“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.

NOVEMBER, 2002…

Ten years ago — 2002 — right about now: 70,000 free copies of the 56-page Arthur Magazine No. 1 somehow hit the streets across North America.

Thank you to everyone who helped get this train rolling.

Thank you, publisher Laris Kreslins and art director W.T. Nelson. Thank you, adfellow Jamie Fraser.

Thank you, senior advisors Mark Lewman, Paul Cullum and Shawn Mortensen (RIP).

Thank you, contributors Paul Moody, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore, Geoff Mcfetridge, Spike Jonze, Neil Hamburger, David Berman, Ian Svenonius, Dame Darcy, Eddie Dean, Joe Carducci, Camille Rose Garcia, Jason Amos, Joseph Durwin, Daniel Pinchbeck, Alan Moore, Pat Graham, Dave Brooks, Steve Giberson, Mike Castillo and John Henry Childs.

Thank you, all the agents in our improvised guerrilla distribution network across the continent.

Thank you, all the entities that spent money to advertise in our untested pages.

Thank you to everyone thanked on Page 3 of the mag: Brendan Newman, Kreslins Family, Oma, Kristaps, Gary Hustwit, Chris Ronis, Kate Sawai, Janis Sils, Bernadette Napoleon, Vineta Plume, Fred Cisterna, Richard Grijalva, Ned Milligan, Lizzy Klein, Robin Adams, Jack Mendelsohn, John Shimkonis, Prolific, Chris Young, Ed Halter, Mike Galinsky, Jim Higgins, Plexifilm Family, Alie Robotos, Domainistudios, Fistfulayen, Natalie and Zach, Janitor Sunny Side Up, Yasmin Khan, Rachel Stratton, Lady Montford, John Coulthart, Henry Childs and Joshua Sindell.

Thank you, Sue Carpenter.

Thank you, Darcey Leonard.

Thank you, John Payne and Andrew Male.

Thank you, Robin Turner.

Thank you to the bands that played Arthur’s launch party at Spaceland in Silver Lake (thank you, Jennifer Tefft): Fatso Jetson, Chuck Dukowski Sextet… I’m not sure who else.

Thank you, Matt Luem.

Thank you, Steve Appleford, for being a real journalist.

Thank you to everyone who played a role who I’ve forgotten or neglected to post here. (Please be in touch!)

And thank you to everyone who found the magazine, picked it and read it.

We’re coming back.

Ladies and gentlemen, David Berman is now blogging

Brilliant poet, cartoonist and musician David Berman is now blogging at
http://mentholmountains.blogspot.com

David’s one-panel comics were featured throughout the premiere issue of Arthur, published in September, 2002. He also illustrated “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band,” Daniel Chamberlin’s piece on being a secret Deadhead that ran in Arthur No. 11. Both issues are in stock at the Arthur Store.

A Poem from David Berman

Imagining Defeat
by David Berman

She woke me up at dawn,
her suitcase like a little brown dog at her heels.

I sat up and looked out the window
at the snow falling in the stand of blackjack trees.

A bus ticket in her hand.

Then she brought something black up to her mouth,
a plum I thought, but it was an asthma inhaler.

I reached under the bed for my menthols
and she asked if I ever thought of cancer.

Yes, I said, but always as a tree way up ahead
in the distance where it doesn’t matter

And I suppose a dead soul must look back at that tree,
so far behind his wagon where it also doesn’t matter.

except as a memory of rest or water.

Though to believe any of that, I thought,
you have to accept the premise

that she woke me up at all.

Uncle Skullfucker’s Band: Daniel Chamberlin explains the discreet charm of the Grateful Dead, with artwork by David Berman (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)

Daniel Chamberlin explains the discreet charm of the Grateful Dead. Illustrations by D.C. Berman.

I’M NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR TIE-DYED CLOTHING. My girlfriend and those friends of mine who truly have my best interests at heart forbid it. For most people this is an obvious and easy style rule to adhere to. But during certain times of the year I am overwhelmed by the Grateful Dead. I listen to nothing but live recordings of Dead concerts while immersing myself in books detailing the minutiae of their 30-year career. I search through David Dodd’s “Annotated Grateful Dead Lyric Archive,” reading up on the roots of “Fennario,” a made-up world of timber forests and treacherous marshland mentioned in two of my favorite songs, “Dire Wolf” and “Peggy-O.” Judging from the number of Dead recordings in my collection one can draw an easy conclusion that I am a certifiable Deadhead.

This is a problem because alongside New Age or contemporary country, “Grateful Dead” is a genre of music with acknowledged questionable merits. This has something to do with the schizophrenic quality of said music: the May 14, 1974 “Dark Star” performed in Missoula, Montana sounds like “In A Silent Way” as interpreted by Sonic Youth but nearly every performance of “Lazy Lightnin’” sounds like coke-snorting yuppies getting funky in tie-dyed Izods. The Dead toured with both Love and Waylon Jennings in the ‘70s but were collaborating with Bruce Hornsby and Joan Osborne by the ‘90s. I hear their influence on classic Meat Puppets and latter-day Boredoms albums, but their official inheritors are cornball bands like The String Cheese Incident and Phish. They count among their fans legions of Hell’s Angels as well as Tipper and Al Gore. There are a lot of ways to listen to the Grateful Dead. As legendary concert promoter and longtime Dead booster Bill Graham once put it, “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”

Mostly though, the Dead’s bad reputation is due to their fans. My latent Deadheadism causes my girlfriend to worry that at a certain point of saturation, she’ll come home from work to find me reeking of patchouli oil, clad in vibrant pajama bottoms and a tank top decorated with capering bears, my dilated pupils being the only reason I haven’t yet found something to juggle. “Fukengrüven, sister!” I’ll say as she comes through the door.

