Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Ladies Treat Me Kindly, And Furnish Me With Tape

All interests are wastes of time, to those who do not hold them. Enthusiasm is as unpalatable to a spoon collector or a trainspotter or someone who writes online reviews of chairs (“I haven’t fallen out once!”) as their weird bullshit is to us. The human mind, after it has been freed from the slavery of finding food and shelter, appears to need its obsessions. Some interests bring in money; we call these careers. Some interests cost money; we call these hobbies. Some interests are deadly; we call these addictions. Interests are universal, but the thing you’re interested in is specific and usually tedious to others.

And even within interests, there are divisions. Russians who took an interest in Communism split into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and it did not go well for one of those groups. (The one you haven’t heard of.) Fly fishermen believe those who angle from a boat are uncouth beer drinkers, while the boat guys think the fly fishermen write too many plaintively descriptive novels. So it is, of course, within the Dead’s shouting circle: there are Pigpen Purists, Eighties Truthers, and so on. Some opt for the quality of soundboard recordings, others enjoy the energy and immersion of audience tape. All of these beliefs are equally valid (except for the Eighties Truthers) but a new player has entered the game: the Tape Collectionist.

Let me go back to the beginning, for the sake of the youths who may be reading.

This is a cassette tape:

maxell 100

Some of the Nazi scientists the Army snagged during Operation Paperclip were sent to a recording studio instead of NASA (paperwork mix-up) and they came up with this. This was a blank tape, but there were also pre-recorded cassettes available, such as this one:

iron maiden tape

As you can see, it has Super Dynamic Range, and a song entitled Genghis Kahn that–let me assure you–is about Genghis Kahn. Also, MAAAAAAAIIDDDEEEENNNN!

Stop that.

Up the irons, bro.

Concentrate, doofus.

Right. Anyway: the cassette was a miniaturized version of the reel-to-reel tape, which (on the player) looked like this:


Now, these suckers could do something that vinyl couldn’t: record. You could tape a Dead show (or any show) off of an FM broadcast, or make a copy of an album, but it was as immobile as a record player. You couldn’t take your music with you; you went to it. Plus, these things were stupidly expensive compared to record players; I think I only saw one or two in friends’ homes all through childhood. Until the cassette came along, it was vinyl records or nothing.

By the 70’s, the engineers had gotten the quality up and by the 80’s, tapes were the number-one selling medium for music. They didn’t sound as good as records, but you could play them in the car, or copy your girlfriend Stacy’s Duran Duran album, or–and here’s where our shaggy heroes enter the story–put Dead shows on them. (How the music got from the band to the tapes is an entirely different topic, and post. We are concerning ourselves strictly with the cassette as object.) A Grateful Dead show was a tangible thing, and most often looked like this:

Portable Network Graphics image-A6BE83F5F2E0-1

I have neither artistic talent nor patience, so I just wrote the facts in whatever pen was nearby, but most Deadheads gussied up their J-cards. (This collection belongs to the great Tyler Wilcox, who wrote about the cassette period here, and he is generally a rational person.) You memorized the awful cuts the flip induced on some tapes, and lamented the minutes of blank space left on others. Some had filler, or the encore in the wrong place, and you grew to know the show wrong; it doesn’t sound correct now that you hear the real thing. There were house tapes and car tapes, and sometimes the car tapes melted. Your friend’s tapes were in your bedroom, and yours were in his basement.

For years, that was it as far as the Dead went. The transition to CD took a while. At first, blank compact discs were expensive and a nuisance: you’d be halfway through recording something and the disc would declare itself corrupted and then it was unusable forever. Tapes were also more durable: a key could kill a compact disc, but there was very few problems a cassette might encounter that a pencil and scotch tape could not fix.

(It should also be noted that the case of a cassette was an excellent and oft-used hiding place for acid. Professionals slid it within the J-card, and picked a tape no one would listen to.)

