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Mojo Hand

Touch Heads

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With all the talk about Touch Heads on this board over the past month and their impact on the GD scene, I have developed an alternative theory about what happened in the mid-to late 80's.  Figured I would take the opportunity to share it with the only audience that may care.

 

The common perception is that the Grateful Dead had a Top 40 hit that turned a lot of young people onto the band, and those young people drastically changed the scene at Grateful Dead concerts.  Taken one step further, these young people were assumed to be typical teenagers of the time and were driven to see the band because of this hit song.  Many came onto the scene one -time and disappeared, while others stayed on for all the wrong reasons, and a small percentage became part of the more positive Deadhead community. 

 

I graduated high school in 1990 and fall right into this generation of Deadhead and therefore have some relevant thoughts on the matter.  While I have no experience of the Grateful Dead scene before 1988, I surely can speak to the youth of the time. 

 

Touch of Gray reached #9 on the Billboard charts.  The idea that a #9 Top 40 single would create a generational movement is preposterous.  As far as the Top 40 charts are concerned, the Grateful Dead would be considered a one-hit wonder.  Not many (or perhaps any) other one-hit wonders experienced the type of phenomena where thousands of people suddenly started following the band.  Granted, the fact that the GD already had a 20 year following changes the conversation considerably.  However......to my point, I've never really heard of any social impact resulting from a one-hit wonder that briefly cracked the Top 10.

 

Consider that maybe there was already a generational movement happening and Touch of Gray reached the Top 10 in 1987 as a result of that movement.  In 1986, Phish was getting started in Vermont.  Blues Traveler had left Princeton and was making in-roads into the NYC music scene along with the Spin Doctors (another early jam band).  People of my age who did not gravitate towards the over-produced and soulless music of the early MTV generation were looking for something different.  At that point a jam band scene was born and the Grateful Dead's added popularity was part of that movement.  The jam band scene would become a phenomena through the late 80's and 90's.  Touch of Gray did not cause a ton of extra people to attend Grateful Dead concerts.  It was part of a greater rejection of the MTV pop culture.  Touch of Gray was a hit because there was already a movement  happening.  Young people were looking for real music. There was another scene being born parallel to the jam band scene. Grunge was starting to become a thing on the West Coast.  Grunge was also a reaction to the soulless culture of the day.  The 90's concert scene was dominated by grunge and jam bands.  These scenes started in the mid-80's.  Touch of Gray did not start the movement, it was simply a part of it.  The young people that would populate the jam band festivals and concerts were going to find the Grateful Dead with or without Touch of Gray. 

 

Whether or not these were the "right" kind of people behaving in the "right" ways is another conversation.  I just wanted to share my thoughts on the notion that Touch of Gray making the Billboard charts was the cause of a major change to the GD scene.  I think it was going to happen either way. 

 

(As a side note Trey Anatasio, Blues Traveler, and the Spin Doctors all hailed from Princeton NJ.  I was a few classes behind these guys and grew up in Princeton.  This scene gave birth to other significant acts and musicians, such as Chris Harford, Ween, and Scott Metzger from JRAD.  New Hope PA and Princeton are approximately 30 minutes from each other.  John Popper graduated Princeton HS in 1986 and was the anchor of a major music scene that was born from these two towns.  A lot of the late 80's and 90's jam band scene can be traced back to this moment and place in time.)

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While we are laying blame the problems started well before the release of "Touch".  A lot of good ole Deadheads were fucking up with regularity.  It wasn't "touch heads" that ended shows at Kaiser in Oakland and The Greek Theater in Berkeley.  It was the onslaught of buses parked in the neighborhood around Kaiser for up to a week before shows. The "Tour Rats" camping in parks.  It was the people running amok thru the neighborhood around The Greek.  There were many complaints of people pissing and even crapping in residents yards  and even screwing.  Incidents like this happened other places I mention them because I lived about a half mile from the Kaiser at the time.  Kaiser was the best venue for seeing the Dead

 

It is true that there was a significant change in the atmosphere in and around shows after the popularity of the song, but, I don't think the problem was the people that liked the song.  The people that came to shows because it was the cool thing to do, the ones that didn't care about the music or the people or anything else. The ones selling crack and heroin in the parking lots.

 

I don't think we should blame the people that like the song, we should be blaming the damn song.

 

TRIVIA: The video for "Touch Of Grey" was recorded at Laguna Seca Raceway, 5/9/87.  That evening after the show I was laying down in the back of my '64 Falcon Station Wagon watching the pretty colors dance around the roof liner.  I kept hearing music, couldn't quite make out what it was, but it was the same thing over and over.  The next day I learned that they had opened the gates and let a bunch of people in while they recorded the "Touch Of Grey" video because they need an audience for it.

