Listening for the SecretThe Grateful Dead and the Politics of Improvisation

Listening for the SecretThe Grateful Dead and the Politics of Improvisation

Ulf Olsson

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780520286641

Publisher: University of California Press

Abstract

During their thirty years of existence, the Grateful Dead produced a musical as well as a cultural heritage that invites and rewards exploration and evaluation. This book engages critical theory in order to understand the band’s status and achievement, and what the cultural and political significance of the music as well as the wider phenomenon was, and is. The band and its music are studied in the tension between culture industry and self-organization. The first chapter looks at the dialectic of avant-garde and tradition in the mass cultural phenomenon that the Grateful Dead became. The second chapter builds on that analysis by directly engaging the political importance and legacy of a self-declared ”apolitical” band, assessing what ”politics” could mean in both the practices of the band and its audience as well as in the way mainstream America and law enforcement saw the band. The third and final chapter listens to the Grateful Dead improvising, presenting improvisation as the key element for any understanding both of the band’s music as well as its socio-political profile. A short coda summarizes the argument in a discussion of the band as an example of ”charismatic authority.”