The innertubes, at first, facilitated tape trading, but as connection speed grew, this became pointless: you could download shows from the Archive; soon thereafter, you could stream a show, any show, multiple versions, with a higher quality of audio than a cassette is physically capable of providing, on a device roughly the size of a Maxell 90-minute tape.

This brings us back to the Tape Collectionist, and this article from (I have no idea) covers the basics; in the author’s defense, he seems rational. In his undefense: Jesus, do I not get this one, Enthusiasts. Is there an archival interest in Dead tapes? Sure. Would a coffee table book of J-cards be a lovely gift for your Deadhead family members at Christmas? Yes, and I am willing to write the copy and put it together for a modest fee. Can I understand nostalgia for cassettes? I’m not a complete sociopath, so: yes, of course I can.

But listening to the fuckers? Why not just pay a man or woman to beat you sexually? It’s the same thing; this is self-loathing manifesting itself as a direct assault on your ears. Perhaps this is performative, and artistic, and Marina Abramovich will soon listen to cassette versions of AUDs in a food court to rave reviews.

Vinyl Wieners make sense, even beyond their claims of sonic superiority: a piece of music composed and arranged and programmed for the constraints of a particular medium should be listened to in that medium. There’s an A side and a B side, and there is a pause in between. Plus, you get to drop the needle into the record’s grooves and that is one of modernity’s more satisfying small victories.

But I don’t get this. Officially: I do not understand listening to a cassette tape in 2016. And because I do not understand, I fear. TotD now calls for a cull of all Tape Collectionists.

Please stop calling for culls.

Of humans?

Of anything. You do not have the authority to call a cull.

That’s a shame.

It’s really not. Leave people and their obsessions be.

I am right, though?

God, yeah. This is incomprehensible.



  1. This is your true-est post ever.

    If you get the contract for the J-card coffee table book and find yourself short 20,000 words, give me a buzz. I can write about the TDK heresies, C90 vs C120, the profoundly critical issue of whether people used an individual line for each song or not (should it be Help>Slip or, if you were me, Help On The Way>{new line] Slipknot), and many other matters.

    • NoThoughtsOnDead

      May 22, 2016 at 2:09 am

      We’re about halfway to a viable proposal, no? (No, probably not.)

    • Alice DeGregori

      May 22, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      definitely Help on the Way -> (new line) Slipknot -> (new line) Franklin’s Tower

    • new lines, always. come on. I’m all for adding ornate art around it, but get the damn information right. that goes double for source chain info.

      For lengthy setlists, agreed upon abbreviations are acceptable: GDTRFB, BIODTL, AWBYGN, CATWTEV (Comes A Time With The Extra Verse), PITBW2BDW etc

      I do not and never did have time or patience for the > vs. -> debate. And don’t put any kind of arrow when there’s a full fucking stop between, I’m looking at you, Pete S, thanks for the tapes tho

  2. I can still listen to Killers. It was all punk and metal before Enthusiasm.

    I would gladly contribute to a Kickstarter for the coffee table book with Corry and ToTD writing.

  3. Alice DeGregori

    May 22, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    F**king hilarious. Loved the opening bit on “interests” and I nearly spewed my coffee out at the Iron Maiden thing. My recollection, one of many, regarding the cassette thing: giving my friend Charlie a 10-pack of 90 minute Maxell blanks to dupe some shows for me and getting back TDKs or worse. Every damn time! First cassette tape I ever listened to, and the first live Dead I ever heard, was American Music Hall 1975, now known as One from the Vault. That was in 1980 when I was 17. I thought they were singing, “Roll away the doob”. And yea, the encore always there at the end of set 1. I still have a drawer full of live Dead cassettes, but no I don’t listen to them. Great blog – you’re awesome and I’ll be reading more often from now on. (This was always my favorite t-shirt)

  4. give it up for “wrathchild” < very nice tape < pre-Bruce Dickinson

  5. and i third the Corry/ToTD coffee table book < however i must be honest by sayin i would never buy it cuz there too much free shyt to read and too many over priced beers and tix!!!

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