If you never attended a Grateful Dead show, or are too young to have been around for the band’s heyday, much of Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads may appear as impenetrable as a foreign language (which it is) or read as jibberish (which it also is). It is/was a language and culture, purely “of the moment,” and, with the passing of the Grateful Dead as we know it, that moment has passed.
I couldn’t help think of Skeleton Key as some long-lost text from a civilization gone by. A peek into a past time that no longer exists, and one that is unlikely to be recreated or reincarnated any time soon.
While there are plenty of musical subcultures today that inspire a similar passion, dedication and lifestyle amongst their fanbase —from the jamband scene (which currently seems on the decline) to newgrass and the string band revolution (alternately on the way up) —there is little out there that comes close to realizing the richness, ingenuity, innovation, and, yes, pure weirdness, of Deadheads.
In fact, some of the language in this book is so fantastically descriptive and sing-songy, its only real touchstone may be that of Dr. Seuss. And, somehow, those weird, wonderful places that exist only in the wildness of imagination, feel just about right.
“Runners run to snag a tasty seat
And hope the Dead bust out ‘Shakedown Street’
The twirlers twirl, the dancers dance,
The tapers tape and leave no flip to chance
Let’s toast a toast to Jerry and the boyses
As they make the most grateful of all grateful noises
And raise yet another to the most peaceful of tribes
The Deadheads bedecked in tie dye and good vibes.”
Yup. Those days are gone. Long gone.
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