The Bay Are Music Awards (the Bammies) the award for the Best New Artists for 1987 went to .... drum-roll.... The Grateful Dead 

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Good point, Ron, that the Touch Heads didn't start bad behavior. It never works to paint an entire group as all being the same, and either all good or all bad. Sociological generalizations don't work that way. And then a good person in a group that is being disparaged gets offended and defensive, and the kindness gets washed away.

 

It's fair to discuss group dynamics but it must be done with an approach of generalization subject to exception. 

 

I think it was I who tossed out the term here.  It generated a spirited discussion that showed that the term has been around--and has many meanings. Then the discussion turned nasty, unnecessarily so, and you correctly closed it. I'm glad it's still available, though, as a lesson in how a good thing can turn ugly....proving a lot of points made.

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I was a Touch-Head for sure - at least at the outset.  I was definitely up for the party, VERY interested in the Lot marketplace that was going on, and a little curious about the music. 

 

Commerce surrounding grateful dead tour started as a way to get to the next show and it was already morphing quickly when I happened upon it.  Over my years seein shows, it became a fairly big enterprise and there were many more people looking to make a good living out of it instead of just getting by (nitrous, heavier drugs, big merch, etc.).  The economics of greed was just one of the reasons the scene got more and more fouled up.

 

I deeply connected to the music and had the benefit of some experienced people to show me the ropes .  Other than wishing my run would have been from 67 - 74, I have few if any regrets.

 

 

 

 

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59 minutes ago, Greg from Chestertown said:

Kinda funny, I never heard the term touchhead until about two, maybe three years ago. 

 

I hadn't heard it 'til about four days ago 😕

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BTW.....I always feel Nitrous gets a bad rap.  I happen to love the stuff. 

I know it's bad for you and all that....but as long as I enjoy something to no detriment of others, then live and let live.

The problem with Nitrous is the people who dealt it brought a bad element to the scene, and too many people do not enjoy responsibly.

It's a shame nitrous wasn't sold by Heads right in-line with t-shirts, burritos, and patches on Shakedown St.  Then maybe it wouldn't get such a bad rap.  For people like me who want to sit down with some balloons and friends....what's the harm?  I understand that I am supporting the bad element by purchasing their product.  That's why I wish it was sold by Heads right on Shakedown St.  Then I could enjoy my drug with no negative connotations attached.

 

today is the day I come out of the nitrous closet. 

 

 

 

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The thing you have to worry about with long term nitrous use is neuropathy in extremities- ALL extremities. 

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I came on too late to even be a touch head. Although I’m sure that’s how I would have been perceived. Young, stupid, there for the party Probably more than the music. All those things described me In The 90’s. Although if I hadn’t searched out the party, I’d have never fell in love with the music or found you guys/gals. 

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8 hours ago, Taper Ron said:

While we are laying blame the problems started well before the release of "Touch".  A lot of good ole Deadheads were fucking up with regularity.  It wasn't "touch heads" that ended shows at Kaiser in Oakland and The Greek Theater in Berkeley.  It was the onslaught of buses parked in the neighborhood around Kaiser for up to a week before shows. The "Tour Rats" camping in parks.  It was the people running amok thru the neighborhood around The Greek.  There were many complaints of people pissing and even crapping in residents yards  and even screwing.  Incidents like this happened other places I mention them because I lived about a half mile from the Kaiser at the time.  Kaiser was the best venue for seeing the Dead

 

It is true that there was a significant change in the atmosphere in and around shows after the popularity of the song, but, I don't think the problem was the people that liked the song.  The people that came to shows because it was the cool thing to do, the ones that didn't care about the music or the people or anything else. The ones selling crack and heroin in the parking lots.

 

I don't think we should blame the people that like the song, we should be blaming the damn song.

 

TRIVIA: The video for "Touch Of Grey" was recorded at Laguna Seca Raceway, 5/9/87.  That evening after the show I was laying down in the back of my '64 Falcon Station Wagon watching the pretty colors dance around the roof liner.  I kept hearing music, couldn't quite make out what it was, but it was the same thing over and over.  The next day I learned that they had opened the gates and let a bunch of people in while they recorded the "Touch Of Grey" video because they need an audience for it.

The Bay Are Music Awards (the Bammies) the award for the Best New Artists for 1987 went to .... drum-roll.... The Grateful Dead 

 

I caught the Chinese NY shows at The Kaiser ('86?)…...Dirty Dozen Band warmed up if that helps pinpoint the year. It really was a nice venue to see the band.

5 hours ago, Taper Ron said:

 

I hadn't heard it 'til about four days ago 😕

 

Me neither!

