“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” - Henry David Thoreau

In 1967, Timothy Leary persuaded America’s youth to “tune in, turn on,
and drop out.” Thousands of young adults literally heard the “far away music”
and, to the dismay of their parents, marched away. America’s children grew
their hair, burned their bras and draft cards and permanently changed their
wardrobes. To their delight, these individual cultural refugees discovered they
were not alone. These countercultural groups coalesced, establishing norms
and values so attractive, flexible and adaptive that finally, society could not
deny them a place in the American landscape. Because Deadheads typify how
mainstream American society generates groups of people with divergent core
ideals, ultimately making room for them, the Deadhead phenomenon can be
shown to illustrate counterculture as well as subculture, and even a latter-day
assimilation into mainstream American society.
Deadheads form a group with an identifiable onset and about which
there is substantial literature. Also, A Deadhead, according to the authors of
Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads, is “someone who loves -- and draws
meaning from -- the music of the Grateful Dead and the experience of Dead
shows, and builds community with others who feel the same way” (Shenk 60).
To elaborate on this in more objective terms, research shows the top
four characteristic influences on the life of Deadheads are (in order): The
Dead, Friends, Love, and Family. In this same survey, below the mean are:
Money, Work, and Sex, (Scott 343). From 1965 to 1995 the rock group, The
Grateful Dead, has attracted a group of people known as Deadheads who follow
the band everywhere they go. Large numbers of them live in their vans and
cars and travel from show to show, even without tickets, or any means to get
them. They make their money in the parking lot (outside the shows), selling
self-made tie-dies, beaded necklaces and bracelets, food and beverages, and
other random items. They have their own little portable community which,
from within, has become peopled with doctors and teachers.
To emphasize that Deadheads as a group are separate from mainstream
American society, we need only to review the profiles documented in the
literature: “46% of Deadheads are single, 28% married, and only 5%(!)
divorced; politically, 69% of Deadheads are either left of center (23%), liberal
(36%), or radical (10%)” (Scott 482). This illustrates a consistency in the
literature showing that Deadheads are, indeed a separate group, no matter how
measured. Compare this to the statistics of the mainstream: in American
society, approximately 50% of those who marry, get divorced. In mainstream
American society, the number of people who vote ‘left of center’ is significantly
lower than 69%. Regarding religion, compare the following datum with
mainstream American society: in a survey, 46% of Deadheads report “None”
for religion; 11% report “My Own” (Scott 482). Res ipsa loquitur.
Having established that they are a separate group, the argument then
becomes, where on the sociological spectrum does this group fit. In the
beginning, Deadheads were countercultural. According to Zellner himself, a
leading authority on countercultures, “a counterculture is one deliberately
opposed to certain aspects of the larger culture” (Zellner vii). If this “deliberate
opposition” this rebellion, to what their parents, teachers, society, government,
and religious leaders had been forcing on them did not exist, then Deadheads
would never have formed such an identifiable group with such staying power.
Youths used music to express independence from their elders, to
demonstrate their distrust of and disgust for society as their parents
embodied it....[Their] ‘counterculture’ peaked in the late 1960s, when
people under 30 rebelled against American life, the Vietnam War,
money, materialism and everyone over 30 (Folkers 6).
In their rejection of society, they seem to march forward with a sense that
everything would be okay: “Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will
see that you do not want society” (Thoreau 377).
Chronologically and developmentally, Deadheads as a group could not
remain as a counterculture for long, this by virtue of their good and positive
core values. Within this sub-group was respect, justice, peace, and trust for
each other. As these values gradually became better known in mainstream
American society, the threat Deadheads posed and the need for confrontation
diminished. There no longer was any need to rebel. As with any new, small,
emerging group viewed as different from the socially accepted mainstream,
there is a natural and automatic skepticism, and even xenophobic ridicule. We
know that even