Grateful Dead

Documenting the Dead

In the world of rock music, fifty years is not just a milestone, it is an era, one far longer than most performers or bands ever survive. As we celebrate the Grateful Dead's fiftieth anniversary over the course of this year, this blog will explore one of the hidden sides of the band's story: the archive that the Dead built over a half-century, now housed in Special Collections at UC Santa Cruz's McHenry Library. It is an archive that reflects the band's history and career in unstinting and often colorful detail, at times surprising but always compelling, from the earliest newspaper clippings and handbills to band meeting minutes and gig contracts. Every two weeks I'll post a short article about the Archive, from individual items to entire sections to supporting materials. As one of the largest archival collections devoted to a single band, the Grateful Dead Archive not only represents one of the premier scholarly popular music collections in the country, it also provides a window into a host of subjects and issues that are increasingly being studied by scholars, students, and fans

- Nicholas Meriwether

  • This week’s entry focuses on the Dead’s business records, the section of the band’s papers that academic researchers consider the heart of the Archive, and what establishes the collection as such a significant part of the nation’s cultural heritage. As one visiting historian recently remarked, “the business papers distinguish the Dead Archive as one of the premier archival collections documenting the 1960s, the counterculture, and their impact on American history.”
  • One recently processed collection in the Grateful Dead Archive is the Michael Linah Papers, a small but evocative archive documenting Linah’s much-loved parking lot flyer and sticker series, both named Mikel.

  • The Grateful Dead’s famed Warfield Theatre run of October 1980 is justly renowned for many reasons: the music, which produced the LPs Reckoning and Dead Set; the newspaper announcement, which didn’t even mention the name of the band; and the lobby display, a museum-quality exhibition that was a masterpiece of Bill Graham’s promotional acumen.

  • This week’s entry focuses on a small but significant supporting collection in the Grateful Dead Archive, the Robert M. Petersen Papers. Although the collection comprises only two boxes, it is the most literary collection in the Archive...

  • This week’s entry focuses on another major supporting collection in the Grateful Dead Archive, the Dick Latvala Collection. Latvala (1943–1999) is known to most fans as the namesake of the Dick’s Picks series of two-track Vault releases, which commenced in 1993 and spanned 36 releases, ending in 2005.

  • So far this column has introduced several of the major series, or sections, of the Grateful Dead Archive; today’s entry focuses on one of the Archive’s major supporting collections, the Jerry Garcia Memorial Collection. Assembled on August 13, 1995, the collection consists of more than 3,100 items that fans brought to the celebration of Garcia’s life held that day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

  • For casual visitors, the most commonly requested part of the Grateful Dead Archive is the band’s poster collection. This is not surprising: after the music, posters were the first related artform to emerge from the Haight-Ashbury, and they not only chronicled the city’s vibrant music scene, they also documented the Dead’s early years.

  • One of the most extensive sections of the Grateful Dead Archive is the Photograph Series, more than 10,000 images that span the entirety of the band’s history. Researchers and fans alike understand the power of these photographs: a snapshot can be a window into the past, a telling piece of documentary evidence, or simply an evocative object, as museum theorists would say.

  • When the band's archive arrived at UC Santa Cruz, one of the most unusual sections was their library: an informal collection of more than 400 books, spanning a fascinating gamut from influences to interests, from documents of their history to assessments of its impact.

  • When the first part of the Grateful Dead Archive arrived at UC Santa Cruz in the summer of 2008, the two most extensive series, or sections, were Press (discussed in the first blog), and Correspondence. The care with which the Dead had stewarded those series was revealing...

Documenting the Dead