My most recent Grateful Dead binge kicked off when Islamic militants decapitated Nicholas Berg on the Internet. Oh yeah. No more NPR for me. Instead, a free-falling relapse into this December 26, 1969 Dead show at Southern Methodist University. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann is late getting to the venue, so Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir lay down this sublime acoustic set of murder ballads and old Christian folk songs that they refer to as “sacred numbers.” It’s the only known recording of their version of “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet,” which is really something to be excited about for a closet Deadhead like me. The show provides a wonderful escape—the Dead always seem so detached from reality and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

I was looking for a similar kind of escape in 1991 while en route to my first Grateful Dead show. I wanted to see if the Deadheads might offer a more organic, hedonistic alternative to the existentialist discomfort of my central Indiana high school experience.

Continue reading

DAVID BERMAN ON ECSTASY

From http://www.weeblackskelf.co.uk/cordsuit/articles/w_drugs.htm

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE NIGHT ECSTASY BECAME ILLEGAL IN THE STATE OF TEXAS

by David Berman

MY FRIEND KYLE always had a lot of money and could get me into the expensive kind of trouble without
the trouble sticking. He didn’t mind paying for me if it meant raising hell with loyal company. We were seventeen. You only needed one reason to be friends at that age. I figured we had at least three. So we broke the law every day in every way and laughed our asses off at the fucking stupid world.


    In late April we began to hear rumors about a new drug in the Metroplex. It was in the gay bars. Kids at the Arts Magnet were getting it. Certain people at certain parties had it and it was magical.

    They called it X. It was supposed to make you unaccountably happy and tolerant of everyone from headbangers to rich fucks. Even “douchebags.”

    Psychiatrists had been using it in therapy for years, we were told. It was legal and local product (it was still special to Texas at that time). It would make you love and accept anyone. Even yourself.

    This was a complicated promise for the teenager roiling with hate and confusion. I hardly believed it. But one night Kyle pulled out some foil holding four tablets, we each swallowed two, and went to a party where a lot of people were going to be doing it.

    Coming around the corner of that house, I’ll never forget the scene. Every high-school rule was being broken before me. The lions were chatting up the lambs. I saw sworn enemies talking like longtime companions; a prickly society bitch on her knees sifting white garden pebbles through her hands with
happy eyes; a brutal wrestler from my school with his arms wrapped around the trunk of a pecan tree, saying his first words to me ever, “Hi David,” sweetly, as I walked by.


    I rolled my jeans up to my knees and sat at the edge of the pool. Maybe for the first time I felt like no one was going to try to push me in. The stereo was playing “Blues for Allah” instead of the customary “Eliminator.” Nearby, two linebackers were confessing how much they depended on each other “on
and off the field.” I felt myself giving in to all the kindness, not caring if it was a lie or not. By the time a hot Fort Worth Jewess sprang into in my lap and began running her fingers through my hair, I was sold.


    At sunrise, I came in through the sliding glass. I woke my father and his new bride, apologized for staying out all night, and pulled a chair up beside the bed. I continued to sit there and smile down on them. I said, “I just want you to know how much I love you, Dad.” Incredibly, he did not kick my ass.
That morning was never mentioned again.

AS I SAID BEFORE, ecstasy was still legal and as such carried virtually no stigma. Kyle’s uncle kept
a jar of tablets on his desk at his car dealership. Law-abiding adults were taking them at North Dallas cocktail parties. They were even sold behind the bars like cigarettes and openly hawked on street corners downtown.


    That summer, I crushed two sports cars with my homely Buick, received six speeding tickets (three in one day), two tickets for public urination, impregnated a Collin County judge’s daughter, and had a bottle of MD 20/20 broken over my head. Approximately none of it registered with me. A very real fault of the drug.

    I’m going to skip the scenes of me chasing daisies and singing to stray dogs from still bulldozer cabs. I was exercising horses that summer for cash, and X hangovers were A-OK for barreling over the dull scrubland.

    Sometime in August, the lawmakers in Austin finally got around to outlawing ecstasy. What a gift for the dealers! The price of ecstasy immediately quadrupled and the production costs plummeted as the manufacturers began cutting the pills with all manner of horrible stuff.

    The night the law went through, I went to a concert at the Bronco Bowl and snagged two of the newly illegal pills for a dear price. I had never seen them in capsules and had no idea it was a sign they were crushing the old “legal” pills and mixing them with laxative, mannitol, low-grade speed, whatever.

    Once inside, I spent a half hour wiggling my way to the front of the floor. Unfortunately, when I got there I had a big problem. Not only were the drugs not kicking in, they were causing me to have to shit real bad. Michael Stipe was singing “Moon River” (hey!) a cappella and I knew I was going to blow if I didn’t part this shoulder-to-shoulder crowd and make it to the restroom. The audience was frozen in place and dead silent as I plowed through, “Excuse me, excuse me, emergency here, please, please” ( I think
I even yelled “gangway,” such was my ambition to get through), completely stepping on the vocalist’s Ethel Merman star turn and nearly getting shhhhhed to death.


    I passed the rest of the concert in a nasty stall gritting my teeth, sweating and coming to terms with what was clearly the symbolic end of a spaced-out summer.

    Fifteen years on, I can honestly say I’m glad it was outlawed. After three months of its use I had lost all discretion and was prepared to trust just about anyone. Worse yet, it was turning me into a joiner. That’s not who I am. Anyway, ecstasy was not to find its true customer base until years later, when the strangely passive kids who grew up in the child protectorate of the U.S. eighties and nineties came of age, craving depersonalization. Apparently it helps them dance. They’re a very attractive lot. Have you seen them dance?

David Berman lives in Nashville. His first book, Actual Air, came out last year via Open City Press.