If there’s one thing you associate with The Grateful Dead, it is almost certainly ‘groove’ or, should we say, ‘vibe’? While much of that is aligned with the band’s inception in the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and their natural affinity with evolutionary guitar jams. But a large chunk of it is also attributed to their love of recreational drugs. It’s not the only thing interesting about the Grateful Dead, far from it, but it does make for some ludicrous tales.
The group had quickly become the underground face of the counter-culture movement after they exploded in San Francisco in the mid-to-late-60s. While acts like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were taking to the stage and singing about the free-thinking, free-love and cheap drugs of the hippie movement, The Grateful Dead were living it every single day of their lives—and living it hard. It led to some more than precarious situations and has worked hard to define the group as an entity. It’s something even Jerry Garcia, the band’s mercurial leader, once acknowledged.
Garcia was never afraid to share his love of marijuana and LSD, and the guitarist even acknowledged just how similar the Grateful Dead and weed were. Of course, not in any physical sense, though we’re quite sure you could lick a Dead member and pick up a small high. The musician, instead, suggested that getting into the Grateful Dead was kind of like the way most people get into pot and how the band’s polarising output splits fans.
Speaking to Relix magazine in 1980, Garcia said of the duality of the Dead: “Well, that seems pretty cut and dry (laughs). I’m aware of that phenomenon, I guess. What happens is that someone turns their friends on to us in the same spirit or sense that they would turn their friends on to pot. They turn them on because they have a good experience and they have a good time.”
“It used to be real frustrating,” continued Garcia, “I’ve talked to fans about this who have said, ‘Jesus, I invited 20 of my friends to this and you guys played awful!’ (laughs). That stuff used to happen to us all the time. We’ve gotten to be a lot more consistent. So now, those people can bring their friends and at the very worst, they’ll get a nice, professional show.”
“But I’m aware of that mechanism. The thing is that it’s an ongoing process. Our audience now has a very large number of 15, 16 and 17 year-olds. They’re kids who are obviously not from our generation. But are every bit as enthusiastic about what we did as any of our audiences have ever been. Our audience is larger now than it’s ever been. It’s more vital now than it’s ever been, and we’re happenin’
When Garcia was speaking to Relix the band had been across two decades and was still enjoying a peak of performance. It’s never really changed either. It would appear that while many drugs are addictive, nothing holds on to you like the Grateful Dead.