The Inevitable Archive Commentary
There is a new cadre of ‘fan’ who has taken to constant second guessing of my motives and decisions. Their responses are usually Cassandraesque, rife with predictions of career death and loss of core audience. If results are not to their satisfaction, they threaten… what? To actively campaign against playing my music on the radio?
True or false: the above is Bob Weirs reflections on the fans who have signed an online petition to boycott the Grateful Dead because the Dead withdrew their live recordings from the Internet Archive.
Answer: false. This was Todd Rundgren replying to his fans outrage over an equally surprising decision of his right around the same time [Editors note: his decision to tour with Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes in a new incarnation of the Cars]. Of course, the truth is that this is not exactly a new cadre of fan, although with the advantage of Internet these fans can get their sentiments across to Todd rather more easily than before. The Dead, however, must have known about these sorts of folks at least since the shooting of The Grateful Dead Movie in 1974. Wonder if that I dont know if Im even gonna be ALIVE five years from now!! guy is still out there
Like most Dead fans, I had a variety of emotions in response to the recent Internet Archive incident. A lot of them were negative disappointment in the band for their uncoordinated and unstrategic moves, annoyance with many of the fans for their self-centeredness. One surprisingly dominant reaction I had, though, was amusement. Who would have thought that a story about a collecting hobby I share would be important enough to make NPR, Newsweek and the New York Times?
My amusement at the medias recognition, though, also comes packaged with annoyance. For instance, Jon Pareles, in an otherwise thoughtful piece in the Times, suggests that the Dead condoned taping throughout its history (not so before the establishment of the tapers section in fall 1984 tapers had some happy stories, but also many tales to tell of roadies cutting cables) and suggests that [t]he new approach, giving fans some but not all of what they had until last weekdowngrades fans into the customers they were all along, ignoring the fact that this downgraded status is (as of now, at least) precisely the same as what the fans had in the many years before the Archive.
Others, such as Newsweeks Conventional Wisdom column, have seized the opportunity to make fun of their notions of the bands hippie ethos and their supposed betrayal of it. Let he who would happily give away his work cast the first stone.
Despite all of the bad things that came out of this flap, here is one thing I liked: it got me thinking about the Deads music again. These days I often listen to Dead shows while walking laps on an indoor track near my apartment. The other afternoon I took a 77 show over there, and it was amazing how all the questions about whether Barlow was right in accusing Hart of supporting the decision to take the shows down, what Weir thinks of the fans and what Jerry would have done melted away. What was there was the music fresh, interactive, youthful, vibrant.
Since I had been collecting for ten years before the Archive went up, I didnt take much advantage of the ability to grab every show. It was certainly fun while it lasted. For the new people who missed the window of opportunity, though, I can at least say from experience that theres something to be said for not having everything, and for treasuring what you do have while keeping an eye peeled for the chance to get more. 5/8/77 had more luster when I didnt know that how they sounded that night was pretty much how they sounded every night back then.
The Archive was a great resource. However, it was also another weapon in the Internets arsenal of distractions. Everything was there, so there was less of an excuse not to have everything. The Archive argument seems to be waning at the moment, but for a few weeks there around Thanksgiving it was absorbing, helping to sharpen my thinking and verbal skills (every touch of gray has a silver lining) but eating up time I could have spent listening to the music.
Now, as everyone knows, audience tapes are downloadable again, but soundboards are stream-only. I expect to be doing more streaming in the coming weeks. At least while I throw more time into discussions and keeping up with the news, I can test a few Dead shows and, if theyre exceptional, seek out a trade or, until the Powers That Be put their feet down (which Im not betting will happen), a torrent.
So, with a mild rueful undercurrent, and with no desire to write or sign a frickin online petition, thanks again, Grateful Dead.