On Thursday, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart are scheduled to announce that the archives of the legendary band – 30 years worth of correspondence, business records, merchandise and memorabilia, including stage backdrops, a large “Blues for Allah” stained-glass artwork a fan gave the band in 1978 and some of the life-size skeletons of the band members for the 1987 “Touch of Grey” video shoot – will be donated to the UC Santa Cruz archives. UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal is also scheduled to be on hand for the announcement, which, appropriately enough, will be made at the Fillmore in San Francisco, one of the most storied venues in Bay Area music history.
Eileen Law is one of the reasons that much of this material still exists. She was a teenager in the San Francisco psychedelic ballroom scene when the Grateful Dead first hit the stage in 1965. When she started working for the band in 1972, she was put in charge of Dead Heads, the casually formed fan club that came into being after the band invited its fans to write to the address of a San Rafael post office box printed on its 1971 eponymous album (colloquially known as “Skull & Roses” for the artwork that graced the cover). That opened the floodgates for a fan base whose devotion was unprecedented and remains unmatched in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
They sent in letters, postcards, Christmas cards, gifts and handmade artwork. And Law, who worked for the band for the next 34 years, saved everything.
She also kept press clippings dating back to the band’s inception in ’65, photographs, tickets, back stage passes, handbills, promotional materials, business records, stage backdrops, posters, T-shirts and other Grateful Dead merchandise, issues of the band’s erratically published ’70s newsletter and the more regularly published Grateful Dead Almanac that began in the ’90s, copies of all the band’s posters, vinyl albums, CDs, videos, all the awards and the books written about the band, show files, cassette tapes of the hot line messages announcing tour dates, publishing information, thousands of fan-decorated envelopes mailed to the band’s ticket office, even all the guest lists that went to the venues the band played.
“I was just the person that never shredded,” Law said in a phone interview from her home in San Anselmo. “It started off in my little closet,” at the Dead’s headquarters on Lincoln St. in San Rafael, “and it kept growing and growing, and now it fills up a warehouse.”
That’s 2,000 square feet of a Marin warehouse, to be exact.
After the band ended following Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, the surviving members kept the office open, then finally shut down operations in the summer of 2006. In August that year they moved the extensive vault of the band’s musical recordings in four refrigerated 18-wheelers to Los Angeles, where it is maintained by Rhino Records, which is licensed to release product from it. At that point, the question arose of what to do with the archive.
Both UC Berkeley, where bassist Phil Lesh was once a student, and Stanford, where his son now goes, made a pitch for it. But the Dead members ultimately chose Santa Cruz.
The connections between the band and the university are long and deep. They both came into existence at the same time, in the mid-’60s. Law’s son-in-law, Cameron Sears, former manager of the Grateful Dead and now of Weir’s band RatDog – is a UCSC alumnus, as is the daughter of Alan Trist, head of the Grateful Dead’s publishing company, Ice Nine. Santa Cruz Music Professor Fred Lieberman has taught a class in the music of the Grateful Dead for years and has collaborated with Dead drummer Hart on two books. The campus radio station has a weekly show featuring the band’s music called “Dead Serious.”
“I think it’s a perfect fit for Santa Cruz – the ethos of the band, the whole idea of community sharing, is really well matched with our campus,” said Christine Bunting, head of special collections for McHenry Library, which will house the archive.
“Our campus has a great music program, and we’re really interested in the study of American vernacular music and popular culture. We also have this whole side that’s concerned with social justice and tolerance and community spirit. And I think that fits so perfectly with what the band has done and what the Dead Heads have sustained over the years.”
McHenry, the university’s main library, is currently closed for renovation and expansion. When it reopens in fall 2009, it will have a reading room dedicated to the archive, tentatively named Dead Central, which will be located right at the library entrance. The room will feature music playing and exhibitions of material from the archive, to be curated by Bunting, who, while she doesn’t call herself a Dead Head, said she saw the band live several times and their music “helped me get through high school.” She said Dead Central will be a place for fans and researchers alike to use as a resource, and she hopes to make as much of it as possible available online.
The archive’s advisory board – dubbed Slugs & Roses, a blend of the university’s banana slug mascot and the Dead’s floral icon – includes Nion McEvoy, chairman and CEO of Chronicle Books, who also got his undergraduate degree from UCSC, and Bill Watkins, CEO of Seagate Technology, a major U.S. manufacturer of computer hard drives, who has committed in-kind technical support.
The library already has the archive of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, Beat poet, painter and novelist Kenneth Patchen and the only intact collection of photographer Edward Weston’s project prints in the world, according to Bunting. But this is the biggest archive the university has acquired.
It contains historic documents, such as the band’s first recording contract, with Warner Bros. Records, and notes from band’s weekly meetings. “That’s really exciting,” said Bunting, “because that’s the kind of primary material that shows what their decisions were are the time they were making them.” She said business files on the band’s concerts contain “the contracts and tickets and box office receipts and the guest lists and itineraries. You see the progression from all the concerts and tours.”
But the most interesting aspect of the archive, she said, is “the whole Dead Head side to it. The band’s following is a phenomenon in itself.”
How does Law feel about letting go of the archive she tended all those years?
“It’s like sending your kids off to college: Oh, they’re leaving home! That’s what it feels like, even though now I know it will be preserved and well taken care of. It’s another stage of development.”