Things are a bit tense in GratefulDeadLand, thanks to an interesting decision, apparently by the band, about a week ago.
You’ve heard me babble about Archive.org, the site that had made available for download nearly every Grateful Dead show ever. I had a blast looking up all the shows I attended and finding copies of some classic shows as well.
And now it’s over. The band removed all soundboard recordings from the archive and stipulated that audience recordings be available only as streaming audio. No more downloads of any kind. Click here for the announcement from the folks at the archive.
While you’re there, check out the initial response, which was moderated because it apparently contained a death threat, against Deborah Koons Garcia I’m guessing. Keep reading. It’s pretty ugly. As I read through the vitriolic responses — people saying they’re going to boycott GD merchandise, concerts and music from now on, saying greed is driving the band — I actually got a little embarrassed for all of us. There’s a change that has an immediate effect on the community — and granted, not a good one — but what gets lost is the years and years of great stuff we got from these guys.
Let me be clear. I’m not happy about this either. I had some bad experiences trying to trade for tapes back in the old days, and the Archive was a way for me to achieve my biggest goal, which is to have a copy of the shows I attended. I hadn’t gotten through the list yet, and unless the band just opens up the vault for all, it looks like I won’t get there, at least for a while.
I have to admit that I have some difficulty with the removal of auds, as opposed to the soundboard recordings. As I’ve poked through the Archive, I’ve come across several bands that don’t permit downloads of soundboards — Ratdog, moe., Bela and the Flecktones, all take that course — because they could be competing with themselves if they choose to release live music in the future. In most cases, the audience recordings aren’t the same thing.
So, yeah, it’s upsetting. I may in the future have the option to purchase downloads of the shows I’m missing, and that would be OK with me. It’s their music and they have the right to make a living from their work, and the big thing I want is to complete my collection.
David Gans, the Deadhead who’s made a career with his syndicated Grateful Dead Hour radio show, makes a similar point about the change on his blog: If the Dead moved to protect their business interests, who could argue that that’s a bad decision? It’s inconvenient for us, yes, but it belongs to them. Gans also said that the band has had to lay off a bunch of long-time employees, most notably Ram Rod, a member of the crew who’s been there since the very beginning. Things apparently aren’t good in Novato either.
There are some other points to be made.
@ I do have a problem with one of Gans’ arguments. He said downloading concert recordings goes against the notion that trading tapes helps form a community among the band’s fans. He’s right on, and he’s not the only one who thinks so. After I discovered Widespread Panic last summer, I did some cruising around on their web pages and found, in their taping policy, that they prohibit downloading situations because it doesn’t further the community of Panic fans. And it’s hard to argue with that logic.
Here’s my beef with this one. In an ideal world, the tapers would be open to anyone, within reason, who has something to trade. They’d also make an effort, within reason, to help those who didn’t have anything to swap get started. The problem is that it didn’t always work that way. Too often — in the majority of cases, I found — the people who had the tapes got too hung up on the power they had over others. If you are able to work something out, you still get a bunch of attitude in return. It’s hard to foster the growth of a community when the people with the power are being dicks.
@ I read a couple different arguments that legal action could successfully be taken against the band, for a couple of reasons: One, that the band, specifically Garcia, entered into a verbal contract when he said that the music belongs to the fans once the band is done playing, and two, that the band stole the work of people who made the audience recordings that are now unavailable.
OK. I’m not an intellectual property attorney, but both of these arguments sound completely off-base. The Garcia quote is what it is, but the band has always maintained its rights when it comes to concert recordings — they cannot be exchanged for commercial gain of any kind and, in the digital realm, websites that offer trades or downloads cannot also have ads present. And, they always said. we’ll go after anyone who violates these rules. And they have, as anyone who has witnessed a parking-lot bust of T-shirt vendors can attest.
Theft? Of what? Someone else’s intellectual property is what. And that’s not theft, boys and girls. That’s like saying you can copy something from Uncle Crappy, post it on your own web page and call it your own. If you wants to quote me, or another blogger, or Shakespeare for crying out loud, you can do so, but it doesn’t make it yours. Kewyson? Any thoughts?
@ Here’s an unanswered question: If the band is suffering financially as Gans told us, wouldn’t have things been helped by a tour this summer? Granted, it’s not the old days when they could sell out Buckeye Lake in an hour, but a well-run tour in smaller venues would have to be a money maker. Are things so bad within the band — between Bobby and Phil, I would have to guess — that we couldn’t put that together?
@ I also think the band could help this situation immensely by offing a simple explanation on its web page. You know, something like, “Here’s what we did, here’s why, and here’s what’s going to happen next.” I’m not sure they owe us anything, but a little communication would make a lot of us feel better.
@ And that brings me to a rant I’ve been sitting on for a loooooonnnng time. While reading through all this crap, I came across some shining examples of what I’ve always felt is the dumbest things about being a Deadhead: A continuing stream of negativity about what the band is doing now, especially when you compare it with what the band was doing in, well, go ahead and pick your favorite year … 1971, 1974, 1977, 1985, etc. Here’s the attitude I got when I started seeing the band in 1984: “Yeah, this is nice, but you should have seen those ’77 shows … that was the real Grateful Dead.”
If Uncle Crappy and Juan and Carolina Boy had followed that logic, we would have hung it up after our first show at Blossom in the summer of 1984. Why bother, right? It’s not going to be as good…
Except that I saw plenty of life-changing music in the dozens of shows I attended after my first. I’ve listened to the tapes from ’71 and ’74 and ’77, and I understand that in a technical sense, the best of what I saw isn’t as good. But should I have skipped all those other moments I now cherish because Garcia didn’t play as well in 1990 as he did in 1977?
Um. Sorry. That’s just stupid.
This carries over to today’s versions as well. If you get too excited about Ratdog or a Phil and Friends show (like the one I’m attending in Pittsburgh tomorrow), you get reminded that, well, it’s not the Grateful Dead. If you try to tell people about how much you enjoyed the shows the remaining four put together from 2002 through 2004, you hear stuff like how much Herring sucks and Warren can’t play and who let that Joan Osborne chick onstage… it’s not Garcia, right?
Well, fucking duh. No one in his right mind would compare The Dead with the Grateful Dead. No one is comparing Herring or Haynes to Garcia. You have to take those experiences for what they are; if you look at them in any other context, you’re never going to be happy, and isn’t being happy what this whole thing is about? When I interviewed Warren last year I asked him about the two prominent slots he holds in two prominent bands, those of Jerry and Duane Allman, and he said he’d be crazy to even think about it … he’s not there to replace Jerry or Duane, he’s just out there to play. And he does well in both instances.
If you spend all of your time and energy bitching about how bad things are now, you’re going to miss out on a lot of good stuff. I wasn’t going to Dead shows in 1977, mostly because I was 10 years old. Yes, I missed some great music. Does that mean the shows I saw in 1985 or 1990-1 or even the occasional great show I saw in 1993 or 1994 weren’t worth the paper the ticket was printed on? Of course not. If you’re that miserable about the current state of GratefulDeadLand, stay home with your tapes and your shitty attitude. The rest of us who are still having fun won’t miss you a bit.