A book to own and gift this Christmas season is ‘Dead Letters: The Very Best Grateful Dead Fan Mail.’
Rock ‘n’ roll’s seminal jam-band, the Grateful Dead were one of the planet’s most successful touring rock bands to ever set foot on the stage.
Formed in 1965 and disbanded after the death of Jerry Garcia, their lead guitarist, in 1995, the Dead entranced countless rabid fans with a mind-altering mix of no-rules songwriting, feel-good harmonies, and musicianship that took a backseat to no band.
Disclosure: I am not a Dead Head, yet I experienced a concert back in the 1980s and saw first-hand the adoration and fervor the fanbase had for this California phenomenon.
The Grateful Dead are as American as Apple Pie, and this book is an exquisite love letter from fans to the band that included the late Jerry Garcia as front man.
This book features a forward and appreciation by Bill Walton. The Preface is a letter written by Jerry “Cap’n Trips” Garcia.
The chapters are broken up to cover the various fan mail to The Dead, titled “Dead Freaks Unite”, “Ticket Sales”, “Song Interpretations”, “Concerts and Tours”, “Band Members”, “The Second Set” and more.
Each chapter begins with an essay on that particular topic, which helps set the scene for the breathtaking original fan artwork that follows.
Author Paul Grushkin brings the past ephemera of a beloved band to light, and he does it respectfully and with great flourish in his presentation.
“Dead Freaks Unite!”
This simple exhortation, printed in the gatefold of the Grateful Dead’s 1971 “Skull & Roses” double LP, opened the floodgates. Soon the band was blessed with a constant flow of fan love via the U.S. Post. But among all the mail the Dead received daily, the envelopes bearing ticket requests were easily the most remarkable.
As the band blazed a path for DIY ticket sales, fans began tucking their money orders into wildly imaginative hand-drawn, hand-painted, and otherwise hand-decorated envelopes. Each hoped to capture the attention of the Dead’s inner sanctum and thus secure those increasingly elusive passports to The Show.
The artwork is master level impressionism to cruder charcoal drawings and everything in-between on envelopes and letters with messages and cryptic well-wishes that were on par for the era before Ticketmaster and Livenation.
Of the hundreds of thousands of ticket-request envelopes the band received over the years, some 15,000 have found their way into The Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Author Grushkin (Grateful Dead: The Official Book of the Dead Heads) has arranged the book by by Dead themes, such as the band’s rich iconography, song interpretations, concert locations, and more, the envelopes are accompanied by essays and archival photography that provide a rich historical context for the Dead phenom.
In addition, a final chapter includes a selection of envelopes from the archive of Grateful Dead Ticket Sales, bringing the story from the 1995 passing of Jerry Garcia to the present.
This is a record of never seen fan-artist connection that reveals that the creativity ran both ways, perhaps the music inspiring the artistic senses of the Dead followers.
Poignant, heartfelt and timely in this cold age of digital music, “Dead Letters” is the perfect gift for that one Dead Head in your family you know will tuck off Christmas Day with a glass of red to a quiet room, and savor the past in a celebratory and reflective way.
ISBN (13): 9780760338544
Product dimensions: 27.94 x 23.62 cm
Publisher: Voyageur Press (MN)