With all the Futurist manifestoes and sci-fi speculations of the 20th century, it’s pretty amazing to think that the people who had the clearest vision of the 21st century might’ve been a bunch of drugged-out hippies in a band.
OK, maybe I’m overstating things a bit. Or maybe I’ve just eaten a handful of mushrooms while listening to an 8-track tape of Aoxomoxoa and MY MIND IS COMPLETELY BLOWN, MAN. The fact though is that the Grateful Dead, as far back as the late 1960s, created a business model that took care of the band and their fans and anticipated by 40 years the DIY, value-added approach that is the new model for musicians in the digital age.
And they did this at a time when digital meant fingers on a typewriter.
Although I liked some of their music, I was never a Deadhead, and like many non-believers, I bought into the popular image of the band’s cult of followers as a great group of unwashed, unshaven stoners who basically sold each other drugs and Grateful Dead trinkets and slept in their vans. And the band was distinguished from its followers only in that they slept on a tour bus.
In the 1970s, when I became musically aware, I saw this big shiny record industry on the one hand, with gold records and once a year tours; and this weirdo band and their demented followers on the other hand, with their constant gigs and their fanzines.
Now, the industry is in tatters, and the blogosphere – the digital version of fanzines – has become the primary way for bands to gain exposure, jump-start their career, and maintain the all-important communication with their fans. Records are audio business-cards that get you noticed – the way a band sustains itself is through touring, and selling band trinkets. So, which side looks demented now?