“They’re not the best at what they do,” said respected rock promoter Bill Graham of the Grateful Dead. “They’re the only ones that do what they do.” The band developed such an idiosyncratic musical style and personal sensibility that their legion of devoted fans, known as “Deadheads,” tended to follow them everywhere they toured. The Dead withstood more than their fair share of classic-rock turbulence in the thirty years from their formation in 1965, but didn’t dissolve until the 1995 death of founding member and unofficial frontman Jerry Garcia. The bereft Deadheads, still in need of a constant flow of their eclectic, improvisational, psychedelic-traditional, jam-intensive sound of choice, took a few different paths: some began following other, comparable groups; some would go on to rely on acts formed by ex-Dead members, like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s Furthur; some made it their life’s mission to collect everything in the band’s incomparably vast collection of demos, live recordings, and sonic miscellany.
Grateful Dead completists now have another source of solace in the Grateful Dead Archive Online from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Lest you assume yourself Dead-savvy enough to have already seen and heard everything this archive could possibly contain, behold the newly added item featured on the front page as I type this: Jerry Garcia’s Egyptian tour laminate. According to the press release, the archive’s internet presence features “nearly 25,000 items and over 50,000 scans” from the university’s physical archive, including “works by some of the most famous rock photographers and artists of the era, including Herb Greene, Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson and Susana Millman.” Rest assured that it offers plenty of non-obscurantist Dead-related pleasures, including television appearances, radio broadcasts, posters, and fan recordings of concerts. Like any rich subject, the Grateful Dead provides its enthusiasts a lifetime of material to study. UC Santa Cruz, a school often associated in the public imagination with the Dead’s greater San Francisco Bay Area origins as well as their penchant for laid-back good times, has just made it that much easier to plunge into.