Sidebar March 2010

A Brief Guide to Dead Scholarship

Joshua Green provides recommended reading for serious Dead students
Also see:

"Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead"
Why business professors, ethnomusicologists, sociologists, and (of all things) management theorists are suddenly taking the Grateful Dead very seriously

If you're interested in Grateful Dead scholarship, there's plenty to be found online. To learn more about the Dead Archive at the University of California Santa Cruz, or to make a donation, look here. If you'd like to be among the first to see material from the Archive, the New-York Historical Society will open the first major exhibit in New York City on March 5 (more info here). If you're partial to Fredric Lieberman, as I am, see his two books with Mickey Hart, Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Planet Drum, but know that these are mainly about percussion, not the Grateful Dead. Want to go deep on the business stuff? Want to know what Jerry Garcia can teach CEOs about leadership? Dr. Barry Barnes has the answers here.

When UC-Santa Cruz advertised for a Grateful Dead archivist recently, the media had a field day. Even Jon Stewart got in on the act. Funny stuff, if you have a boundless tolerance for stoner jokes. 

But the university really is hiring a Dead archivist, and my hands-down choice would be Nicholas Meriwether, editor of the excellent collection, All Graceful Instruments: Contexts of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon and of the occasional journal Dead Letters. Both are good starting points for budding Dead scholars or just the curious. Another collection I read and enjoyed was Robert G. Weiner's Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings.

For my money, the best Dead scholarship is the kind that's smart, clever, and (important!) accessible to a lay audience. The recent collection, Grateful Dead and Philosophy, edited by Steve Gimbel, a philosophy professor at Gettysburg College, fits this bill (likewise Gimbel's blog). The New York Times Book Review recently raved about a collection of scholarly writing on the cult film, The Big Lebowski: "The writing here is a bit like the film: amiable, laid-back and possessed of a wobbly Zen-acuity." Same general idea applies here. You don't even half to look hard for it. I just spotted it in paperback in my local Barnes & Noble.

I'll end with a promise to update this article wiki-style, if any scholars care to send along links to books, articles, or news items.

Update: Anyone interested in the Dead's business and marketing strategy should definitely check out Radical Marketing: From Harvard to Harley, Lessons from Ten That Broke the Rules and Made It Big, by Glenn Rifkin, which features a chapter on the Dead. Rifkin isn't an academic, but a veteran business author and New York Times reporter, which may be why he got to the story before almost anyone. You can buy it in paperback here, as I just did.

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