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What should we call the roughly 8500 new DSO fans that showed up at red rocks, assuming the other roughly 1500 would've gone to Boulder theater if they were playing there? RockHeads? I thought they were all cool and really added to the experience. 🤣 The Touch heads catapulted the GD into the highest grossing touring band machine in the world. Prob contributed to Jer's inability to kick heroin. Brought a lot of attention psycadelic hippie culture. The scene was growing rapidly by the mid 80s. Touch success accelerated what prob would've happened anyway. The 80s were starving for something cool, anything cool. I preferred the somewhat smaller older crowd of the preTouch era despite me being the young newcomer, but it was all fun. And I mean ALL fun.

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You’re right. I’ve been thinking about it and looking back and remembering. It really was destined to happen before touch of grey. Hell, you could argue Jerry’s comeback from the coma had a lot to do with it. Their longevity had something to do with it. The greedy 80’s had something to do with it. 

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33 minutes ago, gr8fulpair said:

The scene was growing rapidly by the mid 80s. Touch success accelerated what prob would've happened anyway. The 80s were starving for something cool, anything cool.

I think that pretty much boils it down.

 

Remember, although the '86 New Year's run was at Kaiser, the '85 run was at Oakland Coliseum.  As were the '86 comeback shows.  There was already no turning back before In The Dark was released.

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11 hours ago, gr8fulpair said:

What should we call the roughly 8500 new DSO fans that showed up at red rocks, assuming the other roughly 1500 would've gone to Boulder theater if they were playing there? RockHeads? I thought they were all cool and really added to the experience. 🤣 

 

I think in this case it's safe to simply call them deadheads 😉

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Everyone has to start somewhere; it's what you do with it over time that matters. And "touch head" doesn't just mean newcomer, someone unfamiliar, or one who started in the late 80's.  It's an attitude of being there regardless of the music, not because of it, coupled with behaving contrary to the aura of kindness.

 

Like when I took my then young daughters to see The Dead, mostly for the whole experience, and some wook zipped our tickets out of my 14 yo's back pocket.

 

And on the other hand, there is little more annoying than a self-righteous deadhead trying to assert he is more of a deadhead than someone else because he saw/did ... (you know the rap). Instead of "holier than thou" would that be "deadlier than thou"?  The ones who reply, if you say you don't like a particular song, with "well you don't get it, then."

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Damn. I love that you took your kids and sorry that that bullshit happened to you guys. Goes to show people suck everywhere I guess. Always a few bad eggs. 

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Thanks--what was tough as a parent is that I hyped up the "kind" community spirit, etc. before the show.

 

But I've remained a Grateful Dad since and one of them will be at DSO with me tomorrow night!

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57 minutes ago, smoseywales said:

Thanks--what was tough as a parent is that I hyped up the "kind" community spirit, etc. before the show.

 

But I've remained a Grateful Dad since and one of them will be at DSO with me tomorrow night!

Yeah that’s rough. Definitely at Dead/DSO shows the good people outweigh the bad probably as much or more than anywhere else but the bad eggs lurk everywhere. Enjoy and I hope your little gets their favorite song. 👍

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"TRIVIA: The video for "Touch Of Grey" was recorded at Laguna Seca Raceway, 5/9/87.  That evening after the show I was laying down in the back of my '64 Falcon Station Wagon watching the pretty colors dance around the roof liner.  I kept hearing music, couldn't quite make out what it was, but it was the same thing over and over.  The next day I learned that they had opened the gates and let a bunch of people in while they recorded the "Touch Of Grey" video because they need an audience for it.

The Bay Are Music Awards (the Bammies) the award for the Best New Artists for 1987 went to .... drum-roll.... The Grateful Dead "

 

Word was they were going to play us a midnight set after we all cheered for the video shoot. We did not get a midnight set.

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Well I'm not sure it helped the scene to have mtv doing a day of the dead all day with live reports from the lot at giants stadium where kids and whomever would see this huge party free for all that probably looked like a druggie Disneyland to kids who if not watching might never have known about it. I imagine they came in droves afterwards

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35 minutes ago, helpfrankslip said:

Well I'm not sure it helped the scene to have mtv doing a day of the dead all day with live reports from the lot at giants stadium where kids and whomever would see this huge party free for all that probably looked like a druggie Disneyland to kids who if not watching might never have known about it. I imagine they came in droves afterwards

Good point. MTV probably played a huge role

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Very good point and consistent with the underlying theory of Touch and Bucket being close to Top-40 Hitz for the band. 

 

I wonder if the same thing happened after American Beauty; it was mainstream and very popular in many circles; still gets the air play on FM radio.

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