument is that one needs ALL the information in order to confidently make such declarations, and that advances in technology are making analysis of the band a more exact science.

In the late ’80s information access was limited. You had to work for your collection. It wasn’t all online. In 1987 the ability to point to a certain show — a Cornell ’77 or a Fillmore East 1970 — indicated great knowledge. But we can also now say that it indicated a kind of lack of knowledge. Because more and more of us now know, from better and better audio evidence, how the band sounded in the weeks and months around those famous nights.

Playing right into this need for further inquiry, the band recently released To Terrapin: Hartford from that same tour and Gary Lambert, a host of the Grateful Dead Radio show “Tales From the Golden Road” on Sirius XM, considers it just as good as 5/8/77.

The reality is people like what they like. I like shows from 1980-85. Like this one from West High in Anchorage, AK on Summer solstice, 6/21/80:

…and this one from Merriweather Post Pavillion on 6/27/84:

…and this one from Long Beach on 8/28/81: