If you tried to delineate a Grateful Dead Family Tree, it would not be effective to use the traditional bloodline progression, descending through the ‘begats’ to get to the wider branches. Rather, this family tree, not only of birth and marriage, would have to be felled, its great trunk sliced open and the concentric rings examined to define the widening circles that shape it. At the core you would find the musicians, and with them, their wives and children and other blood relatives — the families within the Family. But how far do the rings go outward, who is included and in what order? Do you count ALL THOSE PEOPLE?!?
The truck drivers, ex-wives, ranch hands, lighting designers, jugglers, road crew, housekeepers, photographers, past band members, carpenters, shadow people, tie-dyers, medicine men, lyricists, sound mixers, office staff,
lawyers, jewelers, managers, pleasure crew, chiropractors, travel agents, lovers, friends and neighbors,
present AND past?
If you’re one of those who doubts there really IS a Grateful Dead Family, consider what “family” means anywhere in the world and draw your own conclusions and analogies.
It all depends on what year it is, who’s out of sight and who’s ‘around’; and mostly, on who’s drawing the picture. It also depends on how good your memory is, and on your need for definition in continually shifting sands.
Families celebrate seasons, feasts, holidays and weddings; they shower a pregnant sister with gifts, and sit with her through her labor; babies are shown around with pride at family visits. School graduates, performers, and artists can count on applauding family members in the audience. When a household moves, there are strong backs willing and a truck ready. If child care is needed on a moment’s notice, there is always someone.
Absent family members are missed and talked about. Vigils are maintained in hospital hallways when a member is struck down, and when there is a death, everyone mourns. If a cousin is out of work, an uncle puts in a good word with a friend; if an award is given to one member, everyone feels pride. When tragedy strikes, everyone pitches in to bring things back to normal.
Every family has black sheep, outcasts, vendettas, prodigal sons returning, geniuses.
There are family jokes, resemblances,
pettiness, arguments, drunks, crests, recipes, pets, parties, vacations, heirlooms, pictures, beliefs, and history.
More than anything, being part of a family provides untold comfort and continuity. You can go away for years and be greeted on your return; you can blow it completely and be forgiven your stupidity; you can sit alone on a mountain and know you have brothers and sisters down below who care about you; when you achieve something, you have people you can brag to; knowing you can ask for help gives you confidence to not have to ask; seeing the best members do the impossible makes everyone else stretch, and when you fail, there are loving hands to help pick you up.
This family, which evolved geometrically from its beginnings as ‘just a rock and roll band’ and a few friends, has sustained an incredible number of people for over twenty years through shared work and music, humor,
adversity, achievement, love, fierce loyalty, and very strong emotions.
The feelings have substance; and horn ever you define it, whatever its shape and size, however far the rings go out-ward, the Family is real.
— Rosie McGee
Phil and Jerry
Sue Swanson and Joshua
Photos: Top to Bottom – Birgitta Bjerke, Gary Schroeder, Herb Greene, John Schmidt