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The Grateful Dead

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who "get" The Grateful Dead (affectionately known the world over as "Deadheads") and those who don't. While fashioning themselves as the freespirited leaders of the psychedelic era with a cult following all its own, the band artfully mixed rock, folk, soul, blues and country into a hybrid that fostered mind expansion for close to three decades. Sometimes they were ragged, but more often than not, they knew the art of interaction and improvisation.

The Grateful Dead have been synonymous with the San Francisco/Acid Rock scene since its inception in 1965 when they took part in Ken Kesey's Acid Tests. Stanley Owsley manufactured the then-legal LSD and plied the band and their friends with copious amounts. This hallucinogenic opus was duly recorded onto tape over a six-month period, and documented in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

After settling on the name Grateful Dead, the band, which included guitarist Bob Weir, organist Ron McKernan, bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann-- began honing their concert alchemy at San Francisco's psychedelic ballrooms. The Dead fused rock and roll energy with the psychedelic experience to fashion an endlessly elaborate interplay of sound. Along the way, they added a second keyboardist (Tom Constanten) and second drummer (Mickey Hart). The keyboardist position was the most unstable in the band, as no fewer than three of the Dead"s keyboard players died during their 30-year history.

Highlights of the group's recorded legacy include Anthem of the Sun (1968), their ultra-psychedelic, quasi-symphonic magnum opus; Live/Dead (1969), a concert compendium that bore out fans" claims that the Dead were best experienced live; Workingman's Dead and American Beauty (both from 1970), country- and folk-influenced classics that highlighted their songwriting ability and sage-like overview of the counterculture"s past, present and future; and Grateful Dead (a.k.a. "Skull and Roses"), the second and arguably the best of many multi-album live sets. Deadheads and critics alike contended that the best way to experience the group was in concert, where the mystical band-fan bonding ritual drove the music to improvisational peaks.

During the latter half of their career, Garcia was periodically beset with drug problems, a state of affairs that came to a head with his arrest on drug possession charges in 1985 and his collapse into a near-fatal diabetic coma in 1986. His health improved in the wake of those crises, revitalizing the Dead through a period of heightened activity that included the 1987 hit album In the Dark and Top Forty single ("Touch of Grey"). However, drugs continued to haunt The Dead, who lost keyboardist Brent Mydland to a fatal overdose in 1990. Garcia himself died on August 9, 1995, at a treatment facility in Forest Knolls, California, where he'd gone to seek help for his heroin addiction. They played their last concert the previous month at Soldier Field in Chicago.

In the USA the reaction was comparable to the death of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Elvis and John Lennon. Within hours, over 10,000 postings were made on the Internet, an all-night vigil took place in San Francisco and Bill Clinton called Garcia a genius. The mayor of San Francisco called for flags to be flown at half-mast and, appropriately, flew a tie-dyed flag from city hall. Bob Dylan said that there was no way to measure his greatness or magnitude. At a press conference in December 1995 the remaining band members announced that they would bury the band name along with Garcia.

Happily, they have not.

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