Way back in the day I used to be a starry-eyed follower of the Grateful Dead. To those who knew me then, or have heard the tales, this comes as no surprise — but for those who have only known me in the post-Dead era would probably have a hard time putting me in a tie-dyed t-shirt and Birkenstocks behind the wheel of a VW van.
I do assure those of you in the latter category that it is indeed true.
Fact is, at one point the Dead were a very important band to me, the gravitational center of my universe for both extremes of good and bad. I had some of the most rapturous moments of my life at Dead shows, and some of the most extreme lows as a result of living the lifestyle. For a long time, the Dead’s songs and allegories were apt tales to weave the story of my life around (“Sometimes the songs that we sing are just songs of our own…”).
Eventually though, the power their music held over me would start to fade, not surprisingly around the same time that Jerry started hanging out with Deborah Koons and doing smack again. I remember being at my 2nd-to-last Dead show at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN in 1994, and listening to Jerry butcher his lines all night. It used to be that Jerry’s performance at a Dead show was like an ice sculpture — it would start off the night an unformed block of ice, but throughout the night a series of artful, delicate maneuvers would transform that block into something magnificent. The ice sculpture that resulted would be affixed in my memory forever as testament to the man’s guitar-playing genius. On that particular night, however, it seemed as if Jerry was drunkenly attacking the ice block with a chainsaw, letting loose with burps and farts of his signature guitar tone. His work had heroin written all over it that night, and not in the good way.
I remember, before walking in the show that night, hearing two snippets of conversation from the crowd outside the venue: one, a girl with her finger in the air, despairing that she might not find a ticket — “I HAVE TO FIND A TICKET!”, followed by the response: “What the fuck do I care if I get a ticket? I’ve already seen 200 shows. I’m just here to make money.” I think I knew right then that the dream was dead.
Flash forward to the present day. After struggling with Etree announcements and saturated FTP servers for years, archive.org announces it will start hosting the Grateful Dead archives. Thousands of soundboard and audience recordings go up seemingly overnight in lossless format. I did my best to download as many shows as I could, starting primarily with the shows I actually attended over the years. I start looking at Grateful Dead books again. I’m considering getting the entire Dick’s Picks collection to supplement the archive.org downloads. Thinking the archives will be around for a while, I stopped downloading. Big mistake.
On November 22nd, apparently at the request of Deborah Koons and Phil Lesh (who I guess is in charge of GDP these days), Archive.org took down all of it’s lossless archives, audience and soundboard recording alike, and announced that it would no longer be offering anything except audience recordings in (the worthless) streaming mp3 format.
Quite coincidentally I’m sure, this follows close on the heels of news that Dick’s Picks was going all-digital, and that the Dead had inked a deal with iTunes.
The emergence of archive.org’s dead archive seemed to me to be one of the few promises of the internet age to actually bear fruit. I remember, back in 1991, writing to people who had placed classified ads in the back of Relix magazine, asking for their lists of tapes and hoping for first-generation copies from DAT. To have it all at my fingertips just seemed to good to be true. As it winds up, it was.
The last 17 years were a good ride, and although my interest had definitely faded the last 10 years or so, archive.org had been a pleasant reminder of everything I loved about the Dead. Unfortunately November 22nd was a painful reminder of what I had grown to hate about them — the sheer, unadulterated greed of it all. To see the ethos of the Dead’s liberal taping and trading policies reach it’s zenith with Archive.org only to be knocked down by greedy fucks who care only about the almighty dollar — it’s so sad, and it makes me so angry.
So to Grateful Dead Productions, Phil Lesh, Deborah Koons and the rest I say this — congratulations! You finally did what years of exceptional electronic music and sub-par wanna-be jam bands could not do — you nailed the final coffin in my interest in the Dead. I will never, for as long as I live, buy another Grateful Dead product. I will never go see another Phil n Friends show. I will never buy a stupid, lossy DRMed track off iTunes, ever. I have too many good bands and producers and honest human beings to support with my obsessive music collecting habits.
I think BoingBoing.net got it right when they wrote:
“This is pretty disappointing. Deadheads made the Grateful Dead some pretty substantial fortunes over the years by acting as unpaid, volunteer evangelists for their commercial offerings. This is a genuine betrayal of the audience from a couple of greedy people who would line their pockets at the expense of the memory of the generous, mutually beneficial relationship between the band and its supporters.”
Exactly. Nothing like betrayal to utterly destroy a relationship, Mr. Lesh.
[Additional thoughts: I forgot to point out the unbelievable irony of a band that once employed John Perry Barlow – a founding member of the EFF – as a lyricist undertaking such a backwards move. I hope that he comes out with a statement at some point with his position on the matter.]