“You cannot overestimate how big a deal this hair thing was at the time”: DAVID BERMAN on a certain shift in punk culture in the 1980s

Sometime in 2004, I asked Daniel Chamberlin to write a piece for Arthur to explain how on earth he could be so into the Grateful Dead—how it had happened, what was the nature of the appeal given his other tastes in music, yadda yadda. He’d talk about the Dead in conversation, but I’m not he’d ever thought about writing such a piece. I wanted him to go for it, to really think it through and get it down. Make the pitch for the Dead! I had a hunch it might resonate with Arthur’s audience, such as it was. Dan wasn’t sure, but he went for it.

Somewhere along the line, I guess I asked David Berman if he’d like to illustrate Dan’s piece. Berman had already let us publish some of his “Scenes From the First Yes Tour” comics in the first issue of Arthur, so this wasn’t a completely out-of-leftfield idea… But I also think it must have been because Berman had mentioned the Dead somewhere — in a lyric, or a poem, in an interview, in a comic strip, in private conversation, I don’t know; something about the space between the notes of Jerry Garcia solos being the key to the Dead’s appeal? (Maybe a Berman scholar can help us out here. Please.) In any event, David gave us two single-panel comics to run with the piece in the July 2004 issue fo Arthur. You can see scans of them here.

I don’t know where in the timeline of all of this I received the following email from DCB, addressed to Dan. Maybe there was some correspondence back and forth between them while he was coming up with the art to accompany the piece? Dan can’t remember and neither can I. All I know is that I’ve saved it all these years, and Berman either never sent a follow-up, or it’s lost.

—Jay Babcock


From: “D.C. Berman”
Subject: RE: Alienated Deadheads
Date: Wed, 05 May 2004 12:20:19 -0500

oops. this is the first part of my response to your question and I haven’t even gotten to the part where i start liking the dead yet. more tomorrow.

DCB

You see a lot of reassessments of 1980’s culture nowadays. These reassessments might lead you to believe that sarcastic new wave music was the dominant trend in the decade but i remember it differently. I remember new wave as an aberrant, sometimes top 40, middle ground between the more rigorous fucktruck of hardcore (and what we now call post-punk bands) and the true ruling culture of (hair and seventies) metal and classic rock. This revisionism is standard procedure (consider how hard it is to find an admitted Uriah Heep or Three Dog Night fan on the links nowadays), and will soon have its chance to do a number on the present era as today’s teenagers tomorrow, wised up through learned humiliation, will replace their memories of attending dave matthews concerts with false ones about chasing down royal trux bootlegs at the corner store.


I have always held contempt for people who trust those that do not have their best interests in mind (like poor people who vote republican, for instance). They are in a word, dupes.  And from my olympian perch (for I had placed myself above all mankind except Greg Ginn) there were no bigger dupes in sight than deadheads. Instead of creating their own culture they had borrowed that of their aunts and uncles. In fact that’s what deadheads seemed like to me, even ones my own age, prematurely elderly. But worse, old folks wearing pajamas with teddy bears on them (the grandma glasses, unkempt hair and frail arthritic music). It really gave me a stomach ache just to gaze on them. Meanwhile things were changing a bit for young strident assholes. Rollins grew his hair. The Meat Puppets slowed down, Karl Precoda grew his hair (you cannot under overestimate how big a deal this hair thing was at the time), DRI went metal as did plenty of other hardcore bands. I started to soften to guitar solos. There was less dexedrine and more acid.”You’re Living All Over Me” changed my mind about a lot of things (I remember where i was when i heard the news that a group of classic rockers nobody gave a fuck about had filed suit against Dinosaur about the name and remember feeling the helpless frustration that they (the hippies) had done it again! (Though forcing Dinosaur to add Jr. to their name might have been the original hippies final cultural victory). A lot of people started changing their minds. It seems that while we were railing against the classic rockers our heroes had decided that the real enemy was the boring rules of hardcore. In those days all shows of an “underground” nature attracted the entire “punk community” of whatever town. No band could command an audience large enough to justify subsets of fans, so touring bands were constantly the object of abuse by those in the audience of a different punk rock denomination. Why did Richmond skinheads show up at decidedly brainy Honor Role shows? It was the only game in town. This set up all kinds of conflict which (considering the artists were contrarian in nature) drove a lot of post-punk bands to adopt hippy tropes (just to piss rules loving militants off).


More than any other band I think the Butthole Surfers started to crumble the distinctions between hippie and punk.