(Originally published on Grateful Music)
Russell’s Round Room
Deadheads have always been a critical bunch. For decades we’ve waded and waffled over albums, tapes, set lists, soundboards, and so on, with monotonous detail. We’ve attended shows with aim to transcend the boundaries and limits of day-to-day life, yet when something wasn’t quite up to snuff, we’d be the first to appraise, and offer up notions on how it could’ve been better. Since Jerry checked out we’ve been hypercritical about every show, often unfairly holding them up to concerts from the best days of the Dead. And while sometimes we can frankly be oversensitive imbeciles, it’s this very way that we showcase our dedicated nature that makes us the very best fan base in the world. We don’t mince words. We will tell you if you suck. Likely you don’t blow or we wouldn’t attend your shows, but when you have one of those days, tours, or even one of those sets or songs where you couldn’t tap into the collective synchronicity, you’re going to get an earful. As a musician I can’t imagine a more terrifyingly wonderful prospect, because you will get the credit when it’s due. Genuine is a word that wholeheartedly defines deadheads.
And this year, tons of gratitude has poured from our ranks towards the Core Four, their counterparts and the various 50th anniversary incarnations, yet there has been an incredible level of hogwash as well. And I’m not talking about constructive criticism regarding a show that already went down; rather referring to deadheads a plenty taking their preconceived notions about a certain artist or ensemble and prejudging events that have yet to take place. While it’s far from the bunch, and may be a minority (there’s no way to really know), a group of heads has made an indelible mark in various corners of the interweb with premature expressions of doubt. First with Trey, the hysteria was palpable, and people that practically based part of their very being on hating Phish, were met with a musical identity crisis of massive proportions. Folks flipped their shit, and that vibe wafted throughout our scene, and touched everyone, including Big Red himself. But now that Fare Thee Well has come and gone, the Anastasio bashing has nearly ceased, as most realize they don’t have two legs to stand upon when attacking his abilities. So at this juncture as Trey stands on his merits, some have certainly learned their lesson about prejudgment. Still I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu with the yet to be road tested Dead & Company and their lead guitarist. John Mayer’s inclusion in Dead and Company has left him as the new public enemy number one. After the unjustified Trey hate barrage, I thought many more would take the high road at this juncture, but my optimism outshined reality, as the trolls and drama queens are at it again. And a message to them: your intransigent non-constructive criticism serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to justify your years held prejudices. Disliking Mayer’s mainstream music should not be basis for condemning the Dead and Company venture. Even Mayer himself believes his pop tunes are garbage, merely a means to pay the bills while pursuing his true passions on the side. Moreover a heaping handful of evidence suggests that Mayer can in fact play guitar, and play it quite well. So instead of condemning the man out of the gate, how about giving him a chance to demonstrate his proficiency without any prepossessed notions. Simply, it’s called open-mindedness, and I thought we were a pretty receptive bunch.
As Mayer has received his fair share of hate from the general public over the years, and has likely grown a thick skin, it’s not his feelings I’m concerned about. It’s our community, and what we tacitly stand for that should be upheld. Many are stoked for these shows. We hear your hate on a daily basis. While you may be ultimately right, and Dead & Company bombs due to the incorporation of Mayer into the collective, you’ll be vindicated based on your prediction, but you won’t be upon your behavior. The name-calling and ad hominem attacks are unbecoming, unnecessary, and your prematurely negative vibes are harshing our widespread mood. So for the betterment of our community, mellow out, open your brain, ears, and heart to the possibility that something good might be brewing. And if you can’t do that, and your irrational hate is so deep-seated, then stuff it for the duration and let us have our good time without the ongoing pessimistic commentary from the peanut gallery. Ultimately your vibe won’t ruin our experience in the least, but it does take its toll, and perhaps in recognition of that, you’ll take it down a notch.
Whether this tour will be the greatest thing since Fare Thee Well, present itself as a mediocre happening, or crash as an abysmal failure, we don’t know. Those touting the merits of Mayer, or attacking him on insignificant levels, simply have no inkling. So in the vista of uncertainty, why not wax positive. Positivity and transcendent music are the main features of our community that brought us here in the first place. And without the former, the latter often doesn’t come to fruition. Life is a whole lot easier looking upwards and onwards, rather than downwards with a constant eye towards past dwellings. If these shows are second-rate, then take all the time you need to constructively criticize after the fact. I may very well join you. But if the hate parade continues towards Dead & Company’s opening dates, I have to ask: what kind of people are we? We can be the people that live by the creeds commonly suggested in Grateful Dead lyrics, or we can throw everything we’ve learned on this trip to the wind, and devolve into our lesser selves. The choice is yours. “Ain’t no time to hate,” even if it’s John Mayer.
Words: Russell S. Glowatz
Logo: Jeffrey Peltzman