Deadhead is a term used by airline and trucking outfits which make their living hauling freight. If you have to travel empty to one location in order to get a load to haul somewhere else, that empty run is called "deadheading." The same term is used if you have to haul a load to some location and have nothing to do but turn around and come home with an empty cargo hold. In these days of high gasoline prices, it's paycheck suicide to have a whole lot of deadhead runs.
In the airline industry, this term is also used for human employees who must fly on a commercial flight as a passenger in order to reposition themselves for a flight in another locale. The term became a pejorative appellation for company employees or their spouses because they were strapped into empty seats in order to give the appearance of high traffic volume on a flight.
You might also remember the term being a fairly big part of the story in Catch Me if you Can, written as a true story by Frank Abagnale Jr. and brought to the silver screen by Steven Spielberg. Leonardo DiCaprio (playing Frank) learns how to fly deadhead on airlines around the world posing as a Pan Am pilot.
They wore tie dyed underwear and took a whole lot of drugs. At least they said they were taking a whole lot of drugs. Want to know a secret about the hippies that says a lot about the way the whole bunch of 'em turned out? Did you ever, when you were learning to drink, pour your alcohol out when no one was looking because you couldn't stand the taste of it, and act like you had finished it off? Well, a lot of these folks who tell you they did monstrous doses of acid back then are pissing on your leg and asking you to believe that it's raining. Monstrous doses of acid would make a paperweight out of you. Look at Hendrix. He was one who really did take overdoses of uppers, hallucinogenics, and downers.
I'm using Hendrix's left hand to hold these papers down right this minute.
It's petrified, and you need not ask me how I got it.
(See how we lie? So easily?
"I did not have sex with that left hand!" . . .
Millions of words have been written about the Deadheads, which was the appellation given to the multlicolored hippies who devoted their lives to travelling around the country to see the Grateful Dead play live. They would normally be in Volkswagen MiniVans with flowers painted on the side. They would normally be jobless and basically without any purpose in life except to get baked and follow this band around the world. Their parents were not too happy about finding out that Junior was not at Princeton this semester.
I could rant about how idiotic these folks were to devote their lives to something so ephemeral and banal and non-401-K’ish, but let me just tell you a short story about a magical afternoon in Nashville, TN. It might make it all make sense in some twisted way. However; I hope not.
DISCLAIMER: I WAS NOT A DEADHEAD. I SAW THEM PLAY LIVE THREE TIMES, MAX.
MAYBE FOUR. I’M NOT REAL SURE.
I AM SURE I DRANK ALL MY LIQUOR WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. STILL DO.
Whatever year it was that the first Datsun 240Z cars came out, that was the year we decided to drive from Tuscaloosa, AL, to Nashville, TN, to see the Dead play an outside afternoon concert at Vanderbilt. As usual, when we got there, you could see the Deadheads all over the place. They were usually well-behaved, but you could get a contact high which would send you to the asylum just from looking them in the eye.
The drug of choice that day was what we called MDA. Actually, we called it "the love drug" (not to be confused with any VW Beetle in a bad movie at any point in time). I think you kids call it Ecstasy these days, but perhaps that is more akin to MDMA. I've long since given up trying to keep up with drugacronyms. Anyway, what we called MDA was some sort of mixture of a mild hallucinogenic (mescaline?) and a big dose of speed. Throw a few chunks of hash on top of that, and it was about time for some music.
The Grateful Dead had a presence like very few bands of that era. The Allman Brothers had it when Duane was alive. I guess Zeppelin and some of those English dudes had it, too. But I never saw any of them in this sort of setting.
A band with a real presence doesn't need a light show or stage theatrics. They just stand there and play. And play. And play. This particular afternoon at Vandy, the music began around 2:00 PM. They played for 2½ hours, took a 30 minute break, and then played 2½ more hours. No opening act. No closing act. Just them for 5 hours of music.
As you can imagine, filling 5 hours is a daunting task. There is a lot of the noodle involved. Garcia was the King of the Noodle. Weir wasn't bad at it, either. And you'd have some long drum solos (they had two drummers, just like the Allmans) and a bass solo every so often. The trick was to let the drugs wash over you as the noodle progressed so that you "became the noodle."
The air was cool, like that atmosphere of the first football game of the year. The wind had a bit of a chill. The ivy was climbing the walls of those old buildings at Vanderbilt. The grass was a bit damp. The Deadheads were in heaven, and I wasn't far behind.
I started an affair that afternoon which lasted for a few weeks. Every time I think of that girl named Celia, I think of that afternoon in Nashville and that crazy band.
A real Deadhead would have more and better stories, but this is the best I can do. I am sorry, and I am also sorry that this band turned out to be such a disappointment when I actually began listening to their stuff on records. American Beauty is still a pretty good album, but most of it is not very good. It's not very good at all.